Artificially-grown meat has been a frequent topic on our facebook page. Today, Common Sense Agriculture published a new blog, clearing up the pros of meat produced artificially in a laboratory. Excellent discussion there, I won’t go into further detail here. BUT, I like to add two points which will impact the overall sustainability of these ‘test-tube’ meats tremendously. Its production requires resources, too! In order for those cells and tissues to grow, one needs to supply 1) nutrients and 2) maintain a constant temperature.
1) These nutrients have to be in a simple form; one that is ready to be absorbed and utilized by the cells. Cells cannot convert fibers (forages/grasses), complex proteins from byproducts, or energy from grains or oilseeds into cell-usable nutrients/energy. Animals (and humans) have these processes (digestion/metabolism of feeds) naturally. For test-tube meats, these nutrients would have to be manufactured from ‘something’ prior to feeding the cells. Thus, this system would require some type of feed stock as input. And likely, this feedstock shouldn’t compete with foods for human consumption. Moreover, initial production and feeds and consequent manufacturing of these feeds to get nutrients for the test-tube meat require resources – fuel, land, labor, etc. I’m curious about how this compares to just feeding cattle for meat production.
2) Cells and tissues will only grow at a very narrow range of temperature – about 98-104 F. Thus, the facilities in which this test-tube meat is grown must be temperature-controlled – this uses energy, too. In addition, any glitch may ruin the meat products. In the current system, cattle (and all other mammals and most birds) control their body temperature by utilizing energy from their feed and the fermentenation/metabolic energy.
I don’t know whether a holistic analysis of test-tube meat production will favor it over conventional (Natural!) meat production (e.g., raising cattle, swine, sheep, etc). But, I know that these requirements of test-tube meat production are virtually never mentioned. Likely, artificially-grown meat will draw a lot of scarce resources, such as land, fuel (energy), etc. In the big picture, these inputs will negate (m)any of the pros presented by proponents of artificially-grown meats. Certainly, resource requirements will make or break test-tube meat production.