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Lab-grown meat: The case against it

Lab-grown meat may seem obscure and a strange topic to write about. However, in a decade of alarming climate change, exploding global population, and an increasingly strained food system, we turn to science for answers. In this case, science seems to have gifted us with a solution: lab-grown meat. 

Lab-grown meat is created by scientists extracting stem cells from an animal and then cultivating it in, you guessed it, a lab. Visualizing this process, or even hearing the word lab-grown next to the word meat may evokes a sense of disgust and hesitancy for many. However, for others, it elicits a sense of wonder and excitement. Could this be a solution to the environmental and ethical concerns of the cattle industry? Will it sustain the growing population? After all, if scientists are cultivating meat without the animal, wouldn’t that save valuable space, resources, and cattle from a horrific and untimely death? It seems a little too good to be true. 

That’s because for now, it is. Currently, to produce lab-grown meat it takes fetal bovine serum (FBS), which is harvested from the fetuses of pregnant cows after they are slaughtered. So much for promoting ethics in animal treatment. Oh, and Mark Post, the co-founder of Mosa Meat, the company that created the world’s first cultured burger, estimated that it took around 50 liters of FBS to make a single beef burger. I hate to say it, but that singular burger probably had a lot more cows go into the making of it than any traditionally reared meat. Of course, companies will have to drastically reduce their use of FBS or even eliminate it before marketing it because not only is it highly unethical, but extremely expensive. For reference, the first patty that was ever grown cost a whopping $325,000— not exactly the cash lying around in your wallet. While lab-grown meat may seem like the savior of cattle, it is important to look more closely at the details of the growing process, rather than taking it as advertised.

 The second concern lab-grown meat seems to address is sustainability because the meat industry is responsible for 15% of all global emissions, which is equivalent to all the vehicles in the world combined. But, alas, lab-grown meat fails us once again. Yes cultured meat reduces methane, which is emitted by cattle, but it only replaces it with CO2 emissions. With time, energy requirements for lab-grown meat may decrease as scientists learn how to cultivate meat more efficiently, but that does not detract from the fact that CO2 remains in the atmosphere for millennia while methane only remains for about 12 years. Therefore, methane’s effect on long-term global warming isn’t cumulative, while CO2, which is largely released with in-vitro meat is, suggesting that lab-grown meat could be more harmful in the long run. 

Even though lab-grown meat isn’t going to hit the market anytime soon, it’s important to understand that not every advancement is as favorable as it toots itself to be. When lab-grown meat does inevitably join the other meats on your local grocery shelf, make sure to look into the procedures of it before throwing yourself on board.

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