According to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, the amount of meat the average person consumes has more than doubled over the past 50 years, and meat production will need to double again to meet rising global demand. This means that traditional methods of producing meat will soon be incapable of meeting the demands of a global population, expected to reach 9.6 billion, by 2050. Now, scientists from around the world are racing to build better technology that can produce enough meat to satisfy the world’s appetite.
The Current Model
Roughly 80% of the world’s agricultural land area is being used either to raise cattle, pigs, chickens, and other meat-producing animals, or to grow feed-producing crops for these animals. To produce a single pound of ground beef, cattle farmers use an average of 298 square feet of land, 27 pounds of cattle feed, and 211 gallons of fresh water. This process is also estimated to account for about 51 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, both through fuel burned by equipment, and the methane produced by livestock. This long-running model, in use since mankind first became an agricultural society, some 12,000 years ago , has been refined over time, but still produces an abundance of waste.
Turning Beans Into a Meat Substitute
In traditional meat production, animals are raised on feeds produced from plants, and then turned into hamburgers and chicken wings. In producing meat analogue – better known as veggie meat – bean protein is intricately processed, molded, textured, colored and seasoned to accurately mimic the appearance, taste and nutritional value of the real thing. The premise of turning beans into meat, is simply to remove the animal from the process, entirely.
The concept was pioneered in the 1980’s, when the University of Missouri started a food engineering program, led by food scientist Fu-hung Hsieh. Hsieh and his team at the University developed a method for producing the first realistic artificial meat, using an extrusion machine, which was later licensed to meat-tech startup, Beyond Meat.
Today, Beyond Meat’s engineers are still working to transform proteins from soy beans and peas, into increasingly believable meat-like products. While imitation meat is a centuries-old concept, the processes and technologies being used, are becoming more efficient and are producing artificial meats that are virtually indistinguishable from the real thing.
Growing Real Meat in a Lab
On the other side of the artificial meat spectrum is lab-grown meat. Lab grown meat, or in vitro meat, is produced using a sort of cloning. To produce meat in a lab, scientists apply a growth protein to muscle cells. This begins a growth process that theoretically could continue producing meat indefinitely, without any new cells. Scientists working with this cultured meat process, say that they could produce 25,000 tons of meat per month, from as little as 10 pork cells.
The first lab-grown hamburger was produced by a Dutch team of food scientists and was served at an event in London in 2013. The team produced a burger by combining strips of muscle grown from the stem cells of a cow.
Today, more than 30 labs around the world are working on lab-grown meat products, using a variety of techniques to produce a cost-effective and tasty lab burger.
What The Future Holds
Which technology is best is still a matter of some debate. While the lab grown meat is undeniably meat, the process of creating it is still far too expensive and time consuming to be viable on a large scale, at least for the time being. The artificial meat on the other hand, may not be meat at a molecular level, but few can tell the difference, and it’s already on store shelves. As for which tastes best, that will be left for you to decide.