How Do Young Australians Feel About Cultured Meat?
Cultured meat is made from live cells which have been painlessly taken from the animal and grown in a laboratory setting. The adoption of cultured or in vitro meat is expected to have many advantages over traditional meat, including environmental and animal welfare benefits. An online survey investigated the attitudes of young Australian consumers towards trying this new form of animal-based food.
The study is the first of its kind to explore the views of Australian youth belonging to Generation Z (those born between 1995-2010). The survey respondents were based in Sydney, which is often ranked as one of the world’s most livable cities. Generation Z make up about 20% of Australians, and about 30% of the global population. All of the respondents were at least 18 years of age and in a position to make their own food purchasing choices. The survey included both quantitative and qualitative questions and was split into five sections: demographic data, dietary preferences, opinions about cultured meat, preferences around other meat alternatives such as insect-based food, and factors which may encourage people to embrace meat alternatives.
The survey received a relatively high response rate of 75%, of whom 55% (n = 125) were men. The researchers found no significant differences in opinions presented by male or female participants. The average age of the sample was 21.4 years, with their average annual household income estimated at around $71,000. Although there was a high degree of variation in the levels of meat consumption, 44% of participants ate meat on a daily basis, with 38% eating it a few times a week and 6% responding with ‘never.’ These figures are unsurprising given that Australia has one of the highest per-capita meat consumption rates in the world.
Of the 227 young people who responded, 97 believed that there’s a need to replace traditional meat with an alternative. The researchers reported a low level of awareness of the negative impacts of animal agriculture amongst Australian youth, which could signal a need for more campaigning within this demographic. 19% of respondents accepted the idea of eating cultured meat, while 7% were hesitant, and the vast majority, 72%, found cultured meat to be unacceptable. The reasons for this can be categorised into personal and societal concerns.
On a personal level, many respondents felt that cultured meat would not taste as good as traditional meat, and may not be acceptable from a health and safety point of view. They also questioned whether meat that is grown in a lab would really be more sustainable. As we are still in the early days of cultured meat, it’s difficult to be sure about the impact of its adoption on environmental issues such as energy and water use. However, some studies have suggested that cultured meat would require fewer agricultural inputs and less land. The research paper includes references to studies exploring this question in more depth.
In terms of societal concerns, respondents questioned the need for change from the current system and raised concerns over traditional meat eating as a matter of national pride. Many felt that the production of animal-based food is one of Australia’s economic and cultural strengths. A few respondents had concerns over how the live cell extraction process affects the animal. Finally, some felt that cultured meat is part of a conspiracy created by the super rich, and adamantly refused to be open to it.
Many male respondents who consumed meat on a daily basis, or at least a few times a week, found the idea of cultured meat to be unseemly from a masculinity point of view. For them, eating traditional meat was part of how they identified with their own masculine traits. This may highlight a need for a shift in perception of what masculinity means to young Australian men. Similarly, animals might benefit from Australia and other countries finding sources of national pride and identity outside of producing meat.
The issue of animal dignity was raised by the relatively few respondents who represented lower levels of meat consumption. Some felt that, since the animal does not give permission for their cells to be used, cultured meat is still unethical, and possibly painful. There are people within the advocacy community who make these points. Proponents of cultured meat might compare the scale of animal suffering from cell extraction with that caused by current processes. If cultured meat meets the taste standard of those who currently eat traditional meat, then a mainstream shift might become a reality. This would be subject to the general public’s willingness to try the new food, and the market’s ability to bring the price down to an acceptable level for most consumers.
For the time being, most young Australians appear unwilling to take on cultured meat as a new food for the future. Their views may adjust over time as they inherit the challenges left behind by previous generations, such as climate change and new zoonotic diseases. On the plus side, Generation Z is already showing signs of being a particularly socially conscious group, with access to digital tools and information that were unimaginable thirty years ago.