24 June 2011

Lab grown meat easier on the environment than conventional farming

If you can get past the concept of “muscle cells” being grown in a lab, scientists say artificially grown meat would greatly reduce the carbon emissions currently a problem with raising real livestock. The “test tube meat” would be a good compromise for those who don’t want to be vegetarians but still worry about their carbon footprint as meat consumers.

In what could be a scene out of the old school futuristic movie “Soylent Green,” Hanna Tuomisto, Oxford University researcher who led the study, said the environmental impact of the artificially grown meat is significantly lower than the conventional method of cows in a pasture or farm building.

“Simply put, cultured meat is potentially a much more efficient and environmentally friendly way of putting meat on the table," Tuomisto said.

In “Soylent Green,” a 1973 science fiction movie, police detective Charlton Heston, finds his life in danger when he uncovers the secret to the government’s new and revolutionary food....reconstituted dead bodies! Though Oxford University’s study thankfully does not include human remains, it does assert that lab constituted meat could be the answer to the increasing demands of animal protein. Apparently, as cultures world wide emerge from poverty, the trend is to buy more meat as their increased salaries permit. Ironically, China and India, the two nations most prone to demand more meat now, are two of the countries who historically led the world in low rates of cancer and chronic disease because poverty dictated they eat a plant based diet.

As the demand for meat increases worldwide, grain prices rise and the decreasing acreage in the Amazon and water shortages worldwide make raising cattle more and more expensive. Interestingly, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has kicked in considerable funding toward research of the lab meat as has New Harvest (http://www.new-harvest.org) a non-profit research organization focused on developing conventionally produced meat alternatives.

Scientists are still mightily challenged, though. For instance, it still costs more to manufacture fake chicken cells than it does to raise a live chicken on a farm.

“We can demonstrate that it is possible, but it is expensive. Getting to [commercial production] depends on more money being put into this research," Tuomisto said.

It seems we’re still a long way away from closing down the slaughterhouses but it’s a good start. Tempeh cutlet, anyone?

Kathryn Lorusso
Kathryn is a former journalist and English teacher who now counsels and mediates teenage drama on a daily basis in the Dallas, Ft. Worth metroplex. Time away from school is spent cooking up new macrobiotic/vegan specialties, writing various blogs and newsletters and taking as many bikram yoga classes as possible.

Photo credit:cc:flickr.com/photos/horiavarlan