I think we all know, or should know, that there is something wrong with killing animals for their meat. Modern science has shown that animals have both sentience and consciousness, feel pain and experience an emotional life. From insects to us there is a great chain of awareness that we, who claim to be at the top of the chain, should respect as much as possible.
Like the Morlocks in H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, our behavior is much to be regretted and we are under an obligation to model ourselves after our future, hopefully, Eloi incarnations. (The Morlocks and the Eloi were the cannibalistic human mutants and the gentle veggie-eating humans of the future, respectively, in the book.) We are also obligated politically to strive towards a world where the exploitation of humans by other humans comes to an end – and beyond that the exploitation and infliction of suffering on our fellow creatures in general.
Now science has come up with a method by which we can satisfy our current Morlock-like desire to eat animal flesh without actually killing and mutilating animals. The July 18th online issue of ScienceDaily discusses tissue engineering in the laboratory, which produces animal meat (“cultured meat”) without the animal, solving not only the problem of our moral responsibilities but actually somewhat reduces the threat to the planet from greenhouse gases.
This scientific study from Oxford and Amsterdam universities shows that cultured meat production would create only 4 percent of the greenhouse gases than are currently produced by animal raising and slaughtering techniques. While fowl would require more energy, the lab meat would require only a very small part of the and land and water used with living birds. Meanwhile, pork, sheep and beef could be produced in the same amount as today for 7 to 45 percent less energy.
Oxford’s Hanna Tuomisto, the director of the study, said, “What our study found was that the environmental impacts of cultured meat could be substantially lower that those of meat produced in the conventional way. Cultured meat could potentially be produced with up to 96 percent lower greenhouse gas emissions, 45 percent less energy, 99 percent lower land use, and 96 percent lower water use than conventional meat.”
There is a friendly little pond bacterium (Cyanobacteria hydrolysate) that is used as a food and energy source in the lab to grow muscle cells. Cultured meat is not yet ready to be mass produced, but such production is feasible. Ms Tuomisto says, “We are not saying that we could, or would necessarily want to replace conventional meat with its cultured counterpart right now, However, our research shows that cultured meat could be part of the solution to feeding the worlds growing population and at the same time cutting emissions and saving both energy and water. Simply put, cultured meat is, potentially, a much more efficient and environmentally-friendly way of putting meat on the table.”
The scientists also pointed out the land no longer used for animal meat production could be reforested and used to capture atmospheric carbon – plus transportation and refrigeration costs would be substantially reduced with cultured meat. Finally, Ms. Tuomisto remarked, “There are obviously many obstacles to overcome before we can say whether cultured meat will become part of our diet, not least of which is whether people would be prepared to eat it! But we hope our research will add to the debate about whether we could, or should, develop a less wasteful alternative to meat from animals.”
Will people eat cultured meat? This depends on their level of political awareness and their moral sensitivity. Nevertheless, another world is possible, and we must set ourselves the task of trying to create it.
Photo: Will the cows get a reprieve? Jelle // CC 2.0