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Discover: What’s With the Aversion to Lab-Grown Meat?

From Discover: In August 2013, Mark Post of Maastricht University unveiled to an events hall the world’s first kill-free beef patty. Through a laborious and bogglingly expensive process, Post and his team successfully grew real meat in a lab from a biopsy all the way up to an edible burger. But the response from the public was mostly, “yuck.” At the time, cultured meat seemed to irk most on a fundamental level. Today, while there is still some aversion to cultured meat, domestic support for this technology is steadily growing. A recent poll found that two thirds (67 percent) of Americans would be willing to try cultured meat grown in a lab setting. This increasing support comes at a time of considerable food and environmental insecurity, combined with rising global economic challenges, meaning that cheaper, more accessible and more environmentally friendly food sources are in dire need. So, why the aversion?

Lab-Grown Meat Disgust

Paul Rozin is a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and has been described as one of the world’s leading experts on disgust. Over the years, Rozin has worked to examine and understand the cultural, environmental and evolutionary roots of what grosses us out. He describes our relationship with meat as turbulent. “We love it, and we are easily disgusted by it,” Rozin explains. “Cultured meat has to navigate that difficult boundary.” In a 1987 paper, Rozin writes, “almost all objects that qualify as disgusting by our criteria are animals or parts of animals, animal body products, or objects that have had contact with any of the above.” Our feelings of disgust are, in part, born from potential exposure to disease or contamination, risks that are often highest when consuming animal products. This makes the introduction of unfamiliar meat products a tougher sell than other novel food sources, such as plant-based alternatives. In theory, cultured meat products are less susceptible to contamination than their traditional counterparts, due to their controlled methods of production. However, studies indicate that comparisons between the safety of cultured and traditional farming are not particularly useful, as proposed health risks from cultured meat are perceived as far less acceptable to people than identical risks from traditionally farmed meat. According to Rozin, our increased standards for safety could be a result of believing that the technology is “unnatural” and therefore repulsive. Rozin argues however, “almost all food is unnatural, […] you can’t even get things like natural tomatoes and natural corn.” Read more at Discover.

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