Nearly every day I’m learning about start-up food companies that are trying to mimic or re-create our favorite foods in a lab.

What is lab-grown food?

We’re talking coffee without the bean, ice cream without the cow, and eggs without the chicken.

I also was surprised to learn that scientists are trying to make chocolate without cocoa beans. Researchers claim that cocoa beans are at risk because of climate change, drought and extreme weather in key growing regions.

So scientists are trying to mimic the taste – and that wonderful, melty mouthfeel of chocolate by combining different chemical ingredients. As one journalist reported after eating a lab-grown chocolate bar: “Visually, it was perfect. The flavor was ... different.”

I agree that we need science to help solve our world’s most pressing problems – including how to end global poverty and starvation.

That’s why Iowa farmers are focused on sustainable agriculture and their role in providing nutritious foods that benefit public health.

As we get closer to a future of lab-grown foods (whether we’re ready for it or not), we need to discuss what that means for agricultural sustainability – not just the impact on the environment but also the impact on people, the economy and our social connections.

Important questions to consider:

How would lab-grown food impact nutrition?

Sure, maybe scientists could mimic the taste or texture of real meat and dairy (or chocolate), but will there be a loss of essential micronutrients that our bodies need and that only real animal-based proteins can provide?

How would it impact food safety?

If our food is grown in a handful of labs, what would happen if there’s a food safety hazard in one of the labs? Do we want more concentration in the food system?

How would it impact our nation’s food self-sufficiency?

Lab-grown meats, although still several years from commercialization, require hormones, antibiotics and other cell culture ingredients for food companies to manufacture. Some of these ingredients must be sourced from other countries, like China. Are we comfortable with becoming more dependent on export markets for our food?

How would it impact rural communities and family farmers?

Our rural communities depend on family farmers to boost Main Street businesses. What would rural Iowa – and our school and health care facilities – be without animal agriculture?

How would it impact the livestock co-product supply chain?

Farm animals don’t just provide meat. Animal agriculture provides co-products like leather, fats and oils that are ingredients to make medicines, cosmetics, cleaning supplies, clothing, fuel, pet food, tires and many more of our everyday necessities.

How would it impact lower-income adults and children?

What if real meat becomes a luxury that only the wealthy can afford? Do we want to create an even wider gap between the “haves and have-nots” in the food system?

These are a few questions that pop up in my mind. You might have your own questions and concerns.

When it comes to food sustainability, there are seldom easy answers or choices. It will take scientists, working together with farmers, food companies and consumers, to help find solutions to reach our agriculture sustainability goals.

Yet I hope we all can agree, we need to support the farm families who are working every day – right now – to provide the best care for their farm animals, while working to protect the land and grow safe, nutritious foods for all.

For more information about the progress that Iowa farmers are making toward sustainable agriculture and animal care goals, visit

By Teresa Bjork. Teresa is Iowa Farm Bureau's Consumer Content Manager.

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