As we all know, many people choose to become vegetarians or vegans as a way to protest against animal cruelty involved in factory farming. Factory farming focuses on profit and efficiency at the expenses of animal welfare, and unfortunately, 99% of farm animals in the U.S are raised in factory farms. They are crammed into filthy sheds and cages; often so tiny they can’t even turn around or lie down comfortably. Most factory -farmed animals do not even feel the warmth of the sun or breathe fresh air their whole life. To avoid participating in this cruelty indirectly, many animal welfare advocates choose to adopt a meat-free diet.  

I see myself as an animal lover and I have seriously considered about becoming a vegetarian at one point of my life. Growing up, I have always been fascinated by the animal kingdom. Actually, Animal Planet was one of my favourite shows as a kid. I’ve always wanted to know more about animals, their behaviours and their habitat, so after I graduated from high school I went to college to study Biology, during which I joined several clubs that advocate for environmental conservation and animal welfare. Then after I read about all the articles exposing how cruel and inhumane factory farming is, and how factory farming harms the environment, I thought to myself, “Okay now, the meat industry is disgusting and I am going on a vegetarian diet starting tomorrow.” That did not last long.  

I have to admit, I really love the taste and texture of meat. Steaks, bacon and beef burgers are definitely on the top of my list of favourite food. Do I feel guilty when I chew on my beef burgers? For sure. Do I want to give up meat completely? To be honest, not really. It is just too much effort. Being a vegetarian means I’ll have to make sure I get enough protein, iron, calcium and vitamin B12 from other sources, maybe even take more supplements, and I’ll probably have to learn new vegetarian recipes. In addition, I’ll have to calculate my iron intake because apparently, iron from plants doesn’t absorb into my body as well as animal-based iron, which means I’ll have to increase the amount of iron I eat by a lot.

 I am sure there are plenty of other people out there who are just like me. They love animals and are against factory farming, but at the same time they do not want to commit to the meat-free diet. Well, here’s some good news for us animal lovers who failed to switch to a cruelty-free vegetarian diet: scientists are experimenting with growing meat in labs and there have been some successes!

Back in 2013, scientists from the Netherlands successfully grew beef patties in labs, and since then, many more biotechnology companies started their own trials growing meat in labs. People who have tasted lab-grown meat said that they barely differ from the real deal. Since lab-grown meat is grown in cell cultures instead of inside animals, there’s no animal cruelty involved in the entire process. What is more, lab-grown meat could potentially be more environmental friendly than the conventional factory farmed meat.

This sounds so SciFi, doesn't it? Like how is this even possible? Let’s take a look at how this actually works. To understand this process, we need to first understand what stem cells are. Stem cells are unspecialized cells with the potential to differentiate into specialized cells such as muscles cells, skin cells and brain cells. In addition, stem cells are capable of dividing and renewing themselves for long periods of time. Stem cell technology has made it possible to generate skeletal muscle and other mesenchymal tissue such as bone and fat from cell cultures.

Now, to make lab-grown meat, scientists would take muscle cells from a cattle (this process doesn’t really hurt the animals), put these cells in petri dishes in the lab, and then apply a protein that promotes tissue growth. Then scientists and sit back and wait for the cell cultures to grow into bigger cell clusters, and eventually, into muscle tissues, which essentially is the meat we consume. Under ideal conditions, up to 50,000 tons of meat from 10 pork muscle cells can to be delivered in 2 months.  

Other than being cruelty-free, researchers believe that lab-grown meat might also be healthier for us to consume. Often, farmed animals are pumped with antibiotics and hormones to keep them alive and to make them grow bigger and faster. The frequent use of antibiotics in the meat industry increases the chance of the survival of antibiotic-resistant bacteria that once being consumed can lead to illness and infections in our body. Actually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, pathogens in conventional meat are the most common sources of fatal food-related infections. Additionally, the growth hormones and sex hormones injected to farm animals can potentially cause cancer or early puberty in children. These problems won’t exist with lab-grown meat because cultured meats are produced in sterile lab environment, which means they are free of any dangerous bacteria.

If you are still not convinced, how about the fact that cultured-meat significantly reduce your risk of stroke or heart diseases? With lab-grown meat, scientists can program the cells so that the unhealthy saturated fat can be removed completely, and healthier omega-3 fatty acids could take its place.

Of course, as with any new biotechnology, people are concerned about the long-term effects of lab-grown meat: are they going to cause any health issues? Are they going to cause cancer? Well we don’t know for sure yet. More research is still needed for lab-grown meat to be put in commercial market. In my opinion, lab-grown meat will be a good alternative for some people. Maybe in the future, both conventional-farmed meat and lab-grown meat will be found in market, so people would have the option to choose. It will definitely be a blessing for me as I can finally enjoy my meat without feeling guilty anymore.