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Lab-grown meat. Suspicious or sustainable?

News reports from The States have been debating the topic of lab-grown meat and asking, would you eat it? Sharon Oliver, Senior Account Director in our Animal Health team asks the same question.

In some countries, lab-grown meat has already been licenced and heralded as a possible answer to world hunger and sustainability. And earlier this year. Richard Branson and Bill Gates both leant their financial support to the ‘clean meat’ industry. It’s getting so much attention that the FDA in the US has begun to work with the industry to better understand  the safety of the technology and how to navigate challenges over whether to in fact label the product ‘meat’.

Our Animal Health team loves a good debate. So when we threw the question out, it generated some interesting and conflicting points of view.

Heidi Bell, Animal Health Director and vegetarian surprised us all.

‘Although I strongly believe people do not need to eat meat, I would totally try it – but only if it didn’t derive from or harm a living animal. The pros are clear. It’s better for the environment, more affordable, no welfare issues and a potentially tastier end result. Controversy centres on perceived health risks but also the damage this could do to livestock farming and the knock-on effect – from feed-stuffs production, the veterinary sector and rural community life, right through to the possible extinction of farm animal species. Definitely a hot topic and one to watch.”    

Dan Archer, our meat loving Senior Account Manager agrees.

I would try it. Half of what we consume is synthesised already, we just aren’t aware of it. Being aware of where your food comes from is key for me. And it’s likely that both taste and nutrition will be matched, if not enhanced.’

Tim Potter, our expert Farm Animal Vet was definitive.

‘Is lab grown meat actually meat? I have always worked on the definition of meat being the flesh of an animal or bird so wonder whether lab grown meat can be called meat or is it just another form of meat substitute such as Quorn? Personally, I would always choose real meat as long as the way it was farmed was welfare-orientated, ethical and sustainable. I would not object to lab grown meat, as I can appreciate the need for alternative sources of protein to feed the growing population. I would just prefer it was labelled as to what it was.’

Sophie Middleton, our farm-focused Senior Account Executive agrees with Tim.

‘It’s a no from me. I’ll admit that I am a bit of traditionalist when it comes to eating meat and this doesn’t sit right with me. I think there should be more of a focus on educating people on the impact farming and agriculture has on the environment, rather than just saying we should grow something in a lab.  If every meat-eater was only to eat meat a couple of days a week, that would have a massive, positive impact on the environment.

Account Director, Luke Hopkins was logical in his views.

‘I would not eat it personally, however there is a definitely a place for it. The issue is global meat consumption and the wide availability of processed meat. For people with limited income or  limited access to local, sustainable meat, or indeed those who do not wish to cut down on processed meat, a lab-grown alternative could be a viable and affordable option.’

Ellie Mundy, our Account Executive, was more worried around safety.

‘Personally I wouldn’t eat lab produced meat. As a vegetarian I am glad that they are working on alternatives to meat. However I don’t believe there is enough evidence that it is safe for consumption yet.’

There are certainly mixed views for and against within our team and I can see the argument from all angles. For me, the ability to produce cruelty-free meat could resolve important ethical and environmental issues, as well as helping developing nations who have a protein shortage. But our reliance on meat has been fuelled by the convenience and ‘junk food’ industries. Are we just talking about producing lab-grown chicken nuggets here? And would this create a bigger problem in human health down the line?

It’s an industry issue we will be following closely so let us know what you think.

is a Senior Account Director in our Animal Health team and has a wealth of integrated comms experience both agency and client side.