To all in vitro meat optimists, hear hear! In May 2018 we launched the petition 'In vitro meat is here. Let us taste it.' We proudly announce that this petition led to parliamentary questions, followed by a roundtable discussion with members of the Dutch parliament (which took place today). Prior to this debate, we were invited to hand over our petition - which was signed by 3282 people, thank you! - to the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality, and with that, briefly share our viewpoints on in vitro meat in the Netherlands; today, tomorrow, and beyond.
The start of a petition
In vitro meat is a sustainable and animal-friendly alternative to traditional meat. In January 2018, the first trial packages were deliverd to the Netherlands. We wanted to taste it, but we were not allowed. And we started a petition. Allow us to refresh your memory:
- That The Netherlands has been leading the research on in vitro meat for the past 20 years. There has been a patent since 1999 and in 2013 the first lab-grown burger was cooked and eaten.
- Trial packages have been delivered to a Dutch restaurant. But have been sealed by the Dutch Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority; this delay continues a polluting, animal-unfriendly and unethical bio-industry.
- A missed opportunity for sustainable innovation in the Netherlands!
- That the tasting of the in vitro meat can take place.
- For the Dutch Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority to take an active stance by testing the trial packages of in vitro meat.
- That the government will do everything in its power to establish the Netherlands as a place where sustainable innovations (such as in vitro meat) can not only be conceived but can also introduced!
A round table
Besides the members of parliament, a number of scientists, entrepreneurs, philosophers and social influencers were asked to join the debate and present their views on in vitro meat. Given, we're taking baby steps here, but the MP meeting is certainly a step forward, and all yesterday's attendees seemed to agree on that one.
The session was split up in three blocks - science, business and society - that do so much to help inform and stimulate debate around the table. In the following, we'll take a closer look at what's to come next.
Meat is a cultural artefact
"Meat is an intrinsic part of the modern diet," says Daan Luining, research division director at CAS (Cellular Agriculture Society). In his words: "Meat is more than just proteins: it's (part of our) culture."
In a recent estimate of the number of vegetarians in the world, only 75 million people are vegetarians by choice, a number that will gradually grow with increasing affluence and education. The other 1450 million are vegetarians of necessity. They will start to eat meat as soon as they can afford it.
"Meat has to do with prosperity," says Peter Verstrate, CEO at MosaMeat. "When cultures are becoming wealthier, the first thing the population does is adding meat to their diets - instead of buying new cars."
And then there's the experience of eating meat. Often the desire to eat meat is rooted in habit. According to Verstrate, we are "addicted to meat" - and this may be the core of our problems. "Meat is the holy grail, and producers of vegetable products know this only too well."
At Next Nature Network, we could not agree more, hence our Meat the Future project, exploring the potential and food cultures in vitro meat will bring us - through design. With system change comes behavioral change.
What's in a name?
Lab-grown meat? Cultured meat? In vitro meat? Clean meat? How to name such a product?
Dr. Arnout Fischer, associate professor in consumer behaviour at Wageningen University (WUR), points out that "by naming [it] 'clean meat', consumers may loose their trust in the food industry. It's a great task that lies with the government." Anticipating on his comment, politician Tjeerd de Groot from D66, the social, liberal party wrote a tweet to call upon the Dutch citizens to come up with a name (Thoughts? Let us know in the comments below!).
Fischer has done important research on how consumers think about in vitro meat. He found that the Dutch population holds no objections to the product (be it a 'neutral' stance), but there's also not a real demand for it. Surprisingly, just 5% of the Dutch populace regards in vitro meat as an important opportunity to reach our climate goals.
However, what it comes down to is this. The name should highlight the fact that the product is a meat produce like no other. Just imagine a future where in vitro meat becomes cheaper than 'analogue' meat, and is being sold like the 'real thing'.
The government needs to take a stance
"In vitro meat should come more natural to us," says Ira van Eelen, in vitro meat optimist, marketeer and member of JUST's advisory board. The self-described 'nexitarian' thinks its important that, for society to fully accept the product, we must call a spade a spade: "It's just meat!"
Van Eelen too, feels strongly about the missed opportunity of launching the product in the Netherlands earlier this year. Now, other countries are now taking the lead in this revolution. She points out that worldwide there are about thirty start-ups working on the production of in vitro meat, and The Netherlands are now falling behind.
Due to the European legislation holding off the in vitro meat, this sends a negative message to society, and it's about time we change that. "The government needs to take a stance, and inform citizens in a neutral, subjective way on what the product is and is not."
"The next step is to make it sexy for students to specialize in making in vitro meat instead of becoming a doctor," she adds. Like other entrepreneurs, she calls on the Dutch government to invest in knowledge and education about in vitro meat. "There's a whole new generation of scientists on the rise who will bring this forward." Not back to, but forward to Nature!
Have thoughts? Let us know in the comments below!