People probably wouldn’t care if it hadn’t been broadcast on television, but the lab-grown burger eaten on British television has made a mark. Maybe it won’t last much longer than this week’s late night television comedy, so I want to get some thought online about what might happen moving forward. Of course, if the cost can’t get down to compete with ‘natural’ beef, this conversation is more moot than normal.
For me, the comparison I make in my head is not to ‘natural’ beef, but to genetically modified organisms (GMO). Now, I understand you could call this lab beef genetically modified, but I think you could say the same about cultivated hybrid strains of various plants. The current language around genetically modified organisms tends to focus on those organisms where the genome is altered at the cellular level.
However you settle the nomenclature, I think it reasonable to ask if there would be a similar kind of opposition to beef developed from stem cells than what we have to genetically altered crops. If this kind of beef remains in the public eye, I give it a pretty good chance.
What could be different is who lines up in opposition. As outlined in this skeptical piece on the lab beef, many of those who would like to see beef consumption drop are in favor of lab solutions, but many others who want the same goal are highly resistant to laboratory-originated food products. I don’t expect this potential tension within groups opposed to GMOs to make it easier for lab beef to gain public acceptance. I do think it will prompt at least a few instances of cognitive dissonance.
Either way, I’d want the burgers labeled. And after such a public emergence, avoiding a lab-grown label is likely to be harder than it was for foods containing GMOs.