Environment: Three-quarters of Gen Z ‘are disgusted by lab-grown meat’ and say they would NOT eat it

Almost three-in-four members of Australia’s Gen Z are ‘disgusted’ by the idea of lab-grown meat and said they would not eat it instead of animal products, a study found.

Synthetic, lab-grown — or ‘cultured’ — meat is grown in dishes from samples of real animal cells, instead of being sourced from the slaughter of livestock.

Experts believe that a move away from traditional meat production is necessary, given animal welfare concerns and the environmental impact of livestock farming.

A recent study argued that a broad switch to plant-based proteins could remove 16 years’ worth of atmospheric CO2 emissions by 2050 by restoring native vegetation.

Accordingly, many Gen Z and millennials are understood to have taken up veganism or vegetarianism to help mitigate climate change and minimise animal suffering. 

However, the survey of 227 Gen Z Australians found that as many as 72 per cent have reservations about eating cultured meat over its animal-derived forebear.

Nevertheless, 41 per cent of those polled also said that they saw synthetic meat as having the potential to be a viable nutritional source in the future. 

Almost three-in-four members of Australia’s Gen Z are ‘disgusted’ by the idea of lab-grown meat, pictured, and said they would not eat it instead of animal products, a study found

GEN Z’S THOUGHTS ON LAB-GROWN MEAT 

Dr Bogueva and colleagues surveyed 227 Australians aged from 18–25 about their thoughts on lab-grown meat.

35 per cent rejected cultured meat and insects, but accepted plant-based alternatives because they felt they were ‘more natural’ and are ‘normal’.

28 per cent said they would or might accept lab-grown meat in the future.

17 per cent rejected all meat alternatives, reporting they felt that cultured meat was ‘chemically produced’ and ‘heavily processed’. 

11 per cent also rejected all meat alternatives, but expressed a preference for consuming more fruits and vegetables instead.

9 per cent said that they would accept edible bugs, but rejected lab-grown meat for being ‘too artificial’ and ‘not natural like insects’.

The team also found, however, that 41 per cent Gen Z believe that lab-grown meat can be a viable nutritional source, given the need to improve animal welfare and to transition to more sustainable food options.

Generation Z — those born between the years of 1995–2015 — make up around 25 per cent of the current UK population and some 2 billion people worldwide — make them a consumer segment manufacturers must reckon with.

For the world to reap the environmental and animal welfare benefits of cultured meat — over livestock farming — in the future, Gen Z must be sold on the concept of lab-grown meat.

Despite expressing concern over the treatment of animals in meat production and the environmental impact of the industry, experts found that nearly three-quarters of Generation Z are not ready to accept cultured meat into their diets.

However, the researchers also found that 41 per cent of Gen Z do believe that lab-grown meat can be a viable nutritional source, given the need to both improve animal welfare and to transition to more sustainable food options in the future.

‘Our research has found that Generation Z — those aged between 18 and 25 — are concerned about the environment and animal welfare,’ said paper author and food sustainability expert Diana Bogueva of the University of Sydney.

‘Yet most are not ready to accept cultured meat and view it with disgust,’ she added.

‘In-vitro meat and other alternatives are important as they can help to reduce greenhouse emissions and lead to better animal welfare conditions.’

‘However, if cultured meat is to replace livestock-based proteins, it will have to emotionally and intellectually appeal to the Gen Z consumers.’

‘It may be through its physical appearance, but what seems to be more important is transparency around its environmental and other benefits.’

In their study, Dr Bogueva and colleagues polled 227 Australians aged from 18–25 about their demographics and dietary preferences — including their thoughts on real meat, cultured meat and other alternatives like plant proteins and insects.

The survey revealed that although 59 per cent of participants were concerned about the environmental impact of traditional livestock farming, many were unclear on what such entailed and did not understand the associated resource depletion.

Respondents also expressed several concerns around the consumption of cultured meat, including around an anticipated taste or disgust, health and safety — and whether it is a more sustainable option than other alternatives.

Synthetic, lab-grown — or 'cultured' — meat is grown in dishes from samples of real animal cells, instead of being sourced from the slaughter of livestock. Pictured, chef Richard McGeown prepares a lab-grown beef burger made by researchers from Maastricht University

Synthetic, lab-grown — or ‘cultured’ — meat is grown in dishes from samples of real animal cells, instead of being sourced from the slaughter of livestock. Pictured, chef Richard McGeown prepares a lab-grown beef burger made by researchers from Maastricht University

Societal concerns were also prevalent among the participants’ responses, with many expressing concerns that eating cultured meat would be in conflict with perceptions of gender and national identity.

‘Gen Z value Australia’s reputation as a supplier of quality livestock and meat, and many view traditional meat eating as being closely tied to concepts of masculinity and Australian cultural identity,’ Dr Bogueva explained.

Others polled reported being concerned about animal welfare, whereas some viewed cultured meat as a conspiracy orchestrated by the rich and powerful — and were determined not to be convinced to consume it.

‘Generation Z are also unsure whether cultured meat is actually more environmentally sustainable, described by several respondents as potentially “resource consuming” and not being “environmentally friendly”,’ said Dr Bogueva.

‘The respondents were effectively divided into two groups: the “against” described cultured meat as “another thing our generation has to worry about” and questioned the motivations of those developing it.’

Meanwhile, she added, ‘supporters described it as “money invested for a good cause” and “a smart move” by people who are “advanced thinkers”.’

‘This generation has vast information at its fingertips but is still concerned that they will be left with the legacy of exploitative capitalism that benefits only a few at the expense of many.’

‘They have witnessed such behaviour resulting in climate change and are now afraid that a similar scenario may develop in relation to food — particularly as investors are pursuing broader adoption of cultured meat.’

The full findings of the study were published in the journal Frontiers in Nutrition.

EATING LENTILS, BEANS AND NUTS INSTEAD OF MEAT AND DAIRY’ COULD REMOVE 16 YEARS’ WORTH OF CO2 EMISSIONS BY 2050

Switching from eating ‘land-hungry’ meat and dairy produce to foodstuffs like beans, lentils and nuts could remove 16 years’ worth of CO2 emissions by 2050, experts said.

Researchers from the US calculated that broad uptake of such plant-based protein alternatives could free up land to support more ecosystems that absorb carbon.

At present, around 83 per cent of the world’s agricultural land is given over to meat and dairy-based production — much of which only produce low yields.

Reducing this figure, the team said, is a better way to combat climate change than waiting for ‘unproven’ large-scale technologies like atmospheric CO2 extractors.

 ‘The greatest potential for forest regrowth, and the climate benefits it entails, exists in high- and upper-middle income countries,’ said paper author and environmental scientist Matthew Hayek of New York University,

These, he added, are ‘places where scaling back on land-hungry meat and dairy would have relatively minor impacts on food security.’

In the study, Professor Hayek and colleagues mapped out the areas of the globe where land use for animal-sourced food production has squeezed out native vegetation, such as forests.

This allowed the team to determine where a shift in our diets to more plant-based foodstuffs could allow natural ecosystems to be restored — helping to offset global carbon dioxide emissions in the process.

‘We only mapped areas where seeds could disperse naturally, growing and multiplying into dense, biodiverse forests and other ecosystems that work to remove carbon dioxide for us,’ Professor Hayek said.

‘Our results revealed over 7 million square kilometres where forests would be wet enough to regrow and thrive naturally, collectively an area the size of Russia.’

The team concluded that — if the demand for land for meat production could be drastically lowered — vegetation regrowth in these locations could help to sequester around 9–16 year’s worth of fossil fuel emissions by the middle of century.

This would effectively double the planet’s so-called ‘carbon budget’ — the amount of fossil fuels emissions we can afford to release before we reach the threshold temperature rise of 2.7°F (1.5°C) above pre-industrial levels.

Exceeding this limit is expected to result in a significant rise in the number of severe impacts from climate change — including droughts and sea level rise. 

‘We can think of shifting our eating habits toward land-friendly diets as a supplement to shifting energy, rather than a substitute,’ Professor Hayek said.

‘Restoring native forests could buy some much-needed time for countries to transition their energy grids to renewable, fossil-free infrastructure.’

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