I have been hearing for years about how insects and lab grown meat could reduce food emissions. What is holding it back?


I have been hearing for years about how insects and lab grown meat could reduce food emissions. What is holding it back?

In: 7

The western world mostly. Here in the US you have people who get angry at the suggestion of not eating red meat. This anger gets worse the more foreign the suggested replacement is. So it’s been difficult to introduce alternatives that don’t fail.

You also have the problem with insects that the western world is scared of seeing usually, let alone eating. That’s why it’s been a staple in game show challenges. Even for big prizes a cricket is like poison to them.

The third reason is meat and dairy industry. They have money and don’t want to change. Same reason people think drinking milk every day is great for you, they got people thinking for generations red meat is practically necessary in your diet.

A lot of people won’t even get vaccines, they surely won’t be open to the idea of lab-grown meat.

It’s expensive and people don’t like the idea. Once it becomes a status symbol then people will flock to it.

While others have brought up cultural reasons (mostly just change taking time), there is also a scientific/technical issue with innovation in general: scaling.

This is true for almost any big “scientists have invented X” news. It’s one thing to show off a tiny sample of the thing you’ve made, it’s a completely other thing to come up with an effective, economical process that is able to produce 1000s of tons of the stuff, without requiring obscene amounts of workforce, space, energy or raw materials (all of those are typically non-issues in exploratory research).

I can’t speak much to lab grown meats, but the insect argument lies in the fact that most westerners find the idea of eating insects to be off putting.

A friend of mine who studied some form of plant/food science told me that in the US, there is more nutritional value in the insects that are killed (with pesticides) on agriculture than compared to the nutritional value of the harvested crops.
Which validates what you’ve been hearing, but highlights that knowing what is better isn’t the issue. It’s getting people to change their behavior that poses as the challenge

They aren’t yet able to produce lab grown meat in sufficient quantities to make it affordable and practical. It also has to be made appealing to the general public.

Insect based protein and Lab grown meat both suffer from marketing problems. Westerners in particularly are obsessed with eating Red Meat (which is arguably the worst for the environment) and find the idea of eating Lab Grown Meat or Insects disgusting.

The dairy industry is also very large and powerful, and facing competition from lab grow meat will likely causing them to launch attack ads and lobbying the government to try to stop or or label it as ‘unnatural’ or try to make it unappealing to consumers.

Lab Grown Meat already has the unfortunate reputation of being slandered as a McPetri hamburger (petri dish) etc.

But as it becomes widely available marketing teams will work their magic with commercials and celebrities and it will start to trend and become more widely accepted.

So long as it looks good, tastes good, is low cost, and gets over the ‘unnatural product’ barrier in consumers minds it can succeed.

Even if lab grown meat only replaces 80% of fast food ground beef, low cost super market meat, and canned meat (like cooked pasta in a can) it will still be a big success.

It’s not working, yet. Meat is a big business, and it can’t be replaced by a little business. Over decades, things shift, not just because there is a press release.

For lab grown meat, cost. Getting them to look and taste close enough to the real thing is still crazy expensive, and the processes aren’t mass producible yet.

For insects, they turn out to not actually be that much more efficient than chickens at turning plants into edible protein, and people like eating chickens way more than crickets.

I’m gonna go against the grain here, but lab grown meat does not taste or have the same texture as actual meat. It’s not a problem of acceptance and what not, it’s that it is not the same and is not an equal substitute but rather an alternative.

Lab-grown meat has several challenges. It’s essentially just muscle cells, the actual meat. But meat gains its flavour from the animal’s fat and the animal’s fat gets its flavour from the animal’s diet.

That makes lab-grown meat flavourless and grey. This is also why most lab-grown meat products are minced meat, so manufacturers can add flavour and fat afterwards.

Essentially it means that lab-grown meat at the moment is mostly an expensive experiment and novelty. If you’re going to turn it into minced meat, hamburger, meatballs etc. you haven’t really achieved much yet.

Insects have scaling and adoption challenges. People still have an aversion to eating insects even though farmed insects are usually intended to be turned into insect flour. A powder that is used much like any grain flour in processed products.

That aversion means there are no ready-made markets or production lines for insect-based foods. There are no large multinationals buying up the supply of insect flour. There are no food brands producing processed foods that need insect flour.

And the other side of the supply chain looks much the same. There is no supplier of food wastage that is exactly right for feeding insect farms. No specialised equipment. Few people working in that industry.

Insect based protein probably has a future but it’s just very much in its infancy right now.

And there’s plenty of competition. Lab meat would be great if you could produce a tasty steak but right now it can’t. And if it’s just producing minced meat, then there’s plenty of plant-based competition that’s a lot cheaper to produce.

And then there’s the competition like mould, algae, seaweed etc. based proteins that might be a lot easier to scale up. Quorn produces mould based protein meat replacements and they’ve been around for 37 years now. It’s not going to fool anyone into thinking it’s meat but it’s tasty, protein-rich and functional.

Right now humanity loves meat. That’s why most protein replacements try to resemble meat so much that people will be willing to make the switch. But once you let go of the notion that protein-rich food has to resemble meat, meat replacements are pretty inefficient, expensive and over-engineered just for putting protein in your diet.

Almost all of the solutions for problems relating to climate catastrophe run into the same thing. Culture is a huge part of the problem and the solution. Humans *need* protein. We don’t need meat. Our desire for meat is cultural. Getting rid of our desire for meat is a more effective solution than finding ways to artificially make meat. But cultural change can be as difficult if not more difficult than technical innovation.