I read a prediction that if the global fertility rate stayed at the same rate as it was in 1995 by 2150 the population would be 256 billion people. That sounds crazy, but for my sci-fi I'm rolling with it (albeit shaving off 50 billion).

The Hegemony needs to feed these 200 billion odd citizens. One solution I'm interested in is cultured meat/"lab meat". Can cultured meat be grown in a industrial scale? And would this scale be large enough to feed 200 billion humans. (Their diets would be supplemented with vertical farming and green houses)

Note: Only 30-50% of the population can be fed by traditional farming alone.

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    $\begingroup$ Can lab meat be grown on an industrial scale ? Well it's your story (120 years in the future !) so you're free to choose whatever answer you like. At the moment it can't. We cannot reality check the future. $\endgroup$ Apr 29, 2019 at 21:19
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    $\begingroup$ What will be the process for "lab meat" production? Have you seen the "Snowpiercer"? $\endgroup$
    – Alexander
    Apr 29, 2019 at 21:20
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    $\begingroup$ note traditional farming is not the same as modern industrialized sustainable farming. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Apr 29, 2019 at 21:50
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    $\begingroup$ I suppose. But I'd much rather have beyondmeat.com thank you. That being said, you still need to provide raw material for your lab meat, and that has to come from somewhere too. $\endgroup$
    – Cyn
    Apr 29, 2019 at 23:10
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    $\begingroup$ Someone has to say it: Soylent Green $\endgroup$ Apr 30, 2019 at 2:08

6 Answers 6


Heck yah. I got yer lab meat factory right here!

yeast factory


This robot factory grows yeast to use as a food supplement. The protein content is comparable to soybeans. You can easily enrich yeast with minerals and in fact this is widely done as the yeast makes the mineral nutrients more bioavailable.

The benefit of the yeast is you can grow them in three dimensions on any kind of land or even on boats at sea. The downside is that you need to provide the yeast with everything they need including a nitrogen source and organic carbon to make into their bodies. Soybeans can do a lot of that work on their own, out in a field, using the sun and obtaining their own carbon from the air but they grow only in one dimension and according to the season.

  • $\begingroup$ you are still turning human edible crops into a less effective calories source. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Apr 29, 2019 at 22:03
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    $\begingroup$ A fully-automated factory from AliBaba.com? I'm in! +1! $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Apr 30, 2019 at 0:10
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    $\begingroup$ @John - the beauty of yeast is that they can turn nonprotein nitrogen into protein nitrogen. Like plants. $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Apr 30, 2019 at 1:19
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    $\begingroup$ So, it's not made of people then? $\endgroup$
    – Eth
    Apr 30, 2019 at 9:42
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    $\begingroup$ Just a little chaaaange, Small to say the leeast, It's a protein source, Non-sentient of course, The beauty of the yeeeast $\endgroup$
    – CactusCake
    Apr 30, 2019 at 13:32

Ordinary meat takes a lot calories to grow. For example you have to feed a cow 9000 calories for it to gain a pound, and a pound of beef provides roughly 1100 calories.

Consuming plants directly would still be able to feed a much larger population that any kind of meat, even if you increased the efficiency of lab meat by 2x or 3x over regular meat.

The biology of this planet ultimately relies almost entirely on sunlight for energy. The less conversion steps between raw sunlight and food (sugar, fat, or protein) the less total losses there will be in the system.

Having said that, even most plants only capture a few percent of the available solar energy (corn is only 2% to 3%). Where you would gain the most in terms of feeding much larger populations would be to invent artificial photosynthesis to produce 10x or 20x more sugar per watt of sunlight than we get now.

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    $\begingroup$ This is a frame challenge, which we whole-heartedly endorse. (And I like the idea of improving photosynthesis as a viable feed-the-universe solution! Don't get me wrong, I like my BBQ, but it's a wonderfully realistic path to success.) $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Apr 30, 2019 at 3:16
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    $\begingroup$ @JBH you should try grilled vegetables then. It's no meat, but it still tastes great. $\endgroup$ Apr 30, 2019 at 11:52
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    $\begingroup$ @JohnDvorak Why would you assume they haven't? I always add veggies after the first round of meat (the fat from the meat dropping down into the embers gives it that flavour that you just can't get in a frying pan.) I've also never seen a shish kebap/shashlik skewer on a grill that didn't have veggies on it. From my experience I would assume most people who ate grilled stuff also ate grilled veggies at some point. $\endgroup$
    – R. Schmitz
    Apr 30, 2019 at 13:25
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    $\begingroup$ 1 pound of cow is not necessarily 1 pound of edible beef. In general, we expect each step in energy transfer to consume 90% of input energy. Your 9000/1100 calories figure isn't far off from that, but my point is that we generally only eat the flesh, and discard the other stuff, so 9000 calories in might make less than 1100 calorie of edible beef. There's also the water. Thousands of gallons to make a pound of beef. $\endgroup$
    – user458
    Apr 30, 2019 at 22:12
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    $\begingroup$ Ruminants process vegetable calories at more than an order of magnitude higher than humans can. We process animal calories drastically more efficiently. The net result heavily favors meat, two stages of loss notwithstanding. The energy argument gave way to land and water use and CO_2 emissions. These are very local considerations, however, so so not support any generally applicable rubric. $\endgroup$
    – The Nate
    Apr 30, 2019 at 22:23

Yes (and it will happen fairly soon)

With the advent of 3d printers it's possible to print meat like products from other products.

Eventually society will have algae, bacteria and yeast tanks to produce the food we need. The only problem is it's not exactly appetizing. With additional processing, it can be made into products that have the look, taste and even smell of other foods including meat.

The tanks can be supplied with the required nutrients and water extracted from processed sewerage and output food and oxygen. Since algae is so fast growing and efficient, it could also replace vegetables as well as meat.

As best, real meat and vegetables would be the choice only for the ultra rich.

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    $\begingroup$ For the record, the last Big Mac I ate tasted a lot like it came from a 3D printer. Heaven help us if Fast Food ever gets their hands on such a device. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Apr 30, 2019 at 3:17
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    $\begingroup$ Sorry to say but they'll be the first to reduce costs. $\endgroup$
    – Thorne
    Apr 30, 2019 at 5:02
  • $\begingroup$ The OP is referring to lab meat, which is cells from meat animals grown in vats to produce meat, not imitation meat. It is a real beef steak without a cow. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Apr 30, 2019 at 21:54
  • $\begingroup$ So is this guy. That "3d printer" is simply one of the ways of developing the structure. $\endgroup$
    – The Nate
    Apr 30, 2019 at 22:25
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    $\begingroup$ If you can't tell from the look, smell or taste, does it matter where the original cells come from? Algae, yeast and bacteria are self contained and easy to grow unlike disembodied animal cells and really only the end product matters. $\endgroup$
    – Thorne
    May 1, 2019 at 1:01

Not really.

Lab meat only replaces meat, which is only a small fraction of the global diet, and you still need to farm something to feed the lab meat, so there are few gains. That said someday it could easily become less wasteful than traditional ranching, just because you are not growing the whole cow and by using plants and plant byproducts humans will not eat and even human garbage. Lab mean does not gain you much in terms of total calories however, because as I said you have to feed it something, so you are still dealing with the the massive energy loss going from producer to consumer.

You are still going to use grains for the majority of your calories, the caloric efficiency of grains as producers is hard to beat. Really the globe could feed that population without much problem, the issue would be we would have to convert a much larger portion of the worlds surface into farmland, and start using water intelligently which is going to mean a lot of government oversigt. Aqua culture may be a bigger help than vat meat, since it is literally creating farmable surface, although this will likely only make up for having to farm fuels.

That said 100years is a long time technologically by then we may engineered photosynthetic meat cells, if you have that meat is only a little more costly in terms of energy than vegetables, at which point meat would have a similar efficiency as turnips or avocado. That would certainly lower the load on global agriculture but it will still never replace grains in terms of caloric efficiency.

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    $\begingroup$ "a lot of government oversight" - won't that by definition make it a lot less efficient? $\endgroup$
    – Glen Yates
    Apr 29, 2019 at 22:59
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    $\begingroup$ you have to feed it something Yes, but who says that that can't be easy to produce chemical compounds? $\endgroup$
    – user3106
    Apr 30, 2019 at 7:42
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    $\begingroup$ @GlenYates The government oversight point was in relation to the use of limited water resources. Oversight of a resource doesn't say anything about the efficiency of the use of that resource, it's just about prioritisation and conservation. $\endgroup$ Apr 30, 2019 at 9:50
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    $\begingroup$ @DaveMongoose yes but you dont need to waste nutrients growing anything that is not meat, i.e. no organs, maybe no bones $\endgroup$
    – jk.
    Apr 30, 2019 at 10:04
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    $\begingroup$ @jk And don't forget the gains in not needing to upkeep those organs either (don't need calories wasted on beating a heart, breathing, eating, etc). $\endgroup$
    – Delioth
    Apr 30, 2019 at 20:33

Replacing meat with a better and maybe more humane substitute is a small part of the solution to feeding the world since meat calories are a small part of a typical diet.

There have been a few questions here about the greatest possible production of food per unit of land surface using various techniques.

See here: Giving Tolkien Architecture a Reality Check: Dwarvish Kingdoms1

and here: How can Dwarves produce honey underground?2

And here: How many people can you feed per square-kilometer of farmland?3

And with sufficiently advanced science food can be synthesized from chemicals, like in a Star Trek food replicator.

  • $\begingroup$ Some general mistakes like spelling and a slightly broken link in here. I'm not going to submit the edit tho $\endgroup$
    – DJSpud
    Apr 30, 2019 at 17:57
  • $\begingroup$ @Jhawins I think I corrected everything. $\endgroup$ May 1, 2019 at 15:17

They are working on doing that now lab meat (though to the scientist and their polling working on it) they say it's very important for it to look, feel, and taste like the birthed thing.

They currently take cells from a cow or whatever and grow it in the lab they say it is possible but right now it will take years to do that. Just assume you've gotten the break through required to do it either a civilian tinkering in their garage came up with it (as a hobo built himself a home made nuclear reactor for his own shanty power system not kidding). So the civilian tinker in this example figures it out small scale then talks to the government or took it to a manufacturer and solved the issue so now its possible.

Or the government threw enough money at the labs and their scientist to make that occur or Japan figured it out ect. I think its growing speed, portion sizes, and getting the population to see it as safe and natural. Bare in mind real meat would become something for the rich to consume (for prestige and health) all other classes would be given the lab meat the current plan being to just phase it out and not tell anyone as they're so close in comparison.

People could be allowed to further supplement their own lives with their own gardens indoor in their basements or housed in dried swimming pools. Or you could also allow for yard farming but that depends on how much space your society allows for people to take up. They would also outlaw personal farm homesteads so meat could not be sourced from that location it won't stop everyone but then you also have to consider what do you do with the Amish and people who for religious or personal reasons will not eat what they consider to be false meat? Will there be a black market for the real deal? And how will anyone know? One devious thing would be the government in reality controls both ends of this meat pipeline and its all fake save the approved people who get it via they're on a list or are the actual animal providers themselves.


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