The future of food?

The world’s first meat grown from stem cells was recently eaten in a hamburger – and it wasn’t very juicy, apparently. Nevertheless, this development offers much more than a slightly disappointing culinary innovation.

Nearly one-third of the world’s ice-free land is already used to raise livestock, and the human appetite for meat is forecast to grow by 70% by 2050; that demand could be met through large-scale production of artificial meat, which could eventually release land for growing more efficient food crops. Artificial meat has ethical advantages; a single sample of stem cells could produce 20,000 tonnes of “cultured beef”,avoiding the slaughter of 440,000 cattle. Environmental benefits exist too – animal husbandry is responsible for 18% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions (notably methane), so the introduction of artificial meat could help reduce the coming impacts of climate change.

It’s not instantly appealing, but artificial meat seems quite likely to become part of our diets before too long.

**This is an edited version of an article in The Economist on the 5th of August 2013.

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