Consumers aren't exactly crowing for lab-grown chicken

New research shows a majority of the public supports banning cultivated meats, as two states just did.
The data shows consumers don't like the notion of lab production. | Photo: Shutterstock

Lab-grown meat has yet to enter the restaurant supply chain, but a majority of U.S. consumers have already decided it’s not for them, according to new data from public opinion researcher YouGov.

Only 10% of the Americans surveyed by the company said they’d be willing to try an animal protein that was cultivated in a factory, compared with the 60% who indicated they’d pass. Two-thirds of the no-goers declared they definitely wouldn’t try even a bite, with the rest attesting it’s merely unlikely.

The researchers also posed the hypothetical situation of two indistinguishable meat servings being presented as options. The cuts tasted and cost the same, but one was labeled as farm-grown and the other as lab-cultivated. Half the respondents said they’d opt for the meat produced in conventional fashion, while only 13% voiced a preference for the factory-made protein. A higher percentage—14%—said they’d forgo both.

That finding suggests consumers’ aversion to lab-grown meat is based on the production process rather than the attributes of the meat, such as its color or flavor. They’re also unswayed by meat being grown in a manner that’s less taxing on the environment.

The findings indicate that the pubic is put off by the notion of meat being cultivated in science-fiction fashion by technicians and scientists.  

The ick factor is so strong that 31% of the research participants said they’d favor banning lab meat outright, as opposed to 36% who said they’d oppose a ban. The remaining third of the respondents indicated they need to reflect more on the issue.

States are already acting on the public’s aversion. In May, both Florida and Alabama enacted bans on the sale and consumption of lab meat, even though lab-cultivated proteins are still not available.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave three producers of lab-cultivated chicken a go-ahead last year to sell the protein within the U.S., but all three lack the ability to generate the meat at a commercially viable scale. Until they can produce in volume, availability and price will remain roadblocks.

The only places where the meat has been served is in the restaurants of renowned chefs José Andrés and Dominique Crenn, and then only for publicity reasons.

The cultivation of beef or pork in a lab is still stymied by technology challenges.

Advocates of cultivated meat contend that the production process is far better for the environment than farming chickens or cattle, since less carbon is produced as byproduct. They also assert that the risk of contamination is lower because the production setting is so carefully controlled.

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