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22 February 2020 | New Scientist | 3

AS PEOPLE get richer, they tend to eat
more meat. Global meat consumption
has roughly doubled over the past
30 years and is forecast to double again
over the next 30. Satisfying demand
without trashing the environment and
crashing the climate will be a challenge.
According to the World Economic
Forum, doing so through conventional
agriculture will be impossible.
Another type of agriculture is on the
way that could fill stomachs without
killing the planet – or anything, for that
matter. Cellular agriculture, or cultured
meat, is almost oven-ready. The first
commercial products could be plated
up next year. The starter will be seafood:
shrimp, crab, lobster, salmon and tuna.
But the technology is basically the same
and cultured shrimp should pave the
way for burgers and nuggets.

Consumer squeamishness may still
be a problem and some claims about
cultured meat’s reduced environmental
impact may be overblown (see page 39).
However, it could be a game-changer,
shrinking livestock farming’s footprint,
stemming the tide of antibiotic

resistance, improving animal welfare
and solving looming food security
issues. Even lab-made shrimp would
be an improvement, as aquaculture
has its own sustainability problems.
So why are governments paying
cultured meat so little attention?
While they continue to pour money

into university research on conventional
agriculture, only around $150 million
has been invested in developing cultured
meat up to now, all from the private
sector or philanthropy. That is chicken
feed for a technology that could change
the world for the better.
We can’t rely on the free market to
sort this out alone. Venture capital has
a poor track record at supporting truly
original innovation. Just look at that
icon of modern consumer capitalism,
the smartphone: from the internet
to GPS, touchscreen displays and even
the voice-activated assistant Siri, pretty
much all its key technologies initially
received state cash.
Governments should ignore the
bleating of meat industry lobbyists.
It is time to put our money where
our mouths need to be. ❚

A lab-grown future

For all our sakes, governments need to invest more in cultured meat

The leader

“ Venture capital has a poor
record of supporting truly
original innovation – just
look at any smartphone”

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