April 15, 2008

Meat factories, food substitution and veganism

The Speculist talks about meat factories (making meat from stem cells) and a personal conversion to veganism or vegetarianism.

Part of this was initiated by an article that posited that meat eaters are bad people. [I do not agree with this position, are wolves bad?, but I feel that if achieving a goal of reduced animal harm does not harm humans or reduce human progress then the goal of reduced animal harm is not an unreasonable objective.]

People are growing meat now

In five to 10 years, supermarkets might have some new products in the meat counter: packs of vat-grown meat that are cheaper to produce than livestock and have less impact on the environment.

According to a new economic analysis presented at the In Vitro Meat Symposium in Ås, Norway, meat grown in giant tanks known as bioreactors would cost between $5,200-$5,500 a ton (3,300 to 3,500 euros), which the analysis claims is cost competitive with European beef prices.

To produce the meat we eat now, 75 to 95 percent of what we feed an animal is lost because of metabolism and inedible structures like skeleton or neurological tissue. So invitro meat could be 4 to 20 times more efficient.

There has been other food substitutions:
Egg substitute - from egg whites

Margerine, a blend of vegetable oils or meat fats (or a combination of both) mixed with milk and salt, in place of butter.

Soy meat and soy protein products.

A lot of processed food:
Yoghurt, twinkies (and other chemical and corn syrup concoctions), whey protein products and bars, spam, meat slurry

Reasons for invitro meat.

Global production of meat is projected to more than double from 229 million tons/year in 1999/2000 to 465 million tons/year in 2050 (Steinfeld et al. 2006, FAO document). [Growing at abuot 4.7 million tons per year]

The total area occupied by livestock grazing is around 36 million square km, which is equivalent to 26 % of the land surface area of the planet (Steinfeld et al. 2006). The total area used for feedcrop production is about 4.7 million square km, equivalent to 33 % of all cropland. Most of this cropland is located in OECD countries, but some developing countries are rapidly expanding their feedcrop production, notably maize and soybean in South America, in particular Brazil. The total remaining area suitable for rain-fed production is estimated to be about 28 million square km, of which 45 % is forest area (12.6 million square km) (Steinfeld et al. 2006). Livestock contribute about 9 % of total carbon dioxide emissions, 37 % of methane and 65 % of nitrous oxide. In terms of CO2 equivalents the gaseous emissions from livestock production amounts to about 18 % of the global warming effects. This is more than the contribution from the total transportation sector. Concerning polluting gaseous emissions not linked to climate change, livestock waste contributes 68 % of total emissions of ammonia (30 million tons/year) (Steinfeld et al. 2006). About 0.13 million square km of forest is lost per year and the majority is converted to agricultural land (Steinfeld et al. 2006).

Invitro meat technology:

An environmentally friendly cultured meat technology rests on four basic premises: (1) the culturing of muscle progenitor cells from farm animals of choice that are able to proliferate at a high rate, (2) the application of a growth medium that does not contain animal products, (3) the efficient differentiation of the progenitor cells into muscle cells that contain all nutrients present in conventional meat, and (4) the organisation of the muscle cells into 3-dimensional muscle structures.

Pre-major substitution, I do not see how animals are saved.

In fact, I think it would take a major exodus of humans from earth or the creation of wild biospheres or people moving out of rural areas and into self sufficient cities with high rise farms and meat factories to allow animal habitats. Thus the human condition must be vastly altered (and human suffering and lives so greatly disconnected from the natural environment and thus almost no environmental footprint then it would enable humans to not need animals for food)

Say 1% reduction (a hugely successful vegan campaign) in demand for beef. Every cow raised on farms for meat is still slaughtered and processed. Over a few years 1% less cows raised on ranches, but there is still the same slaughter ratio.

Substitution will not be advanced in the US with government help but just as the soy industry and soy burgers etc... were developed as a substitute to take market share so would meat factories. It would be a lower cost and possibly healthier alternative, niche market business plan that eventually would win more market share. I think that taste and appearance issues can be solved. The product would be far more natural than a protein bar or shake or many other popular food products.

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