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The world's first lab-grown chicken nugget has been produced

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With the devastating environmental impact of mass meat production finally realised, the search for alternatives has become more urgent.

Though the likes of Quorn, Linda McCartney and many supermarket alternatives (shroomdogs, anyone?) have become popular substitutes, apparently this isn’t enough for those devoted to that unique taste of animal flesh. San Francisco-based company Just Meat has developed a technique to grow cells from chicken into meat you can eat, and are hoping that the slaughter-free products will be on the market before the end of the year.

They claim that "it’s unlikely that families in Alabama (or anywhere in the world) will consistently choose plant-based alternatives over chicken, beef, pork, and seafood. And when you’re talking animal protein, higher unit volume and accordingly lower prices will necessarily mean industrialized animal production. There’s no conventional way around this math.

"Our mission requires a solution to these economic and cultural realities. So, over the past few years, we’ve been expanding our platform to solve the technical challenges of scalable cultured meat. JUST Meat (and seafood) is made from cells instead of live, confined animals."

Many chickens are kept in industrial coops

Many Chickens are kept in Industrial Coops // Credit: Progressive Charlestown

From water and land use to pollution, with animal agriculture responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than all forms of transport combined, the meat industry has come under strain from the rise of vegan and vegetarian diets. Perhaps lab-grown meat not only reduces the ethical implications of raising and slaughtering animals for human consumption, but could also reduce strain on the environment. On the surface, it seems like a double success. But, I'm not convinced. 

My main concern is that the meat industry is one of convenience. With countless animals being slaughtered every minute for their meat, is a lab-grown alternative really going to meet the demand? 

Perhaps our time and resources would be better placed in finding and promoting plant-based alternatives, such as jackfruit that genuinely does taste like pulled pork and seitan that makes a mean katsu curry.

We cannot see this lab-grown meat as a revolution but rather a stepping stone that might help us to reach more sustainable options. The fact is, we do not need meat. It has been normalised to the extent that we will grow it in a lab if the only other option is not eating it. With the dire state of the planet, these novelty alternatives are not enough to curb the global appetite for meat. And I bet that if many meat-eaters tried decent veggie alternatives, they would be pleasantly surprised. 

Maybe it’s a step in the right direction in terms of accepting that meat consumption needs to change, but I’ll personally be sticking to my Quorn.

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