A stem cell is grown in conditions that mimic those in an animal’s body. Picture: MEDIA FOR MEDICAL / UNIVERSAL IMAGES GROUP / GETTY IMAGES
A stem cell is grown in conditions that mimic those in an animal’s body. Picture: MEDIA FOR MEDICAL / UNIVERSAL IMAGES GROUP / GETTY IMAGES

We’re living in a time when tensions around the food we eat are simmering. Never before have calls to turn to veganism, or plant-based alternatives, been as loud as they are, yet traditional industries are increasingly hitting out at the vegan industry.

Just this week Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison called animal rights activists that took to the streets in protest “shameful and un-Australian” and pledged to join legal challenges brought by farmers or land owners whose livelihoods were being undermined.

The vegan cheese industries in the UK and Canada have come under fire from the dairy industries in these countries, challenging their use of the word “cheese” as these products are not produced from milk products produced by animals.

In catering to the consumers who are looking for alternatives, it is no wonder that Burger King has introduced a vegan Whopper in some of its stores. But soon another option may be put on the table: test-tube grown, real meat burger patties.

The Impossible Whopper contains a vegan patty. Picture: MICHAEL THOMAS/GETTY IMAGES
The Impossible Whopper contains a vegan patty. Picture: MICHAEL THOMAS/GETTY IMAGES

The basic demand and supply theory around meat is turning into an unsustainable mess. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, the world’s population is likely to increase by 35% by the year 2050.

If we are to sustain our meat consumption at this rate, meat production will need to rise by more than 200-million tons in an environment that is already strained and struggling to keep up with demand.

For this reason, the need to replace our reliance on animal protein has been seen as the most sustainable alternative to deal with this crisis. However, according to The Telegraph, clean-meating could be the future of food.

Given the unlikely scenario that humans will turn to veganism by 2050, lab-grown, cell-based meat is seen as a more likely alternative. Given our advances in the field of science, it should come as no surprise that a single cell can be grown into a mass of meat with muscle and fat.

To achieve this, a stem cell is extracted through a biopsy and grown in conditions that mimic those in an animal’s body: it is fed sugars, salts, amino acids and, in turn, it multiplies. One such tissue can reportedly create up to 80,000 burgers.

Because the demand for beef costs the environment the most, this seemed to be the best starting point. However, the possibility is there to produce pork, chicken and fish in the same way.

As an alternative, cell-based meats still need to be developed further but inroads are being made. Initially, the cell-based meat will be more expensive than animal-produced products (a cultured Mosa Meat burger produced in 2013 cost $325,000) but with investment and development it might just be the saving grace to meet humanity’s demand in the long-run.