By 2050 there will be another 2.5 billion people on the planet. How to feed them? Science’s answer: a diet of algae, insects and meat grown in a lab.
It looks like meat, feels like meat and it is meat, although it’s never been near a living, breathing animal. Instead, artificial or “cultured” meat is grown from stem cells in giant vats.
Scientists say the hunt for meat substitutes is critical because western eating habits are now spreading to China and other rapidly emerging economies, putting intense pressure on governments and farmers to fell more forests and open up new farmland. Cattle now occupy nearly one quarter of all cultivable land, and growing crops for animal feed takes up another 25%. In the US, nearly 70% of the grain and cereals grown are now fed to farmed animals.
Much of the research into artificial meat is being done in Europe with scientists in Holland and Britain developing edible tissue grown from stem cells in laboratories. But while the first artificial hamburger could be developed next year, it might taste of nothing at all. Meat needs blood and fat to give it colour and taste, and while stem cells for blood and fat have been identified, this is slow, complex and expensive work.
Nevertheless, studies show that artificial meat wins hands down in the environmental stakes, using far less water, energy and land. In addition, few ethical objections have been raised, largely because mass production of animals in factory farms and use of growth hormones and antibiotics is already considered questionable.
Highlight of the article:
Few people have heard of Zhikang Li, but history may judge the Chinese plant breeder to be one of the most important people of the century. Last year, after 12 years’ work with the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences and the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines, he and his team developed “green super rice”, a series of rice varieties which produce more grain but which have proved more resistant to droughts, floods, salty water, insects and disease .
Zhikang Li achieved this without GM technology, working instead with hundreds of researchers and farmers in 16 countries and using only conventional plant breeding techniques to cross-breed more than 250 rice varieties.
Read more: Guardian