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Artificial Meat May Feed the Planet, Scientists Say

Petri Dish

Growing meat in a laboratory ni a petri dish like this one may be the only way to boost the world's beef supplies, scientists said. (Pacific Northwest National Laboratory)

Growing artificial meat in vats may be the best way to feed an expected population of 9 billion in 2050 without destroying the Earth, a group of leading international scientists say.

It's one of many other possible solutions being considered by the London Royal Society, which just published a set of 21 papers assessing the future of global food supplies.

Overpopulation and limited land for new agricultural expansion mean that increasing food and supplies by 70% in the next 40 years will prove a difficult task, prompting the Society's investigation.

One of the main areas of investigation is efficiency -- reducing waste while increasing crop yields -- given that the gap between delivered yields and achievable yields remains large. This can be improved by technological advances in fertilizers, chemical protections, and genetic engineering. But some think these measures won’t be enough, with land and water growing ever more scarce.

Philip Thornton of the International Livestock Research Institute in Nairobi sees a more novel option: growing artificial meat in vats, what he considers the “wildcard” option.

While the process is conceptually feasible, there would be elements of social stigma to overcome.

On paper though, artificial meats have numerous benefits. With greater control over composition and process, the food would be healthier with less waste.

 The end result is a product that is more hygienic while reducing the amount of greenhouse gas produced by livestock.

Thornton surmises another decade of research is needed before artificial meat could hit grocery-store shelves.

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