America has fallen in love with in vitro babies. Guess what’s next? In vitro meat. Yes, you read that
How many families do you know in which the children would not exist save for the glittering and highly profitable technology offered by doctors across the country at fertility clinics? Quite a few, I would wager, as do I.
Next stop: McDonald’s, where we will all soon be ordering in vitro burgers.
While the concept of eating lab-made beef or pork or chicken cultured from animal stem cells may not at first jump out at you as particularly appetizing, scientists in the U.S. and Europe are competing furiously to bring lab meat to market. Many predict it will be ready to sell in supermarkets and restaurants within six months to a year and vendors are lining up to buy it.
Americans may love their beef, but few are aware of the staggering financial, ethical and environmental costs beef incurs. The New Yorker reported this spring: “The global livestock industry is responsible for nearly 20 percent of humanity’s greenhouse-gas emissions. Cattle consume nearly 10 percent of the world’s freshwater resources, and 80 percent of all farmland is devoted to the production of meat. The consequences of eating meat, and our increasing reliance on factory farms, are almost as disturbing for human health.”
Yes, America’s health is gravely endangered by our love of beef. Have you ever considered the fact that the No. 1 killer of men and women in the U.S. is heart disease and cholesterol-laden beef is a major contributor to heart disease?
There are a plethora of reasons to switch to in vitro beef. Among them, as mentioned above, is beef production’s prodigious contribution to greenhouse gases that are causing climate change. Then there is the amount of land needed to graze cattle and/or grow hay for them — that, in a growing nation in dire need of more developable land and more diverse crop production.
My personal favorite reason is an end to horrendously cruel factory farming and beef slaughter. Americans chow down on beef woefully unaware of the animal misery they are supporting in so doing. But for those who just don’t care about this aspect, there’s always the concern about overuse of antibiotics in beef production, which leads to antibiotics’ deflated efficacy in treating human disease.
All these issues would be resolved if beef consumers here and abroad would switch to in vitro meat. According to Britain’s Daily Mail, “An Oxford University study found that this process would consume 35 to 60 percent less energy, 98 percent less land and produce 80 to 95 percent less greenhouse gas than conventional farming.”
Here’s how the process works. The New Scientist quotes Mark Post, of Maastricht University in the Netherlands as saying he has developed “a way to grow muscle under lab conditions — by feeding pig stem cells with horse fetal serum.” He then makes the muscle tissue tastes like the real thing by manually exercising the synthetic tissue — with Velcro.
OK, even I understand that pork and beef eaters are not salivating over this prospect. But they will most likely remain as blissfully ignorant of the production details as they are of the horrors of the slaughterhouses. And the final product won’t be sold to consumers until it tastes precisely like the real thing.
Another potential plus for in vitro meat is cost. Beef is so prohibitively expensive low-income people can’t afford it in supermarkets. Maybe lab-made meat won’t be so costly. Regardless, I’m all for it. What about you?
Bonnie Erbe is a TV host and columnist for Scripps Howard News Service.