Influencing Public Sentiment on Artificial Meat
The advantages of artificial meat are enormous and incredibly appealing. According to a recent article in the Economist, current meat growth practices use around “30% of the world’s ice-free land,” but only about 15% of the nutrients fed to stock animals goes into meat production. While the benefits offered by more efficient and effective meat production are easy to see, Nikki Olson of the Institute of Ethics and Emerging Technologies believes that convincing people to eat artificial meat will be a challenge that many scientists underestimate. Olson bases this claim on “deeply engrained cultural traditions, rising concern regarding the safety of biotechnology, and the seriously unfortunate associations people might have with the meat and its production.”
Olson lists what she believes are the five most important factors that scientists and marketers must address in order to sway public sentiment towards a pro artificial meat mindset: education, raising aesthetic appeal, maintaining a good “status” sense around artificial meat, branding, and leveraging big data and neuroscience. The first of these—education—is relatively obvious in its importance. Many people are skeptical about engineered foods and put off by “GMO’s” (genetically modified organisms); people should be aware that the tissue in artificial meat is identical to that of animals. Olson claims education about these issues is essential, especially since people tend to hesitate when purchasing novel goods—and artificial meat is incredibly novel.
Olson claims that to raise aesthetic appeal is a “marketing problem…that will require a marketing genius.” This is because many people tend to view “food” and “laboratory” very negatively when the two words are used in the same context, resulting in what is colloquially known as the “yuck” factor of artificial meat. In order to invert this poor public sentiment, Peter Diamandis and Ray Kurzweil, two prominent futurists, believe that laboratory meat should be portrayed as cleaner and safer than the products of current meat production. When people become aware of factory farming and other current practices, they will most likely view laboratory meat with less distaste.
Thirdly, Olson talks about “high society’s engagement with artificial meat.” Olson says that it is important to make artificial meat “fashionable” to the public eye. One way to do this is to market artificial meat as a product for the upper class. However, this idea is unrealistic because artificial meat would be produced on a large scale to benefit all socioeconomic classes. An alternative option posed by Olson increases the popularity of artificial meat through techniques such as celebrity endorsement, which would help make the food fashionable.
Olson believes that branding artificial meat by emphasizing the societal and environmental benefits can help enormously in creating public trust. By portraying a company that cares about society, the public will infer that the company will also care just as strongly for its customers by providing a high quality product. Olson argues that appearing transparent is essential improving public sentiment. Many consumers become suspicious when large corporations operate covertly; allowing customers to understand the process of artificial meat production will increase public trust.
Finally, Olson speaks of leveraging big data and neuroscience to increase the popularity of artificial meat. There is a growing market for ethically sound meat; widespread awareness of the terrible ethics of factory farming could raise public opinion of artificial meat. Also, as the use of MRI machines and scanning technologies decreases, such technology may be utilized during market research, helping artificial meat companies get a better sense of ways to improve marketing ploys.
Inciting public excitement about artificial meat will be a challenging task. Because food is associated with culture and tradition, the public will be resistant to the radical switch to artificial meat. However, following Olson’s five guidelines will greatly improve public attitudes toward artificial meat and make it a viable commercial product.
Andrew Stout is a freshman from Baker College at Rice University.