Una Kelly reports on laboratory-grown meat products which a leading scientist says could help Ireland's climate cause. Listen back above.

EU citizens could be eating lab-grown meat within the next few years. Reporting on Morning Ireland, Una Kelly spoke to stakeholders in environmental policy, agriculture and food regulation about laboratory-grown meat products; which a leading scientist says could help Ireland's climate cause.

The first lab-grown hamburger was produced in 2003 at a cost of €350,000. Over the past two decades, the price has come down to a more manageable level, according to Cara Augustenborg, assistant Professor of Environmental Policy in University College Dublin:

"Today, that same hamburger costs about €9 to produce in a lab."

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Dr Augustenborg explains how the lab meat is cultivated: "Instead of growing an entire animal, with the bones and the organs and all the things we maybe don't want to eat, we are just growing parts of an animal in a lab, in a dish in a bioreactor."

The US, Singapore and China have given the go-ahead for lab-grown proteins to be sold to consumers, and the Netherlands is investing in the means to produce this kind of protein as part of their agriculture programme, Cara says.

As yet, they haven’t applied for the approval of cultivated meat for the consumer market. Cara thinks Ireland is a perfect place to develop laboratory foods and we should get on board:

"We have a strong reputation in food production, but we also have a strong reputation in pharmaceuticals and I think it would be a missed opportunity and a risk, not to look at this technology and see how we can play a part."

Cara puts the case that producing meat and dairy foods in a lab could have environmental benefits; in terms of emissions, animal waste and water quality:

"We can slash greenhouse gas emissions by about 80%, compared to conventional meat production. We use a lot less water, we don’t have the livestock waste issues around the pollution associated with air pollution or water pollution that comes from livestock waste."

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Pat O’Mahony from the Food Safety Authority Ireland says no EU country has applied to put cultivated meat on the market. If they do in the future, there is a long process to undergo before any food product is authorised for sale, but it hasn't happened yet:

"As of now, there hasn’t been any application to put that product on the market."

When asked about nutrition and taste, Pat says we just don't have the full picture yet:

"We don’t know. Unfortunately, the consumer will be the best judge of that. I’m sure getting a product out of a vat is going to be very different in terms of the composition and the nutritional value, than it would be taking a slice of bacon or a slice of beef or whatever."

If the lab meat passes the normal regulations, it will be deemed safe to eat, Pat says; but it may not taste like regular meat:

"It won’t be nutritionally detrimental, shall we say, but it shall be different, I would imagine. And these are the things we look at - composition, nutritional value, undesirable substances – they are the kind of things the European Food Safety Authority will be looking at when they do their assessment, when an application does come along."

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Pat predicts this will happen within the next couple of years; based on a chat he’s had recently with an industry consultant in the UK:

"I spoke to a consultant in the UK and he’s actually working on one at the moment for the European Union. He didn’t say when it would be ready. I don’t see it coming this year, or it could be next year – but it’s only a matter of time."

How could these changes impact food producers? Una talks to farmer and journalist Hannah Quinn-Mulligan, who thinks that we should start by valuing the food we already have:

"Ultimately, I think lab-grown meat overlooks the real issue around food, which is that we waste a third of all the food that we produce. So creating more food through a lab isnt going to solve that problem. It’s just going to create another aveunue to waste resources. As a farmer myself, I would much prefer to see people truly value the food we produce."

Hannah says she doesn’t mind whether people eat meat or not, but she thinks the focus should be on supporting sustainable food production on Irish farms:

"We should buy local, we should buy Irish and ideally we should be buying organic. And if people truly valued the food that they bought, that would be part of the overall solution that we need to battle climate change."

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