When the world's first lab grown burger, created by scientists led by Dutch professor Mark Post, was eaten at a news conference in London on 3 August, the reactions worldwide could not have been more different. Some considered this to be the solution to world hunger and environmental destruction. Others welcomed the idea as it promises to abolish animal slaughter. Critics talk of the "yuck factor" and argue that consumers will be repulsed by the idea of in-vitro meat. With aims that are set so extraordinarily high, one cannot help but wonder whether this new invention could live up to what it promises. But how desirable is a replacement for meat really and are there any alternatives to reaching its aims whilst maintaining a "natural" diet?
Environment and ethics.
With its damage being worse than the combined effects of the world's transportation system, meat production remains one of environment's greatest concerns. The inventors and supporters of in-vitro meat rightfully make their environmentally friendly approach their biggest claim. Research at the Universities of Oxford and Amsterdam shows how it could potentially reduce the energy needs of meat generation by up to 45%. According to Hanni Ruetzler, one of the two critics to taste the first lab burger at the news conference, it is "close to meat"... This artificial food's original colour is white and its fat ratio is comparable to that of a salmon. It seems more like science fiction than reality, let alone healthy; many food researchers already warn of all the dangers to our health system, the further away we take our diet from its natural roots.
There is no doubt that many will find repulsive the idea of eating something artificially created that is "close to meat". But this is not to say that the alternative is any different. Whilst the term "yuck factor" has been applied to its synthetically created counterpart, mass produced meat is equally deserving of this title. The excessive use of growth-stimulating antibiotics, the nauseating conditions under which the animals live and the brutal ways in which they are killed are vile to say the least. So, why not try to improve the livestock conditions? Instead of investing money and time in technologies that could fasten the in-vitro meat process and make it more affordable, it would be more sensible to invest in developing natural resources in a humane and ecologically sensitive manner.
Tackling world hunger.
The grain used to feed stockers (farm animals bred for slaughter) is produced in the developing world and imported to industrialised countries. Statistics show that the grain produced to feed 100 cows could be used to feed 2000 people. If you add up the nutritional requirements of all the stockers in the world, it amounts to the calorific requirement of 8.7 billion people. As that is more than the world population itself, these figures might mislead some to believe that this theory could easily be put into practice.
The most obvious fact about these figures however should be that abolishing natural meat entirely is not the only solution. If meat production were to be lowered to the amount that is actually necessary to the human population then we would already save sufficient grain and land to feed the hungry. It is a fact that currently we produce abundantly more meat than we can eat and more than we really need.
Less is less. More is more.
But we do not want less meat. We want more. And herein lies the essence of the problem. Media and its commercial influence, paired with "scientific" research sponsored by the meat lobby, have been leading the world to believe that we need more meat. For decades they have been distorting our views and making us believe that having one meat dish a week, like an average western family did in the 1950s, is simply not good enough for your health. Apparently, plant-based proteins are inferior and the human body is in desperate need of proteins, which come from mass produced meat in supermarkets or fast food restaurants. And, unfortunately, the meat industry and lobby have succeeded. We believe the illusion and have been conditioned to want more. It does not occur to anyone that decreasing the amount and increasing the quality of meat could be an alternative.
Estimations show that the demand for meat will increase 73% by 2050. Human irrationality and blind destruction will lead either to the meat industry's collapse or a gradual shift towards in-vitro meat. And as the population's demand increases, the industry happily provides.