Lab-grown meat debate stirs ethical questions about the future of food and synthetic biology

future food
Image: Victor de Schwanberg/Science Photo Library

More than a century ago, dairy farmers sounded the alarm on margarine, insisting that it wasn’t really butter, and it therefore needed to be classified differently. [On July 13th], the Food and Drug Administration host[ed] a public meeting on lab-grown meat, including the question of whether it should be called “meat.”

Lab-grown meat is getting all the attention, but it’s far from the only product that will run into these labeling questions…according to Christina Agapakis, a biologist who is the creative director at Ginkgo Bioworks. Gingko, a Boston-based synthetic biology company…genetically engineer[s] microbes to make perfume and foodThe Verge spoke to Agapakis about the state of cultured meat, the link between synthetic biology and sustainability, and the future of food.

It seems like this discussion about labeling synthetic foods is going to have repercussions beyond lab-grown meat. What are some of the parallels that you see in the field of synthetic biology as a whole?

There’s certainly a greater debate…For example, genetically engineered microbes: are those natural or artificial? On the regulatory side, they are labeled as “natural” because they come from plants…Even though something produced from a genetically engineered microbe might be biological, it doesn’t feel like what most people think of as “natural…”

The thing is, the consumer cares about how things are made. There’s a reason to make things using synthetic biology. For a lot of products, you can make things in a way that’s more sustainable or ethically sourced than usual.

Read full, original article: How synthetic biology will — and maybe won’t — change the future of food

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