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In-Vitro Meat – Pros and Cons November 16, 2009

Posted by egastfriend in In Vitro Meat.
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Over the summer, an article called Why In-Vitro Meat is Good for You appeared in Seed Magazine.  In the article, Seed Magazine interviews Jason Matheny, who is the co-founder and director of the non-profit organization New Harvest, which promotes in-vitro meat.  Matheny does an excellent job of pointing out the advantages of in-vitro meat over conventionally (read: factory farm) grown meat.

Here is a breakdown of how I see the pros and cons of in-vitro meat.  I’ll start with the cons:

Cons

  • Very expensive to produce with current technology
  • Requires enormous capital investment for Research & Development
  • Unnatural
  • People might be reluctant to switch over from normal meat
  • Limited (for the near future) to ground meat (it’s more difficult to produce a steak or drumstick)
  • Subject to media criticism (see Stephen Colbert’s report on Shmeat, “Combination Shit and Meat”: Says Stephen of prototype in-vitro meat, “That looks like an egg yolk made of blood.”)
  • Possible unknown health consequences? (Will need to be carefully tested in FDA clinical trials.)

Pros

  • Potentially cheaper to produce than regular meat (with technological advances)
  • Requires less food input (instead of growing a whole animal with bones & brains, you only need enough calories & nutrients to grow the muscle)
  • Requires less real estate (why not grow meat in skyscrapers in the city?)
  • Requires less water (you can use microalgae to supply nutrients to the cells instead of using water to grow corn)
  • Produces less waste (no solid waste and no methane gas produced from consumption of corn or grass)
  • Cleaner (a lab can be kept sterile; a farm cannot)
  • More ethical in terms of animal welfare (no suffering involved)
  • Healthier (scientists can have full control over fat content and nutritional content)
  • Prevents climate change/global warming (a recent study found that livestock accounts for 51% of man-made greenhouse gas emissions!  Much of this is from animal waste and, strangely enough, methane cow burps.)
  • Better for public health (swine flu and avian flu originate from keeping animals as livestock; the less we do this, the fewer outbreaks we can expect.  Feeding antibiotics to livestock is also feared to cause the emergence of new antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria.)

To me, it’s very clear that the pros outweigh the cons.  Yes, in-vitro meat is unnatural, but so is factory farming.  Cheese (made by combining milk with the enzyme rennet taken from the stomach of a calf) and yogurt (made by combining milk with a bacteria culture) are also unnatural foods made by biotechnology, albeit ancient biotechnology.  At any rate, it would seem unreasonable for anyone to claim that in-vitro meat is any more unnatural than a Twinkie (unless there is a still unknown tribe of hunter-gatherers living in isolation off the coast of Antarctica whose ancestors have been foraging in the jungle for Twinkies for thousands of years).

And as for consumer reception, I ask you: If it cost the same and tasted exactly the same, would you choose in-vitro hamburgers over real hamburgers?  Would you be grossed out by it?  But what if you took a minute to consider your moral obligation to human health, the environment, and animals–then could your conscience convince you to eat the in-vitro meat?  Comments are welcome.

Sources

Billings, Lee. “Why In-Vitro Meat is Good for You” Seed Magazine. 31 Aug. 2009. http://seedmagazine.com/content/article/why_in-vitro_meat_is_good_for_you/

Kneidel, Sally. “Livestock account for 51% of annual worldwide greenhouse gas emissions” Veggie Revolution. 2 Nov. 2009. http://veggierevolution.blogspot.com/2009/11/livestock-account-for-51-of-annual.html

Goodland, Robert and Anhang, Jeff. “Livestock and Climate Change” Worldwatch Institute. Nov/Dec 2009. http://www.worldwatch.org/node/6294

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