‘Artificial meat’ — it’s not natural, but could it be ethical?

News that the first laboratory created ‘meat’ could be available to eat within months has not been welcomed by farming bodies — but animal welfare groups could be more sympathetic.

According to reports in the Daily Telegraph and New Scientist, Dutch researchers — experimenting with stem cells from pigs —  expect to be able produce their first ‘in vitro meat’ products, in a sausage form, within six months. The first lab-grown burgers, created using similar techniques, could follow within a year.

The scientists working on the project say a growing world population could soon mean that our farms cannot produce enough meat to feed everyone, creating a market for artificial beef, pork, lamb and chicken.

Farming organisations — both organic and conventional — are sceptical about the development. Emma Hockridge of the Soil Association commented: “We mustn’t forget all the benefits that grazing animals bring to the beauty and sustainability of our countryside. It is unlikely that lab grown meat would ever replace meat production in the UK and clear that there is still a long way to go before these products are anywhere near being commercially viable.” A spokesperson for the National Farmers Union added that there was “great potential for traditional beef farming to be sustainable and efficient, to reduce emissions and feed a growing population while continuing to offer benefits to the environment, landscape and the rural economy.”

But some animal welfare groups are supportive of the concept of ‘pain-free’ meat. In 2008 the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) organisation offered a $1 million (£600,000) reward for the first scientist to produce a marketable lab-grown meat before 2012.