Technology is rapidly emerging that will allow scientists to grow artificial meat for human consumption. Yes, this will be just like meat at a molecular level, except it won't come from an animal. It will come from a factory where it was grown cell by cell on a lattice structure using some advanced technology. This article is about the implications about such technology in terms of society, public health, ethical treatment of animals, and other such topics. But let me begin it by saying up front that I cautiously support the artificial growing of meat for a number of (possibly surprising) reasons that I will detail here.
First of all, let me state that my diet currently consists of very little meat. I don't believe in eating animals for their flesh. I don't believe in raising animals and slaughtering them just because their muscle tissue is something I want to consume casually at a Friday barbecue. I think it's highly unethical to treat animals as life-support systems for meat, which is really the way most people look at a cow -- it's just there to support the growth of the meat. There's no consideration whatsoever for the experience of the cow which is, of course, a living, breathing being with a consciousness. Cows have memory, emotions and even their own family members. I don't think it is appropriate in any advanced civilization to be raising and slaughtering animals to consume their meat. It's a rather barbaric practice.
That's one reason why I support the artificial meat idea, because if we can create meat and make it available to consumers without having to kill animals in the process, then we are in fact doing far less harm to the world. We're causing less suffering. We are not putting these animals through the experience of being enslaved in a system with the sole purpose of turning their body into a food source and, ultimately, a profit source. Let's face it -- that's what cattle ranching and pig farming and chicken farming is today. It's a system of exploiting the lives of these animals in order to make a profit. So if artificial meat can replace that, that's an important benefit. Let consumers eat meat without having to kill animals.
Health implications of artificial meat
The second reason I am strongly in support of artificial meat is because I believe that this artificial meat will actually be healthier for people than commercially grown and produced meat, because commercially produced meat comes from cows that are subjected to an assault of various chemicals. They are injected with antibiotics and hormones; they are fed grain that's been sprayed with pesticides and sometimes grown in soils laced with heavy metals. There are Polychlorinated Biphenyls, rocket fuel, and all kinds of other contaminants found in the fat cells of animals that have been raised for food.
So, if you take a cow, pig or chicken and you look at the way it's treated in a commercial ranching or farming environment, you'll find that it's a very unhealthy food source, because it has consumed and concentrated all of these toxic chemicals. When a human being consumes that meat, those toxic chemicals are ingested into that human's body, where they function as cancer-causing chemicals, liver-damaging or hormone-disrupting chemicals. By utilizing artificial meat you can consume meat that, even though it's synthetic and based on chemicals, at least won't have the concentration of heavy metals, pesticides, antibiotics and all these other terrible chemicals that cows are forced to consume.
Artificial meat could end up being healthier for people than real meat. Before you think I've gone crazy, let me explain a little further. No meat, in my opinion, is actually healthy if consumed in large quantities. There are a number of reasons for that, including the fact that meat has no fiber. It putrefies in the digestive tract and is strongly correlated with the onset of pancreatic cancer, breast cancer, colon cancer and bladder cancer. We know meat isn't good for you in the quantities consumed by Americans today. I'm not saying that artificial meat will be good for you, either, but it won't be as bad for you as commercially raised meat.
The other point here is that there is such a thing as healthy, live meat from free-range animals. If you take an animal from a natural environment, fed raw plants, raw grasses, live foods, without it being subjected to antibiotics and hormones or inhumane methods of slaughter, that meat will be much healthier for you than traditionally raised beef. Still, there's no denying that this is a terrible experience for the animal. The animal is still being killed and eaten. This is not the kind of experience that any of us would wish to endure, and yet we require this of other animals so that we may feed ourselves in a mindless way the foods that we prefer to consume.
To summarize, the least healthy meat of all is commercially raised meat -- non-organic, non-free range, factory meat products. Healthier than that would be of course free-range meat, kosher-certified meat, and along the lines of similar health would be artificial meat. None of these meats, as I have stated, are in fact good for you if consumed in large quantities. I believe that meat is not necessary for the human diet, except perhaps in the case of pregnant women who need extra iron and protein. In that case, the meat serves as a very high density protein and iron source that cannot be replicated from the plant world (iron from plants is molecularly different than iron from meats). But with prenatal nutrition, it's doubly important to have organic, free-range meat that's not contaminated with pesticides and heavy metals.
Meat consumption harms the planet
There are tremendous implications resulting from the mass consumption of meat products by the American population, such as the fact that it takes 10 times as much land to create meat protein as it does similar quantities of protein from vegetables. We're also seeing the clear-cutting of rain forests, in the Amazon especially, in order to create grazing land for cattle.
The decision to eat meat is not a solely personal decision. It doesn't just affect you. It actually affects the planet. The more meat you consume, the more land is used for meat raising and harvesting. In the case of the Amazon rainforest, it means there's less land available to support natural rain forest habitat, which is, of course, important for the oxygen production of the entire planet. So, in a very understandable way, the mass consumption of red meat around this planet actually affects the climate of the planet. Global climate change is one side effects of massive meat consumption.
If we were to switch over to a system of generating artificial meat, then the climate effect of this meat production would be drastically reduced. There still may be some industrial runoff or some kind of post-production chemicals that need to be dealt with after creating artificial meat, but undoubtedly these would be far less harmful to the planet than the clear-cutting of rain forest, injecting cows with hormones and antibiotics and raising crops with pesticides so that cows can be fed in a very inefficient food production system.
So artificial meat, even though it may sound strange, could actually be better for the planet if people continue to consume meat. Now what would be best for the planet -- and actually best for the health of individuals, families and entire nations -- would be of course to move away from a meat-centered diet. If we could get people to eat half the meat they currently consume, we would see far lower rates of heart disease, all varieties of cancers, and less obesity as well. Even though the long-term solution is to move to a plant-based diet, as a civilization, a short-term solution could include artificial meat.
Many benefits from a plant-based diet
I have probably eaten more than my share of meat for my entire life already. When I was growing up, my grandfather was a cattle rancher, so we got all the free meat we ever wanted and I ate meat constantly. I have now mostly given up meat (and red meat entirely), but I don't believe in aggressively pushing vegetarianism onto others. I simply have arrived at the obvious conclusion that there's nothing better for the human body, mind and spirit than food based on plants.
If you eat nothing but a plant-based diet, you will be far healthier than if you were to introduce any amount of meat into your diet. All the information out there about people having nutritional deficiencies on a vegetarian diet is misguided and flat-out wrong. Unless, of course, for people are living on what I call a "junk food vegetarian diet," which is soda, chips and vegetarian processed food. Of course that diet causes nutritional deficiencies. But not a health-minded vegetarian diet. Even vitamin B12 is simple to get in sufficient quantities if you put your mind to it.
As a society, we can exist quite comfortably on a plant-based diet. We can get everything we need in terms of nutrition -- including essential oils, vitamins, minerals and the like -- on a plant-based diet. We do not need meat to survive as a civilization. In fact, I believe that the mass consumption of meat devolves our society, because it makes us more angry and aggressive. It makes us less humane and is an uncivilized way to use the resources of the planet to support the human population, whereas consuming and surviving on plants is an evolved and intelligent way to feed the planet. If you consume mostly raw foods, then you also get outstanding nutrition. Cooking food destroys much of its nutritional content -- not only the proteins, but also the vitamins and the phytonutrients that make plants such a potent nutrition source in the first place.
If you can avoid cooking some of these foods, and subsist at least partially on a live foods diet -- as I have been doing now for some time -- you find that you need a lot less food, get much better nutrition, and don't really need any meat. That includes even very active lifestyles like my own, which involve strength training, Pilates, lots of running, martial arts and cycling.
The bottom line is that I am a cautious supporter of this idea of artificial meat production because of the practicalities involved. People will continue to consume meat on the planet for the time being. If that is the case, then I believe that we are much better off having people consume artificial meat than tearing the flesh from living, breathing beings and calling that dinner. Artificial meat has my vote even though, personally, I would never touch it with a fork. I support it only because it is a practical alternative to meat taken from live animals.