(CN) — Members of Generation Z have numerous distinctions: first digital natives, pro-government, more racially and ethnically diverse and better educated than previous generations.
But this new generation, 2 billion people around the world, is unlikely to add lab-grown meat to their diet, according to an Australian study published Monday in the journal Frontiers in Nutrition.
Researchers at the University of Sydney and Curtin University found that 72% of Gen Z remain reluctant to eat cultured meat, defined as alternative meat produced in a laboratory “by in-vitro cell cultures of animal cells.”
The finding is at odds with a young, progressive generation known for supporting environmentally beneficial programs and policies.
“Our research has found that Generation 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,” said lead researcher Diana Bogueva from the University of Sydney’s School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering.
Despite their personal preference, 41% of Gen Z study participants said they recognize the potential for cultured meat to become “a viable nutritional source” that is more sustainable and animal friendly than traditional meat.
However, while nearly six in 10 participants expressed concern about the impacts of traditional livestock farming on the environment, many could not list those negative results or the positive influence that alternative food could produce ecologically.
“In-vitro meat and other alternatives are important as they can help to reduce greenhouse emissions and lead to better animal welfare conditions,” Bogueva said. “However, 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.”
Study authors conducted their research using an online survey taken by 227 random Australia-based Gen Z members who provided information on demographics, dietary preferences and personal opinions on meat alternatives, including insects, plant-based nutrition and cultured meat.
Nearly two in 10 respondents rejected all meat alternatives because they viewed them as “chemically produced and heavily processed”; 11% preferred a vegetarian diet; 35% rejected cultured meat and edible insects but were willing to eat plant-based alternatives because they “sounded more natural”; 28% said cultured meat was acceptable if the technology could be perfected; and 9% preferred edible insects.
Participants’ concerns about cultured meat included “anticipated taste,” health and safety and the validity of its environmental benefits. However, Gen Z also expressed social reluctance to cultured meat due to worries about perceptions of gender and national identity.
“Gen Z value 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,” Bogueva said.
Researchers identified conflicting concerns about animal welfare, possible industry misinformation of the environmental benefits, and the potential for cultured meat to be a “conspiracy orchestrated by the rich and powerful” to dupe consumers, making Gen Z reluctant to accept this new alternative source of food.
“This generation has vast information at its fingertips but is still concerned that they will be left with the legacy of exploitative capitalism that benefits only a few at the expense of many,” explained Bogueva. “They have witnessed such behavior resulting in climate change and are now afraid that a similar scenario may develop in relation to food, particularly as investors are pursuing broader adoption of cultured meat.”