Growing meat from stem cells in the laboratory could be a real game-changer. I agree with Microsoft magnate, Bill Gates when he says the way we produce meat is ripe for innovation. After all, the basic process of feeding perfectly good crops to factory farmed animals to produce meat has changed little since the middle of the last century. ‘In-vitro’ or cultured meat has huge potential to replace cheap meat from factory farms produced at great cost to the environment and our health. It also causes unimaginable animal suffering.
Most cheap meat comes from animals caged, crammed and confined on factory farms. Often slaughtered behind the closed doors of industrial slaughter plants, this is where the real ‘yuck’ factor should be, I would argue, rather than with cultured meat from the laboratory.
Keeping animals confined and feeding them grain often produces less healthy food; high in saturated fat, lower in Omega-3s and other beneficial nutrients. Not surprising then that the health bill for dealing with related diseases is spiralling. In the United States, the birthplace of factory farming, the annual medical costs related to over-consumption of meat are believed to be between $30 and $60 billion.
The cost to the environment of industrial meat production is vast; a third of the world’s cereal harvest and most soya are destined for these animal factories with huge inefficiency; a fraction of the calories and protein value of the crops is returned as meat, milk or eggs. To give a sense of scale; if the arable crops used to provide animal feed were planted in a single field, it would near cover the entire land surface of the European Union.
For those worried about the long term health effects of eating lab-grown meat, it is worth pondering on the results linked to fat-laden industrial meat consumption; the rise in obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Perhaps that is why a UK Government study suggested that a 30% cut in meat consumption would lead to a 15% drop in cardiovascular disease.
As I discussed previously, there is a long way to go before large-scale in-vitro meat production is realistic. However, scientists are confident that it can be done in a way that greatly reduces the environmental burden of ‘cheap’ meat, and without animal cruelty. They also believe that there are serious health benefits to be gained too; cultured meat promises the ability to precisely control the amount of fat, so incorporating more of the healthy fats like Omega-3 and less of the unhealthy fats.
The prospect of hamburgers that actually prevent heart attacks rather than cause them may be a little way off, but interest in the development is gathering pace. As Jason Matheny from one of the companies involved in the research told me, “the yuck factor should really be focused on conventional meat and the way it’s produced right now which is simply unhealthy, unsafe and unsustainable”.
To me, lab-produced meat has the scope to be the real win-win scenario for animals, people and the planet. Would I eat it? Yes I would.