With all the environmental concerns of rearing livestock for food and the growing activism around the morality of consuming meat, we would have almost thought that the urge of eating meat would have declined in the U.S. – which ironically, could not be further away from the truth. Meat consumption this year is expected to hit a record, with the U.S. Department of Agriculture expecting an average American to eat 222.2 pounds of red meat and poultry in 2018.
As consumption keeps pushing up the ceiling, the technology of growing meat in petri-dishes seems to have gained significant interest. Investors pour in millions into startups working on artificially growing meat, buoyed with the hope of creating a parallel meat economy where food is produced in laboratories rather than farms.
Regardless of the storm it is kicking up, lab-grown meat is not commercially available yet, but startups like Just is confident of putting it out in the market by the end of this year. The problem though is the philosophical double take on what till date has never been a problem – the definition of meat.
The farm industry that rears animals the traditional way is quite expectedly against lab-grown meat, as it believes that artificially cultured meat cannot be categorized under standardized meat. The tension is palpable in the livestock rearing circle, as the rise of lab-grown meat would quite possibly eat into their market share.
In an FDA public meeting last week, the group supporting the cause of farm meat insisted on differentiating it from its lab-grown counterpart, by comparing it to soy-milk produce and the fact that it isn’t equated to regular dairy milk. The caveat in this argument though is that lab-grown meat is considered to look and taste exactly like that of the farm-reared meat, with startups in the space insisting that the nutritional value of the lab-grown meat also cuts parallels with the traditional one.
However, to be fair to the consumers, regulations must be set in place for companies to explicitly mention the meat source on the label – laboratory or otherwise – and for restaurants to suggest the same on its menu.
Though there is little to worry on the logistics side of the equation with regard to lab-grown meat, there would come a time when the price of cultured meat would be less than that of farm grown meat. And in such a situation, monitoring the supply chain would become critical – especially with meat that is sourced internationally, as businesses could look towards replacing conventional meat sources with laboratories and choose not to put it on the label.
Blockchain in food supply chains could be a way through which transparency and visibility are brought into the industry. Blockchain has the potential to account for every party in the meat supply chain and thus can act as an effective deterrent to unacceptable practices. Walmart for instance, has been trying its hand in different blockchain projects which could help it accurately trace products as they cross through different stakeholders in the supply chain before hitting its shelves.
FreightWaves recently covered the impact of cultured meat on the transportation industry, which stands to lose out on a bulk of its freight once this becomes a reality. The Transportation Research Board claims that agricultural products account for 31% of the total ton-miles of freight moved. While livestock and poultry do not account for all of the farm products that are hauled on the American highways, it still is a sizeable portion as 95% of the livestock being transported are via trucks.
One of the advantages with lab-grown meat is that it can be utilized completely, unlike the meat derived from livestock, where more than half the mass of the slaughtered animal goes to landfill. Then again, the technological advancement in the cultured meat space only allows for the growth of a mass of flesh that is devoid of shape and bone, thus drastically reducing the cuisine variants that could use it as a replacement for farm-grown meat. For instance, grilled ribs made out of lab-grown meat is impossible at the moment, and it could possibly take years for science to figure out a way to grow one.
But even then, industries churning out meat en masse in the future is a thought that the transportation industry needs to contend with. If industries could produce readily consumable meat, it would gradually lead to them setting up centers close to cities that consume it in large quantities – leading to a drastic reduction in the miles hauled. Also since lab-grown meat would have next-to-nothing wastage, the load being hauled would also be considerably lesser in the future. This could mean that over the next decade, the freight industry could have a face-off against two adversaries – the rise of autonomous vehicles, and the scope of lab-grown meat.
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