The Exciting Promise of In Vitro Meat

By Marlena Norwood

Hitting headlines recently, in vitro meat is catching the eyes of animal welfare activists, environmental activists, and health professionals. In vitro meat comes from the stem cells of an animal (at this time only from cows) that are grown in a nutrient culture in a laboratory. Just about every personal and planetary problem caused by meat consumption is solved by in vitro.

1351444_calvesLet’s start from the top – the ethical treatment of animals. Many people violently oppose eating meat because of the cruel way animals are treated and slaughtered; some oppose the killing of animals for human consumption altogether. Harvesting muscle stem cells from a cow does not harm the cow.

It’s no secret that industrial agriculture is enormously harmful to the environment, as is outlined by the United Nations Environmental Programme. CAFOs (confined animal feeding operations) that characterize industrial agriculture, produce toxic chemicals and waste that are then put back into our soil, our water, and our atmosphere.

Plus, “raising livestock for food generates more greenhouse gas than all the cars in the world,” according to Charles McNeill of the United Nations Development Programme, who spoke recently on the Spring of Sustainability.

One sample of stem cells from a cow has the potential to produce 20,000 tons of meat, drastically reducing the need for billions of cattle. With decreased reliance on CAFOs, the meat industry would significantly lessen its environmental impact.

With fewer cows come fewer mouths to feed. World hunger is less a problem of scarcity than of distribution. Jonathan Safran Foer, the author of Eating Animals analyzes the impact that CAFOs have on food distribution worldwide:

What kind of crime is animal agriculture, which uses 756 million tons of grain and corn per year, much more than enough to adequately feed the 1.4 billion humans who are living in dire poverty? And that 756 million doesn’t even include the fact that 98 percent of the 225-million-ton global soy crop is also fed to farmed animals. You’re supporting vast inefficiency and pushing up the price of food for the poorest in the world.

1091709_bugerLastly, since in vitro meat comes from the cells of a cow grown in a sterile lab, not the actual muscle of a cow from an unsanitary slaughterhouse, the disease-causing pathogens that cows carry are not passed on to the consumer. As an added bonus, the gross overuse of antibiotics in cattle to make them bulkier is no longer necessary. So we could slow the potentially catastrophic growth of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

In vitro meat is a safe, environmentally sustainable, and ethical alternative to farm-raised meat.
However, it does bring up a couple of issues of its own.

  • Eliminating CAFOs and slaughterhouses would eliminate jobs in the short term.
  • The current price for an in vitro patty is around $300,000. A bit more than most people would pay at their local fast food joint.
  • Some also argue that in vitro doesn’t taste quite the same.

Fortunately, market forces drive innovation, so we can expect affordable and tasty in vitro meat in the future.

The Philosophy of Food does a good job outlining the costs and benefits of in vitro meat. PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) is so much in support of in vitro that they are offering a one million dollar reward for successfully growing in vitro chicken meat.

Although some may push back, deeming in vitro “disgusting” and “unnatural,” it is far less disgusting and unnatural than the standard practices the meat industry uses to produce the meat we’re already eating. (For more information on these practices, read The Bond, by Humane Society CEO Wayne Pacelle.)

Here’s what you can do:

  • Since in vitro meat is not commercially available yet, explore PETA’s ”Vegetarian/Vegan starter kit” to learn about why you should go meatless and how to transition away from a meat diet with minimal suffering.
  • Cut down on your meat intake or stop eating meat altogether.
  • Read up on the in vitro literature so that you can educate others on the truth about in vitro and the benefits that come with reducing or eliminating farm raised meat.

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