The race to develop ‘tubesteak’ is on – but will anyone buy it?
Some may baulk at the idea of eating synthetic meat – also known as cultured or test-tube meat – but it’s increasingly possible that this will be a mainstream option in the not-so-distant future. There are many upsides to ‘in vitro’ meat – the obvious one being that vast numbers of animals don’t have to be slaughtered just so we can enjoy a bit of steak. To this end, biologists across the world have been focused on creating the first commercial lab-grown meat – in fact, it has become something of a competition, with animal-rights campaigners PETA even offering a monetary reward to the first to create a marketable tubesteak. The process involves taking cells from a living animal and growing them into small pieces of muscle tissue which, in theory, could be made into hamburgers and eaten for dinner.
Of course, fungus-based substitutes have been around for some time now but, judging by still-steady meat sales, they haven’t been too successful in persuading avid carnivores away from the real deal. The lab geeks working on lab meat hope it will signify a ‘new future’ in meat eating – after all, if it tastes the same as a normal steak, why wouldn’t people go for it? Well if our office census is anything to go by, even the meat-eaters among us can’t quite get past the ‘yuk’ factor of scoffing a burger manufactured by men in white coats.
Yet the environmental benefits are undeniable – the greenhouse gas emissions and water usage involved in current methods of meat production make it costly to our planet’s resources. And that’s not to mention the moral issues surrounding the slaughter of over 950 million animals a year in the UK alone. Of course, animal welfare is the deciding factor for many when it comes to turning vegetarian or vegan.
But would a synthetic sausage be suitable for those living a meat-free life? In an article by Chi Chi Izundu for the BBC, Professor Andrew Linzey, director of the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics, concluded that it wouldn’t be suitable for vegetarians because it still originates from animal by-products. However, he did concede that the tubesteak represents a step forward in environmentally-friendly meat production – as did the Vegetarians International Voice for Animals (VIVA), who took the view that non-meat-eaters should be allowed to make up their own minds.
While the ecological pros of producing meat in a laboratory abound, it still seems an alien idea for many, so the marketeers certainly have their work cut out. And with a massive price tag to contend with – the first lab burger is likely to cost around £200,000 to produce – it seems test-tube meat still has a long way to go before it reaches our apprehensive palates.