By Shaked Regev, Stanford University, California
Imagine a world where people can continue going about their lives exactly as they are, while making animal friendly and environmentally conscious choices. Clean meat, also known as cultured meat, could very well make this a reality within the next few years. The idea is essentially to create meat without necessitating the slaughter animals, by growing their cells in a bioreactor under suitable conditions, such as a medium with all the nutrients the cells need, as well as the ideal temperature and pressure for their growth. But why bother changing our food system? What’s wrong with it as things stand?
The most obvious “wrong”, is the impact that the food industry has on factory farmed animals. The rise in global per capita meat consumption means more competition in the ever more lucrative meat market. As the market becomes more competitive, consumers expect lower prices and meat suppliers must raise and slaughter more animals in less time. The result of this heightened efficiency is more animal suffering including but not limited to: the disposal of male chicks by throwing them by the thousands into garbage bags and the buckling of cows, who are left to wither away slowly, without adequate medical treatment. Food safety is also an area where current practices fall woefully short. The meat industry is one of the major contributors to the outbreak of infectious diseases such as various flu viruses, salmonella and “mad cow” disease. Growth hormones and antibiotics are not necessarily ingredients we want in our food. Unfortunately, for now, they are part of it.
Furthermore, the meat, dairy and egg industries create substantial damage to our environment and deplete our natural resources. The long shadow of livestock is a 2006 UN report investigating the effects of the livestock industries on the environment. The report states that livestock industries are one of the more significant factors in environmental damage. These industries are responsible for the emission of 18% of global greenhouse gasses, including 40% of methane emissions, and 65% of nitrous oxide, which are 23 times and 296 times more effective than carbon dioxide in trapping heat, respectively. In addition to the forests that are cut down to provide grazing fields for livestock, land is needed both to grow the grain to feed the animals and to dispose of their waste. It’s not surprising that, with the growing demand for meat, this land put together takes up a staggering 33% of the Earth’s landmass, the size of Asia. According to an Oxford study, clean meat would require 99% less land, 80% less water and 45% less energy to grow than conventional meat.
Finally, transitioning to clean meat would help alleviate world hunger. 15 kgs of grain are needed to produce one kg of meat, making raising animals for human consumption a very wasteful endeavour. Additionally, the amount of water needed to grow plant-based foods is substantially lower than animal foods. Beef is the most wasteful, with 16,000 litres of water needed to create 1 kg of meat. The quantities consider the drinking water as well as the water used to create the animal’s food. In comparison, only 1600 litres are needed to create 1 kg of wheat. The same study predicts that 1 kg of clean meat would require only 640 litres of water.
If you’re interested in learning more about this world transforming technology and read some of the original studies visit our resources page!
Shaked holds a B.Sc. and M.Sc. in Biomedical Engineering and is currently a PhD student at the Institute of Computational and Mathematical Engineering at Stanford University. As Co-founder at “The Modern Agriculture Foundation”, Shaked has made it his goal to bring cultured meat to the public as soon as possible. In addition to overall oversight, his main fields of contribution at “The Modern Agriculture Foundation” are fundraising, media, writing and translating. Shaked currently serves on the board of advisors at “Clean Research” and aspires to make commercial cultured meat a reality, both with his work at the foundation and, in the future, as a researcher in the field.