Milk Grows on Trees, Meat Develops in Labs: A Case for the Vegan Option Continued

07/09/2012 23:41 BST | Updated 07/11/2012 10:12 GMT

Almond milk, coconut milk, milk from hazelnuts, cashew nuts, walnuts. Milk made from grain - from oats, spelt, barley, rice. Legumes-based milk from lupin, pea, peanut, soya. Seed-based milk from hemp, quinoa, sesame, sunflower. Suggest to those who drink cows milk that they replace it with a plant-based milk and most shudder at the thought. They wouldn't even try it. (Yet give it surreptitiously and it usually goes unremarked).

But what is cows' milk? The secretions from the mammary gland of an animal whose milk is specifically designed for her own calf (and in order to produce milk for humans has had her offspring taken from her shortly after birth). Antibiotics and growth hormones might be an added extra. Add to that the welfare of the cows. Udders so huge and engorged that a normal gait is not possible. Mastitis, digestive disorders, swollen knees, sore feet. Cows that produce milk on an industrial scale often last just three to five years.

And what of meat that has been farmed equally intensively? Well-developed muscle makes prime meat. But in industrial-scale units animals have neither the space to exercise nor a natural diet and they make flabby and flavourless meat. Fear makes poor quality meat poorer still. For instance, pork from pigs that suffer porcine stress syndrome is pale, watery and does not keep. This type of meat is used in the cheapest sausages and pies. And the same applies to beef. The lowest quality comes from animals fattened unnaturally quickly and their carcasses hung (hanging improves flavour and texture) too short a time. This is what cheap food is made from.

When it comes to the cheapest of all you are left with hardly any meat at all. Chicken nuggets might be more leftover fat, 'fillers', 'stabilisers' and ground bone than chicken meat. 30% of the weight of bacon can be a cocktail of water, salts, flavourings and E numbers (when it is fried the polyphosphates make it spit and leave a white residue in the pan). 'Turkey ham' or 'turkey rashers' are made from birds so flabby and tasteless that their meat has to be injected with flavouring to make it palatable. Some sliced meat looks the real deal.

But if the label says 'reconstituted' it will have been reformed from the sludge that remains after a butchered carcass has been cleaned off with a high pressure hose. This residue might include cheeks, necks, shins, tongues, kidneys, gristle and sinew. Also called mechanically recovered meat or, MRM, it is also used in the cheapest sausages, pies, pâtés and spreads.

The welfare implications are dire too: chickens, ducks, turkeys, quail, pigs, calves and cattle crammed into stinking sheds. Feedlot cattle fed a grain-based diet lack the fibre they need from grass and can neither ruminate (chew the cud) or belch as much as they need to. The result is acid indigestion and the symptoms are diarrhoea, panting, salivating; they kick their bellies and try to eat dirt.

Sheep fed a grain-based diet suffer in the same way. Ducks reared for foie gras have necks that become so thickened, inflamed and infected after weeks of force feeding that they would never again be able to eat of their own accord (fed like this they become clinically ill with a liver disease called hepatic lipidosis, also known as fatty-liver disease: the diseased liver is the end product). As a rule of thumb, the lower the cost the lower the standard of welfare and - as studies show - the less healthy the food.

But what if there were a humane, cruelty-free real-meat alternative - real muscle tissue, but made in laboratory conditions? The inventors claim it is coming soon. By taking stem cells from the meat of one animal and putting it in a broth of other animal products, cells multiply and muscle tissue forms. To date there is a problem in finding a way to artificially 'exercise' the muscle - at this stage it is too soft. If - or when - this difficulty is solved then the cells of just one animal could be used to create the same amount of meat as millions of slaughtered animals. This is in-vitro technology.

Other scientists are working on replicating the texture, taste and 'mouthfeel' of chicken and beef from vegetable matter. Yet others are working on mimicking the nutrition and characteristics of eggs. All of which means that the meat-based food of the future could still be living flesh. Just not from what was once a sentient being.

Now here is the question. Would you eat living flesh if it were exactly like the meat you currently buy, the only difference being that it did not come from what was once a living animal?