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Ethical meat on its way

Written By: - Date published: 7:58 am, December 4th, 2009 - 20 comments
Categories: climate change, energy, Environment, farming, food, science - Tags:

Jon Stewart covers developments in the science around making meat without raising and killing an animal.

Jon has a laugh of course but this is actually really exciting stuff. I’ve been following the developing science around this for a while. The upsides are huge.

You can grow meat without the animal. That means no sow crates, no battery hens. It means no slaughterhouses. It means no vast acreage taken up by supplying food for animals (some quarter or a third of world grain production goes into feeding farm animals) when that land could be better used growing food to directly feed humans or left in its natural state.

It has the potential to be vastly more energy efficient. Only 1% of the energy a farm animal ingests in its lifetime ends up as food on our plates but ethical meat doesn’t require a whole animal (evolved as a reproduction machine with meat production only clamped on by domestication). Just feeding the meat that can be grown quickly means far less energy wasted. Not to mention all the reductions in transport energy – ethical meat could be grown in cities.

Then there’s the greenhouse gases. As New Zealand knows all too well, ruminant farm animals produce a lot of methane. Ethical meat won’t, no digestive bacteria breaking down the food and producing methane.

Sure, the best we can do now is like ‘soggy pork’ (getting muscle cells to reproduce is relatively easy, but meat is muscle that has worked and has other features like veins) but this is the way of the future. This is an exciting area and New Zealand would be wise to get involved in the research (something for John Key’s global partnership on reducing agricultural greenhouse emissions perhaps?).

When our meat customers in Europe and elsewhere decide they would rather have locally produced ethical meat than meat that comes from killing an animal on the other side of the world and shipping its remains over to them, we’ll want to be owning the intellectual property on ethical meat techniques.

20 comments on “Ethical meat on its way ”

  1. Its the next job opportunity for Super Don and Baygil.

    Anyone else want to help and need some extra cash in tough times.

    Get in line people.

  2. gitmo 2

    “When our meat customers in Europe and elsewhere decide they would rather have locally produced ethical meat than meat that comes from killing an animal on the other side of the world and shipping its remains over to them,”

    I’ll think you’ll find most of the people that fit into this demographic are on the cusp of being vegetarians.

    • Bright Red 2.1

      If people had a choice between eating the remains of an animal that had been shipped around the world or a product that was the same but didn’t need the animal to be killed or all the greenhouse emissions and food miles, and was locally produced helping their own economy, a lot of people, especially a lot of midle class europeans, would prefer the second option.

      People do make these kind of choices when shopping, just like a lot of people won’t eat battery farm hens anymore.

      • Lew 2.1.1

        or a product that was the same

        That’s the really big ‘if’ here.

        So-called ethical food choices are often a complex of different factors — battery hens, for instance, aren’t as tasty as free-range birds, so there’s a quality component to the choice as well as an ethical component — and I’d be very cautious about speculating as to which predominates in the decision.

        Aside from which, food is more about culture than about nutrition. If it was about nutrition we’d have seen something like soylent green develop (although nmot necessarily made of people). But folks like to feel good about their food, they like it to be familiar and oproduced by known means, even if their idea of those means is highly divorced from reality. There’s a ‘squick’ factor with lab meat, and I’m not sure ‘think of the cute animals which didn’t suffer’ will necessarily be enough to overcome it.

        However, there are a lot of products — those which are heavily processed or otherwise manipulated beyond recognisability, for instance) for which it won’t make a damned bit of difference.


        • Draco T Bastard

          It’s if, it’s when. It’ll take a few more years of development but it will come. We will need to be at the forefront of that development or, when it does come, our exports are going to drop by 65%. This is the type of stuff that the Fast Forward development fund should have been developing. Instead, we got NACT cutting us off at the knees – again.

          • Lew

            DTB, I don’t think it’s a slam dunk that lab meat will ever be ‘the same’ as real meat. There’s already such substantial variation in the standard of meat — free range versus factory-farmed; grass-fed versus grain-fed, and so on. And synthetic products — particularly those developed for cost savings — have an extremely poor record of resembling the thing they’re supposed to imitate.


      • gitmo 2.2.1

        I don’t think this technology/food offering will cut it with people who like to eat meat/fish/poultry etc

        Maybe after a few generations but not anytime soon, and in parts of asia they finish off anything that moves prior to going down this track…………..jellyfish soup last time I went up there.

  3. Pat 3

    “Soylent Green is made from PEOPLE!!!”

  4. fizzleplug 4

    I can’t get excited about this really. I think I’ll always pay that premium for the real stuff.

    • Bright Red 4.1

      What’s ‘not real’ about this? It’s real muscle cells etc.

      • felix 4.1.1

        It’s just not the same without the suffering.

        • fizzleplug

          It’s like a man-made diamond. The same, but very different.

          • felix

            Yeah I was being a bit facetious there. As Lew says, above:

            …synthetic products — particularly those developed for cost savings — have an extremely poor record of resembling the thing they’re supposed to imitate.

    • Lanthanide 4.2

      Even if the vat-grown meat was 4-5x cheaper, and the same or better tasting than ‘real meat’?

  5. vto 5

    I might take some cells of mine own and bung em in a peter dish.

    mmmmmmm …………………………………….

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