Why Lab Grown Meat is Good for Animals and Humans
written by Ani Wheat
Humans have been utilizing animals and eating their bodies for the means of survival for thousands of years. One can only imagine what could have been if our evolving species had never considered killing another animal for food. Perhaps our evolutionary course would not have brought us to our current form, however we were destined to hunt and, eventually, develop an agricultural system, making it easier for humans to obtain meat. Concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) is the inevitable consequence of an expanding culture fixated on the consumption of meat at every meal.
The farming of animals has been highly documented and scrutinized for its inhumane practices, unsanitary living conditions, and detrimental environmental impacts. If science were allowed to take over the production and process of the world’s meat supply, then the world could become a more humane place for nonhuman species.
According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization an estimated 65 billion farm animals are slaughtered globally every year for food.1 If every farm animal were given the proper amount of resources needed to live a healthy and natural lifecycle, then both humans and our planet would not be able to support the production and consumption of meat at current rates. The population of humans is estimated to increase to 9 billion by 2050.2 If our consumption of meat continues at the same rate, then the raising and slaughter of animals would have to increase to 85 billion animals every year. CAFOs seem to solve the problem of feeding a growing population, but at the expense of the billions of animals suffering an unnatural life of constant pain, unnecessary mutilation, and gruesome death. Not only are animals suffering every day in CAFOs around the world, but our health and the environment receive tremendous impact as well.
Currently 30% of the world’s land surface is being used to house livestock and 33% of arable land is used to grow grains to feed those animals.3 The production of meat is estimated to be between 15 and 24% of the total greenhouse gas emissions, which is a greater impact than the entire transportation sector (planes, trains, automobiles etc.)4
Over consumption of meat is known to cause numerous cardiovascular problems and can carry dangerous food borne diseases such as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (mad cow disease). Despite these facts, the issue remains that a certain portion of the human population will continue to supplement their diet with animal proteins for nutritional reasons and because they enjoy the taste. Using animals for sustenance has become a natural and inevitable part of our evolution, but scientists are working on new ways to improve how we produce and grow the meat we eat, and it’s called in vitro meat.
In vitro meat is the process of growing meat in a lab with the use of an animal’s stem cells. Electrical pulses are used to “exercise” the cells to form into muscle-like tissues that then grow into what we would consider meat.5
Winston Churchill had predicted in vitro meat back in 1932 when he said: “Fifty years hence we shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium.”6
In 1999 a biologist from the Netherlands, Williem van Eelen, patented the idea of using stem cells to grow meat in a lab, and scientists have been working on it ever since.7
If our society switched from raising animals in CAFOs to growing lab meat, all we would need are the cells of one animal.8 One animal could essentially feed the entire human race. Lab meat would be grown in a sterile environment so there would be no worries of food borne illnesses caused from unsanitary conditions.9 Mad cow disease would be a blip in the history books, and the use of hormones and antibiotics would be obsolete. Scientists could control the nutritional value of the meat and add vitamins like Omega 3’s, making meat healthier than it has ever been.10 The environment would also have positive effects. In vitro meat would decrease greenhouse gas emissions by 78-96%, would use 82-96% less water, and use 99% less land.11
The idea of growing meat in a lab is somewhat of a scary topic for the general public. Assumptions, misinformation, and opinions from the media have cast in vitro meat in a negative light as opponent’s worry about its safety and edibility. Some people associate lab meat with the famous sci-fi movie Soylent Green, in which the government secretly processed humans for food.12
Ill-informed vegetarians, vegans, and wholefoods activists have expressed disgust and distrust of the possibilities of artificial meat, even though they are vehemently opposed to animal farming. It is not a realistic request to merely ask that humans stop farming animals and leaves no solution for those who wish to continue to eat meat.
The “recipe” has not yet been perfected to visually simulate what the public would accept, but scientists say that lab meat could be used in processed foods such as hot dogs, chicken nuggets, and ground beef.13 This type of meat would alleviate much of the demand caused by the fast-food industry, which is already considered junk food by health enthusiasts.
Most American’s who are disgusted of the idea of in vitro meat are either unaware or ignore the fact that the industry of factory farming is one of the most unsanitary barbaric practices in human history.
In vitro meat would not solve every problem associated with CAFO farming. It would not abolish factory farming as a whole because it does not address the supply and demand of animal byproducts (milk, eggs, etc.), but it would have a positive impact on both the environment and the nonhuman animals bred purely for meat consumption. Animal activist would argue that the best option for humanity would be to abstain from all animal products indefinitely, however lab meat is a practical option that could appease both omnivores and animal activists alike. This type of meat would not only be beneficial for farm animals, but it would also be a safer, cleaner, and healthier product than what is currently consumed today.
In a time when controversial chemical companies, like Monsanto, are genetically modifying seeds and organic foods are rising in consumer demand, the idea of eating meat grown in a petri dish seems like a step in the wrong direction, but this is farther from the truth. In vitro meat could lower green house gas emissions, lower health risks related to cardiovascular disease and obesity, and save billions of nonhuman lives from further suffering. The two most important hurdles for the advancement of meat technologies is the continual funding to further research and to prove it is safe for human consumption.
1. Farm Animal Rights Movement, “Animal Death Statistics 2011,” FARM, accessed April 21,
2. US Census Bureau, “World Population: 1950-2050,” US Census Bureau, updated August 28, 2012, http://www.census.gov/population/international/data/idb/worldpopgraph.php.
3. Z.F. Bhat, Hina Bhat, “Animal-Free Meat Biofabrication,” American Journal of Food Technology 6 no. 6 (2011): 441.
5. Pieter D. Edelman, In Vitro Meat Production, (Wagingen University, 2003), 3.
6. Winston Churchill, Fifty Years Hence. In Thoughts and Adventures, Thornton Butterworth, London, pp: 24-27.
7. Z.F Bhat, “Animal-Free Biofabrication,” 442.
10. Pieter D. Edelman, In Vitro Meat Production.
11. Isha Datar, “TEDxToronto 2012 Talk: Isha Datar,” TEDxToronto, 2012, http://www.tedxtoronto.com/talks/tedxtoronto-2012-talk-isha-datar/.
12. Maxime Goualin, “Artificial Food: Could You Soon be Eating In Vitro Meat?” Cereplast, updated July 12, 2011, http://www.cereplast.com/artificial-food-could-you-soon-be-eating-in-vitro-meat/.
13. Pieter D. Edelman, In Vitro Meat Production.