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Is fake meat real?
Tamara Robertson

Scientist all over the world have been creating lab grown meat since before the 1960’s. Winston Churchill first foretold of the possibility in the 1930’s. These new products are a rapidly growing market aimed at creating a more sustainable way to produce meat products. United States consumers are starting to dip their toes in with the new products hitting the fast-food markets. With the new products hitting the market in the U.S. we also start to look at what the rest of the world is thinking with all the new data and statistics.

The best description for lab grown meat is when scientists take tissue via biopsy from an animal. The scientists extract the stem cells, and the stems cells can transform themselves into muscle and fat tissues that create the lab grown meat. Creating a possibility of getting meat without having to kill animals.

Plant based meat is different because it is created using plant proteins like peas or other proteins from yeast. Examples of these products are now hitting the market like the Beyond Burger and Impossible Burger, both created with plant-based products like pea proteins and have juices like a traditional burger with the inclusion of beet juice. Other ingredients can be coconut oils, potato starches and wheat proteins.

One survey done by Faunalytics to determine what information is relevant to consumers and what they would choose, using five different options for participants, farm-raised beef, lab grown beef, plant-based pea protein (generic for beyond burger), plant-based using yeast (generic for the impossible burger), or none of the above. Four questions were asked with different examples of each. The first control survey used generic packaging where results were as follows: Beef, 63%; Plant (pea), 14%; None, 12%; Plant (yeast), 7%; Lab, 4%. The second test used branded packaging which increased those selecting farm raised beef to 72%; None, 10%; Plant (yeast), 8%; Plant (pea), 7%; Lab, 4%. The third question was based on sustainability, participants were given sustainability numbers and results were essentially the same as the first round: Beef, 62%; Plant (pea), 16%; None, 9%; Plant (yeast), 7%; Lab, 6%. The last question was based on the technology involved in creating lab grown meat and sustainability of the technology: Beef, 65%; Plant (pea), 10%; Plant (yeast), 10%; None, 8%; Lab, 7%. Real meat is still widely a prominent part of diets. Even with these two new “versions” hitting the shelves the survey showed real beef is still on top and still king with the U.S. consumers. It was the most chosen product in every round at every price point.

Scientists at the University of Bath project it to take about five years for lab-grown meat to be widely available. It is still up for debate on whether consumers will eat it or even want to, but surveys in the United Kingdom suggest that approximately 20% would eat it, another 40% would not, then the missing 30% are unsure as to weather they would or not. Younger generations, those living in the larger cities and higher income consumers are more open to the idea.

When we look at labeling these products, are they really “beef”? One of the surveys by Carlsson, Frykblom and Lagerkvist discusses what consumers think about all of it. In terms of barring the use of the word “beef” on the labels for lab grown meat approximately 70% of those surveyed agreed, and 30% did not. For the same usage of “beef” on plant-based protein sources 76% were in agreeance and 24% were opposed. The next question that was asked was if the USDA should do a 10% tax on farm raised beef from cattle, to limit real beef consumption. For this question 31% of participants were in agreeance and 69% in opposition. The last question was if the USDA and the FDA should make labeling products as “beef” from cattle that have been born, raised, and harvested, rather than coming from alternative sources such as non-animal components and any product grown in labs from animal cells, where 81% were in agreeance and 19% were opposed.

What exactly does the world think about this? The vastly different populations across the planet all have different ideas on meat in general but what about the lab grown and plant alternatives? In 2013 a group created the first lab-grown burger made from millions of cells in the Netherlands and it cost about $300,000 U.S. dollars. Then in 2018 a lab in Israel created a steak, where a small strip cost about $50 U.S. dollars. Singapore recently approved lab-grown ‘chicken’ meat in the form of nuggets, previously estimated for $50 each.

There are many different labs that are attempting to create lab grown alternatives across the world and these are just some examples. New studies are being published rapidly so keep your eye out for new information hitting your news circle. It all boils down to what you personally prefer. Is it really cost efficient? Is fake meat a better alternative for the environment, or will it create more problems? What do you think? Is fake meat real?

Tamara Robertson, a 2017 Dodge City High School graduate, is a senior majoring in animal science from Fort Hays State University. She is the daughter of Troy and Janell Robertson, Dodge City.