Technologies like smartphones and virtual reality have been eagerly embraced by the younger generation, known as Gen Z. However, according to a new study, they draw the line at cultured meat.
The research from the University of Sydney and Curtin University, WA, reveals that while Gen Zers are worried about animal welfare and the environment, 72% of them have no appetite for a laboratory-grown meat alternative.
“Our research has found that Gen Z – those aged between 18 and 25 – are concerned about the environment and animal welfare, yet most are not ready to accept cultured meat and view it with disgust,” says lead researcher Diana Bogueva, from the University of Sydney.
Despite their lack of enthusiasm, 41% of the age group believe it could be a viable source of nutrition because of the need to move to more sustainable food options and improve animal welfare.
The study, published in the journal Frontiers in Nutrition, surveyed 227 randomly selected participants, and found several concerns about cultured meat, including taste or disgust, health and safety and whether it was a more sustainable option.
“The respondents were effectively divided into two groups: the ‘against’ described cultured meat as ‘another thing our generation has to worry about’ and questioned the motivations of those developing it; while supports described it as ‘money invested for a good cause’ and a ‘smart move’ by people who are ‘advanced thinkers’,” says Bogueva.
Of those surveyed, 17% rejected all alternatives to real meat, including cultured meat, which they saw as chemically produced and heavily processed; 35% rejected cultured meat and edible insects, but accepted plant-based alternatives because they “sounded more natural”; and 11% took the strictly vegetarian option, preferring to increase fruit and vegetable consumption.
Interestingly, participants also highlighted societal concerns, including conflicts with perceptions of gender and national identity.
“Gen Z values Australia’s reputation as a supplier of quality livestock and meat, and many view traditional meat-eating as being closely tied to concepts of masculinity and Australian cultural identity,” says Bogueva.
Previous studies have found a quarter of the world’s emissions come from food production, particularly meat farming, which has led to calls to reduce emissions from agriculture.
While 59% of survey participants were concerned about the environmental impact of traditional livestock farming, many were unsure as to whether cultured meat was a more sustainable alternative.
“In-vitro meat and other alternatives are important as they can help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and lead to better animal welfare conditions,” Bogueva says.
“If cultured meat is to replace livestock-based proteins, it will have to emotionally and intellectually appeal to the Gen Z consumers. It may be through its physical appearance, but what seems to be more important is transparency around its environmental and other benefits.”
Amelia Nichele is a science journalist at The Royal Institution of Australia.
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