Following my post about vegetarianism last week, I was interested to hear from several good people, all offering encouragement should I decide to take the plunge and ditch the meat.
Although as I write this I am preparing a veggie meal for this evening, when it comes to eliminating meat from my diet completely, well I'm not there yet ... but it has got me thinking - not just about where my meat comes from and the way it's reared but also about meat alternatives. The world meat market is worth billions of dollars each year - an unfathomable number of animals are killed for our plates - so are we not, as ethical consumers, morally bound to explore the way in which our meat is produced and perhaps find more compassionate alternatives?
Recently I saw some horrific footage taken inside abattoirs, it was heartbreaking and awful. Nobody with an ounce of compassion could fail to be moved by seeing the images of animals suffering to satisfy the demand of the public for cheap, plentiful meat.
But it's not a simple as that I suppose; as much as we would agree that animals should not be treated in this way, there will for the time being be a huge market for meat and meat products.
Personally, although I am trying to cut down on meat with some success, it is not an easy task to overturn a lifetime's habit; much like smoking, we tend to develop a taste for meat, and then a craving for it. It could be called an addiction.
But what are the alternatives for those who find it difficult to remove meat completely from their diet while they struggle with their conscience?
Soya products can be made to resemble burgers and sausages and there are various savouries made from grains and mushroomy ingredients. All of these are widely available but frankly remain unattractive alternatives to many carnivores. They can be tasty, are often nutritious and filling and rarely can even pass for real meat – but if we are honest they are never going to satisfy the craving of the most obstinate carnivore.
But, there's one particular development that on the face of it appears to offer a possible option for those who care about the animals but perhaps haven't yet got the willpower to give up meat entirely.
Several companies are now working on 'growing' real meat from single cells of tissue in a controlled environment, a process that could completely eliminate the need to rear and slaughter animals. Known as cultured meat, it is biologically identical to the meat that we eat, is non GMO and amazingly contains no animal products apart from the original cells used to start the culture.
Meat without harming a single animal? Surely that's a great prospect.
Not only that but the meat produced is basically exactly the same product as the meat we buy at the supermarket.
Incredibly, because of the method used in it's manufacture, the meat might even be acceptable to those vegetarians and vegans for whom the main objection to meat is the cruelty of intensive animal farming.
One company, Supermeat, based in Israel is asking for private funding to continue its research, they state on their website:-
“One of the purposes of our company is to make cultured meat products without ongoing animal use. We have a unique technology to make that happen, without the use of serum and other animal ingredients”
Another company, this time in the USA, Memphis Meats, has developed beef, chicken and duck meat using cell cultures, without harming a single animal.
I know, this just sounds too good to be true... so what are the drawbacks?
Well for now there is an issue with the cost because due to the small scale of research and production, currently the cost to produce this lab meat is quite high, although it is falling rapidly.
The team at Memphis Meats expects to continue reducing production costs dramatically, with a target launch of its products to consumers as soon as 2021.
It may take a huge leap of faith for some of us to embrace this innovative approach to meat production but personally I feel it must be worthy of consideration.
The world is not going to stop eating meat any time soon and the increasing demand means that animal welfare standards are bound to fall even further as pressure is put on farmers and abattoirs by consumers to drive costs down. This means unthinkable distress for animals and I find that entirely unacceptable.
For the sake of the animals we should look at every alternative and this 'lab meat' to my mind is a possible solution.
The environmental benefits that might arise from this alternative to intensive farming cannot be underestimated either. Research suggests that producing 'lab meat' would result in 45% less energy, 99% less land use and 96% fewer greenhouse gas emissions than current meat production methods.
The Dutch government has been spending large amounts of money funding research into cultured meat production. I feel it is the duty of every civilised nation in the world to follow their lead.
For those who can bear to look (and I think all of us who are meat eaters should), there is a video from PETA following this post where Sir Paul McCartney voices his concerns about intensive animal farming.
For anyone interested in companies and organisations developing and researching cultured meat, the following web sites may be of interest:-
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