Could lab-grown meat pave the way for more ethical and environmentally friendly food?

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“No animals were harmed in the making of this hamburger.”

Following the Food and Drug Administration’s recent announcement that lab-grown meat product is “generally recognized as safe” for consumption, don’t be surprised if you see such a label on menus years from now.

The FDA-approved product was a real-meat alternative to chicken created by California-based startup Upside Foods animal cells, not slaughtered animals. This isn’t quite a tank-grown chicken breast. Think ground chicken, not grilled.

Proponents of this technology argue that switching to cultured meat will solve some of the problems ethical issues around animal welfare in mass production food systems while mitigating the environmental impact of meat production. Ronald Sandler, professor of philosophy at Northeastern University and director of the university’s Ethics Institute, isn’t so sure.

“It’s a false dichotomy,” Sandler says. “It’s not a choice between lab-grown meat and ‘hoof meat,’ especially in a context where there are so many plant-based alternatives. Also, there is simply no meat or meat-like products in your diet. .”

Sandler acknowledges that the ethical issues that lab-grown meat seeks to address are significant. According to A USDA 2020 study, and mass, corporate meat production, also known as concentrated animal feed operations, is notorious, Sandler says. Thousands of animals are crammed into cramped quarters. So that the animals do not hurt each other, they are kept in an obedient mode, removing beaks, claws and castration.

By using animal cells instead of cutting up cows, chickens or pigs, lab-grown meat purportedly avoids some of the ethical pitfalls of meat production. And the industry certainly sees lab-grown meat as a viable option. The Good Food Institute, a think tank focused on “alternative protein innovation,” estimates that more than 151 companies are working on lab-grown meat products, with an investment of $2.6 billion. And the US is not alone in exploring cage-grown meat as an alternative to traditional meat products. Singapore became the first country to allow manufacturers to sell it to consumers, and it was a a widely discussed topic at the recent UN Climate Change Conference.

But Sandler says there are already other meat alternatives that fit the bill. Plant-based meat substitutes like the Beyond Burger have become very popular and have entered the mainstream. Although the market is showing signs of slowing down, it remains a viable option for vegetarians, vegans and flexitarians.

“What problem does it solve that we don’t yet have solutions for?” – says Sandler.

“If we think these practices are ethically problematic, why are we trying to bring the product closer to those practices instead of just moving away from them?” – he adds. “For people who care about the food system and food system issues, it’s not going to be an ethically better process. It will just be another industrialized and centralized food with a high level of processing.’

It also remains to be seen whether there is a market for lab-grown meat. If the price is on par with more traditional meat products, it could become a viable player in the field. But this is when the public is skeptical about it meat-based alternatives can overcome the “fu factor” of a new meat product.

Replacing one meat product with another does not solve the problem either health problems which come with highly processed meats.

“If we replace ultra-processed beef burgers with ultra-processed beef burgers, or in this case chicken, it’s not necessarily going to be better for our health, if at all, because it’s still high in salt and fat and additives,” Dan says. Crosley, executive director of the Council on Food Ethics, a UK-based non-profit organisation.

Despite their skepticism, Sandler and Crossley agree that carnivores don’t necessarily have to give up meat forever. Sandler says there are already ethical options for producing and consuming meat: local farms.

“If the question is what is an ethical way to produce meat, maybe it’s not synthetic meat and maybe it’s not concentrated animal feed,” Sandler says. “Maybe it’s other forms of agriculture that are of interest to other people who are interested in the food system because they care about the relationship between farmers and animalsfarmers and land, farms and communities, farmers and consumers’.

Crossley notes that lab-grown meat is only part of the solution to the world’s food and climate problems. A piece of cage-raised chicken won’t solve the root cause of poverty or eliminate how much food the world wastes every year. It’s an option worth exploring, but not one people should bet their future on.

“It’s important to research it, but we don’t see it as a silver bullet, a one-size-fits-all answer to these problems,” Crossley says. “At the same time as this is being studied and questioned, let’s also look at some of the steps we can take now to promote less and better meat and more and better whole grains, fruits, vegetables and healthier foods. It’s not like we have to wait for some perfect solution.”

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