#04: How tech will radically change what we eat

When you consider the fact that McDonalds sells 75 hamburgers every second, you might start to worry about the longevity of our resources. 

Lauri Reuter, Senior Specialist of Disruptive Technologies at VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland. Lauri has a PhD in Biotechnology, with specialties in cell biology, genetic engineering and protein production. He is passionate about securing food production in the future, and is the man to ask if you’ve ever wondered, “what are we going to eat in the future, and how are we going to grow it?”  

Food Sustainability in the Technological Age

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations predicts that the demand for meat is going to increase by more than two-thirds in the next 40 years.

When considering what it takes to make a single quarter pound hamburger patty, it becomes clear that the current methods of meat production are simply not sustainable.

According to NPR, one hamburger requires 6.7 pounds of grain, 52.8 gallons of drinking water, 74.5 square feet of land, and 1,036 BTUs of fossil fuel energy. Considering the fact that McDonalds sells 75 hamburgers every second, some worry about the longevity of resources. 

Understanding sustainable meat production

While assessing the exact environmental cost of each hamburger may be an alarming reality check, there is an alternative meat production method that is making huge strides in terms of sustainability. Cultured or “cell-based” meat is created by painlessly harvesting muscle cells from a living animal.

Once in the lab, scientists care for the cells, which then multiply to create muscle tissue (the main component of the meat we eat). cultured meat is fundamentally the same as the meat we are used to eating, however it does not involve slaughtering an animal, and uses considerably less resources. 

Is cultured meat the answer? 

While cultured meat production is certainly a sustainable way to produce meat, it may not be the end-all be-all. Reuter explained that while the price of producing cell-based meat has dropped significantly over the years, it is still too expensive to be a go-to option. Additionally, the first cell-based meat product is still years away from hitting the shelves, while products like Beyond Meat (a plant-based meat substitute) have already become popular in many countries. 

The future of meat consumption

When it comes to meat consumption, it’s no surprise that most of the world needs to cut back. Of course, not everyone is willing to make the switch to eating meat grown in a petri dish, or even lower their consumption. So, how does this industry get the public on board?

The communication and marketing behind this cutting-edge technology has the power to make or break the entire industry. The Good Food Institute (GFI) asked food and beverage innovation firm, Mattson to help understand the relationship between food and communication. While cultured meat and cell-based meat have been long-standing terms in the industry, GFI has been testing a variety of terms for consumer appeal and purchase intent. Terms like slaughter-free meat, craft meat and clean meat performed significantly better than scientific terms like cell-based and cultured. Mattson President Barb Stuckey commented, “Without approval from consumers and regulatory agencies alike, it won’t matter whether the burgeoning sector can successfully scale the technology. It’s critical to get the communication right.”

Listen to the Future Forecast episode with Lauri Reuter for more on the future of food and how technology will radically change the way we produce it.