Clean Meat: Exploring The Pros And Cons
Politically, lab-grown meat faces no real regulatory hurdles, beyond the hurdles that any other food product would normally face. However, regulations often change, as the European Union’s did regarding GMOs, and “traditional” meat producers may play a role. Farmers are a powerful lobbying group in both America and Europe, and that influence may be wielded to preserve their industry and way of life. Bluntly speaking, traditional meat producers may campaign for regulations that slow or halt the development of artificial meat, to preserve their business. Indeed, some indications show they may be headed in that direction.
This paper (published in 2012) focuses on lab-grown meat (also referred to as “clean meat”), and the political, cultural, economic, environmental, and ethical implications of its development.
From a health policy perspective, lab-grown meat has a variety of pros and cons. Doing away with slaughterhouses could reduce the risk of food-borne illnesses, as well as diseases transmitted between live animals and humans. In addition, lab-grown meat could easily supplemented with vitamins and minerals that are not found in natural meat. However, if lab-grown meat proves to be cheaper and easier to mass-produce than traditional meat, researchers believe it could encourage overconsumption, which could, in turn, increase obesity and related issues. On the other hand, meat may become affordable enough for people facing malnutrition in the developing world, and food supplies could become be more resilient to droughts and diseases.
Environmentally, clean meat is a potential boon. 30% of the world’s land and 8% of human water use is dedicated to animal agriculture, and by some measures the industry produces almost 20% of human-related greenhouse gas emissions. While meat is just one product of animal agriculture, it’s estimated that transitioning to clean meat could cut emissions, land use, and water consumption by over 90%. The end of the need for grazing land and feed production could free up land for reforestation, which could further fight climate change.
One side effect of a transition to a clean meat economy could be the loss of some meat byproducts that are used in everything from clothing to pharmaceuticals. The price of these goods will likely increase unless alternatives are created, and those alternatives may have their own environmental impact. However, the amount of animals needed for “byproducts” alone is certainly less than those used for food, and it would be hard for any alternative to be as environmentally damaging as animal agriculture.
The study mostly ignores the ethical arguments for lab-grown meat – namely, the reduction in animals slaughtered. In addition to sparing animals that are raised for food, reducing the amount of land required for agriculture would reduce the rate of habitat destruction and the death rate of wild animals. It’s worth noting that the study was primarily focused on terrestrial animals like cows and chickens, ignoring fish and other aquatic animals that are used for food. While the authors acknowledge that fish meat could be grown in a lab, it is important to note that the environmental effects of commercial fishing are devastating, and clean fish meat could go a long way to address that.
Overall, the study presents the broad depth and breadth of arguments to be cautious about the introduction of lab-grown meat. However, the study also understates some of the most harmful effects of animal agriculture, such as fishing and aquaculture. For animal advocates, the paper provides an overview on the clean meat issue, which could be useful in advocacy, no matter whether your focus is promoting new food tech or encouraging people to continue to reduce or eliminate their meat intake.