By Brad Smith
A massive cultural shift is occurring. Around the world, more and more people are turning to veganism and vegetarianism in an attempt to curb their carbon footprints and live in a sustainable way.
Data shows that the number of U.S. consumers who state they are vegan rose from 1% to 6% between 2014 and 2017. Although seemingly small, these figures represent a 600% increase (Forbes). Furthermore, interest in plant-based food is growing even among those who are not vegan or vegetarian.
Often, ethical reasons are behind people’s resolutions to ditch meat and meat byproducts. But for others, their reasoning is closely aligned with environmental concerns. There is no doubt about it: the meat industry is an environmental disaster (The Conversation). Once forested lands are cleared to make way for cattle, greenhouse gases are produced, natural biodiversity is lost, soil (a finite resource) is degenerated, and there are many other negative externalities besides.
But what if we could have our steak and eat it too? Ask most hard-core vegans and they will tell you that if meat could be produced in an environmentally-friendly way and/or without harming the animal, they would partake.
That very scenario is set to become the future soon. Thanks to technology, ethical, clean meat is rapidly becoming available.
Lab-grown meat advancements
Many of us started paying attention to the meat-free meat scene when Burger King announced it would start selling meat-free Impossible Whopper burgers (CNet).
While certainly a very close match for beef mince, this burger is made from plant-based proteins, so it can never fully emulate the exact taste of real meat. There are, however, other companies working towards a sustainable form of real meat–a type that is cultivated and produced in a lab.
Around the world, laboratories are showing how they can make ground meat and chicken without the environmental or ethical impact of animal husbandry, but Israel’s Aleph Farms has gone one step further. The company says it is the first in the world to develop a true steak. It also stated that it is in talks with restaurants in Europe, the US, and Asia, with projected commercial sale as early as 2021.
The meat is produced with the help of real cells from a cow, which are taken without harming the animal. The lab then cultivates them in such a way that a steak is the end result. Another positive result is that no antibiotics–which are widely used in animal agriculture–are passed to consumers.
Currently, it costs around US$50 for a serving of Aleph’s minute steak. This is considerably more expensive than a regular cut of meat, but the company notes that these prices will fall considerably when it scales its production processes up.
One way in which labs working towards true meat products can maximize their potential is by becoming more efficient and centralizing all the processes involved in meat “growing.” Here, IoT (Internet of Things) technology will be essential.
IoT simply refers to network-connected devices. These range from the smart speakers in our homes, to connected medical devices. Smart tools send real-time data to servers, meaning less room for error–surely an essential desire for labs growing alternative meat. With controls hooked up to the network, labs will be able to regulate temperatures, note any changes, and generate mass amounts of essential data that will help optimize the entire process in the future.
One thing is for sure, though: if labs adopt large-scale IoT and AI-managed procedures, they will need to make sure their network is secure, either through maintaining strict in-house cybersecurity, utilizing a VPN, or subscribing to third-party cybersecurity services.
Technology might be partly to blame for the current state of the world’s climate, but with innovations such as cellular meat, tech might also prove the very thing that helps us all live more sustainably. Here’s hoping that the meat of the future tastes as good as it sounds.
About the Author
Brad Smith is a technology expert at TurnOnVPN, a non-profit promoting a safe, secure, and censor-free Internet. He writes about his dream for a free Internet and unravels the horror behind big techs.