'Vat-grown meat' one solution to feeding the world by 2050, say scientists

Scientist examining a piece of meat in a petri dishScientists have suggested that artificial meat grown in vats may be one way to feed the growing population of the world.

It’s just one of the ideas put forward in a series of papers published by the Royal Society this week, part of an academic assessment of how food production is to cope with an estimated global population of nine billion by 2050.

Dr Philip Thornton of Nairobi’s International Livestock Research Institute said that two “wild cards” could transform the production of meat and milk.

“One is artificial meat, which is made in a giant vat, and the other is nanotechnology, which is expected to become more important as a vehicle for delivering medication to livestock.”

Researchers in the Netherlands first successfully grew a form of artificial meat in a laboratory in November 2009.

The 21 scientific papers, written by an international team of scientists, concur that there is little land available to produce food using current methods.

Scientists from Rothamsted agricultural research centre suggest that “plant breeders will probably be able to increase yields considerably in the CO2-enriched environments of the future” – other papers find less to be optimistic about with climate change and advocate a complete rethink of our food systems.

“The need for action is urgent given the time required for investment in research to deliver new technologies to those that need them and for political and social change to take place,” says the paper by Professor John Beddington, the Government’s chief scientist, who led the assessment,

A paper by Jenifer Piese of King’s College London identified the market dominance of seven multinational corporations in the agricultural technology field, foremost among them Monsanto, as a barrier to any new green revolution.

“These companies are accumulating intellectual property to an extent that the public and international institutions are disadvantaged,” Piese writes. “This represents a threat to the global commons in agricultural technology on which the green revolution has depended.”

One study looks at the effect on water supplies of feeding three billion extra people, problems already being faced in places like India, northern Africa and the western United States. Another explores the possibility of improving yields by reducing the 30-40 per cent food wastage that occurs in both rich and poor countries, as well as cutting down on unecessary food purchases.

What do you think? Is artificial meat the way forward or a step in the wrong direction? Add your comments below…

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