Lab-grown chicken and beef have already started to hit the shelves. It might not be long until they become commonplace — and if that is the case, most people would welcome them, according to a new survey.

Brewing Burgers

Image by Flickr user régine debatty, via Faunalytics.

If you haven’t heard about “clean meat” or “lab-grown meat”, don’t beat yourself up — most people haven’t, the survey revealed. Clean meat is essentially in vitro, cultured meat, grown from animal cells, without actually raising or harming any animals. The process, producers say, is akin to brewing beer — except instead of brewing beer, you’re brewing burgers.

Two decades ago, this would have been purely a fantasy. Even a few years ago, lab-grown burgers had astronomical prices and were little more than a scientific curiosity. But things have changed. Several companies and research institutes have brought the price down, up to the point where it’s starting to look like a viable alternative.

“Clean meat is on the horizon,” says Jo Anderson, research director for Faunalytics, a nonprofit research organization that gathers data for animal advocates. The group performed the survey with support from the nonprofit Good Food Institute. “There are a lot of questions about how people are going to feel about it, what we can do to make sure that it’s perceived accurately so that it doesn’t raise concerns for people, and we just wanted to look into different ways of moving that process.”

Bad meat

Why, you might ask, would someone go through all this trouble just to have something that’s already easily available — like meat? Well, the reasons often start with ethics, but they don’t end there. Naturally, not having to subject millions and millions of animals to brutal living conditions, and then slaughtering them, is one of the advantages. But it’s definitely not the only one. It’s estimated that when clean meat reaches its potential, it will require less water, less land, and generate fewer emissions. By all metrics, it will be more sustainable and environmentally-friendly than conventional meat. Given the massive environmental impact that agriculture (and particularly, animal growing) has, it could come as a much-needed boon.

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But would people like it?

In a survey of nearly 1,200 participants, most said they weren’t familiar with the idea of clean meat. But after hearing a short definition, along with the benefits of the technique, 66.4% said they’d be willing to try it. Just under half (45.9%) said they’d be willing to replace conventional meat with it and buy it regularly.

Of course, this is still a small study, and if anything, it’s more likely to help producers rather than the general population — by seeing how receptive consumers are to different messages (which were compared in the survey), they can choose their angle accordingly and customize the selling points of the products.

Rather surprisingly, there seems to be an “ick factor” associated with lab-grown meat. Arguably, it’s not the most appealing of foods, but then again, comparing the way the vast majority of animals are kept and handled, one could argue that in vitro cultures are hardly more repulsive.

Lastly, the fact that this industry has developed so fast, and is almost ready to take the world by surprise, can be an advantage, Anderson says — if producers play their cards well.

“I actually think that it’s a benefit that not that many people are familiar with yet,” says Anderson. “It means that there’s sort of a clean slate to approach people with the information about the benefits of clean meat.”

So, what do you think about it? Would you try this type of meat? Would you consume it regularly? Leave your answers on the poll above and in the comment section!