Should Vegans Support Lab-Grown Meat?

Meat grown in labs has been touted as being able to save billions of animals from a lifetime of misery, help feed billions of malnourished people and save our planet from ecological disaster. So, what’s the catch?
Scientist creates lab meat
Lab meat isn't vegan -but could save animal's lives (Photo: Adobe. Do not use without permission)

Lab-grown meat is already here but not yet on the market. Five years ago, one lab-grown burger patty cost $300,000 dollars. In 2019, that price is a much more reasonable $11, but still way more expensive than current conventional beef prices.

While we all hope that the entire population of the earth will soon see sense and decide to adopt a plant-based diet, unfortunately, it looks like it won't happen soon enough.

With our ever-growing appetite to destroy our natural planet, the earth's temperature is on course to rise to 2C by 2050 and the result is a myriad of environmental disasters from rising sea levels, expanding deserts and unpredictable weather.

Eating animals

On a global scale, people are also eating more meat than ever before. In 2018, Americans broke records with the average person consuming 200 pounds of meat a year. We hear about vegans a lot in the media but we can't ignore the fact people on average across the globe are eating more meat.

So the question is, do we really have time for 7 billion people to suddenly 'make the connection' and commit themselves to veganism? Seems a bit risky. Lab-grown meat, or 'clean meat' as the marketing teams would like you to call it, could be the solution to all of our problems.

Should advances in this field continue and prices for lab-grown meat continue to drop, maybe our need for factory farming will end? Animals will no longer need to live a life of captivity, abuse, suffering and inevitable premature death. We could instead replace animal products with the lab-grown alternatives. Think about how much energy, time and resources would be saved. Not just from breeding, housing, feeding and slaughtering but also transport and waste.

Clean meat

It has been stated that ‘one tissue sample from a cow can yield enough muscle tissue to make 80,000 quarter-pounders.’ Whilst this makes lab-grown meat unacceptable for vegans to consume, not that many would anyway, it should solve the issue of getting people to rapidly transition to plant-based diets.

Maybe that can be actioned after we save the planet from ecological disaster? Maybe the focus right now should be to vastly reduce meat consumption in any way possible? We can educate and promote the vegan lifestyle as we go.

Lab-grown meat could be a solution that benefits everyone. No animals are killed in the process, we vegans will love that. Meat eaters don't have to radically change their diet just yet, they will be happy with that. The environment benefits significantly, we will all love that.

So, what's the catch?

Firstly, as we know, veganism isn't just about eating animal products it's also about animal exploitation. Products that aren't food that contain or are made from animal products are also a big problem like makeup, leather, fur coats and even candles.

You could argue that lab-grown meat does not account for these problems. However, most of these products source their materials from animal agriculture. If we were to remove this supply you could argue it would prompt the buyers to seek alternative non-animal materials for their products.

There has already been significant progress made in this area, especially in the fashion industry.

12 years to save the world

With the recent news that we have just 12 years to try to limit life-threatening climate change catastrophe and environmental disasters, the introduction of alternative meats is imperative. Animal agriculture is one of the chief causes of greenhouse emissions. A recent study suggested that lab-grown meat could reduce current animal agriculture emissions by up to 96 percent and land use by 99 percent.

Whilst these figures look incredible, they are also not precise. After all, the technology and operations of lab-grown meat are still under development. Scientists are confident though that lab-grown meat will most likely be far more resource efficient than conventional livestock production.

Not vegan

Secondly, the process for lab-grown meat would still require the use of animal cells. That means they would take a small muscle sample from the animal to collect the stem cells. This is clearly exploitation of the animals and thus would not be deemed vegan.

The Dutch scientist Professor Mark Post who first presented the world with lab-grown meat laid out his vision as 'you have a limited herd of donor animals in the world that you keep in stock and that you get your cells from there'.

So, vegans face the question, would we be happy for a small number of animals to suffer to save the billions of animals that would suffer and die under the current agriculture industry? I believe the opinions would be heavily divided.

However, I do believe it's important that vegans are part of this discussion. The introduction of lab-grown meat is inevitable and we should have our say on the issue to steer the technology in the most ethical direction possible. I also believe that if certain conditions are met vegans could support lab-grown meat in a bid to reduce harm to animals and for the benefit of the environment.

Conditions

If vegans were to set out conditions in order for us to support lab-grown meat maybe they would look something like this:

  • Lab-grown meat to be rolled out as a replacement to conventional meat with the gradual demise of the current unsustainable livestock industry.
  • Serious efforts made to find a way to keep producing cells without the need to take new samples from live animals.
  • Commitment to not expand to new varieties of cells from different species in an attempt to create ‘tastier’ or ‘healthier’ products which would result in animals being contained and exploited.  
  • Constant work towards making the process as energy efficient as possible.

I say, if the conditions above can be met, then vegans should jump aboard the lab-grown meat train. It could be the answer we're all looking for.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are prepared in the author's capacity and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Plant Based News itself. 

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PBN Contributor:

Andrew Miles is the creator of blog meman mevegan, a space dedicated to supporting men going vegan. As a recent convert to veganism himself, he uses the blog to share his own experiences as well as offer advice and support to men thinking of making the transition. You can follow him on Twitter at @memanmevegan.

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