In the next 50 years, we will need to produce more food than has been produced in the last 10,000 years to feed the growing number of people on our planet. A possible solution to our need for more and more food could come not from the fields, but from laboratories.
So what is lab-grown meat for starters? It’s producing meat from animal cells in a lab instead of rearing and killing livestock. And it’s increasingly making sense as a solution because of the issues we face: population growth, limited space, our fragile ecosystem and animal welfare.
Initially, you might think that this sounds a bit weird but companies like “Just” – which is the largest company at the moment in this field and has a valuation of $400 million- use cells from Japanese Wagyu cows. Wagyu is basically the Ferrari of Beef. The cows are massaged daily and are given beer to drink, which gives Wagyu beef its intense marbling of fat. Typically, Wagyu steaks sell for hundreds of pounds. Scientists can take the cells from these cattle and grow them in petri dishes resulting in Wagyu beef, but without the cow!
In his ‘Essay on the Principle of Population’ (1798), Thomas Malthus argued that “… the power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man.’ The mathematical basis of his idea is that the population is growing at a geometrical rate: e.g. 2, 4, 8, 16, 32 etc. But food supply can only increase in an arithmetical fashion: e.g 2, 4, 6, 8 etc.”. So in short, Malthus’ theory predicted that if the population grew much faster than food production, that population growth would be checked in the end by famine, disease, and war, a process which is called the Malthusian Crisis. According to the Malthusian theory, we can’t keep up with what we are doing.
It’s logical to conclude that with an increasing population, space will become more limited. Traditional farming uses millions of acres of land and vast quantities of water. Land also need to be used to grow the crops to feed the animals. Since there is such a high demand for meat, farmers are forced to uses pesticides to ensure good harvests, which leaves the soil and land degraded.
By switching to lab-grown meat, we could use of land for farming by 99%. The wasting of water is also a major issue in the Western World, but even a bigger issue in the production of meat. According to Peta, it takes 1790 litres of water to grow a kilo of wheat, but over five times as much to grow a kilo of beef. So you could save more water by simply just not eating meat or substituting it for lab-grown meat.
It is very apparent that climate change is happening, so we need to reduce our carbon emissions significantly and lab-grown meat does just this. While growing meat in a lab may produce greenhouse gases in the process of providing the lab with energy, it’s a lot less than the greenhouse gas emissions from cattle. And methane (which a dairy cow produces 250 to 500 litres of a day!) is a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. An Oxford University study concluded that lab-grown meat would generate up to 96% less greenhouse gas emissions.
If we switch to lab-grown meat, animals will no longer have to be crammed up in colossal warehouses, fed antibiotics and then slaughtered within a few months of leaving their mothers. At the moment this is the life of a chicken, but that can change! Chickens don’t want to be given antibiotics, and we don’t enjoy eating their antibiotics, so we need to switch. 70% of antibiotics are the US are sold for animals, which is a shocking statistic. However, in the next 10-20 years, this number could be zero and those antibiotics could be given to millions of people suffering from bacterial infections.
I hope that you can understand that it is paramount for us to devote more resources to lab-grown meat so we can protect our race and our planet. In the meantime, I would encourage the carnivores among you - like me - to start looking into alternative meat products that are appearing more frequently at your local supermarket. Personally, I think Beyond Meat is an excellent option as it is reasonably priced, and still packs the flavour of a traditional beef burger.