11. Clean meat

This page contains the current draft of the full text of Chapter 11 of RAFT 2035. All content is subject to change.

To offer comments and suggestions on the following material, please use this shared Google document.


11. Clean meat

Goal 11 of RAFT 2035 is that consumption of meat from slaughtered animals will be cut by at least 90%.

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Substitutes for meat from slaughtered animals include classical vegetarian diets, plant-based meat alternatives with broadly similar taste and texture as meat, and what is known as “clean meat”, which is meat grown in laboratories from cultured cells using methods of biochemical engineering and synthetic biology.

Compared to existing meat sources, clean meat can, well before 2035, be healthier, tastier, better for the environment – by freeing up huge areas of land for other purposes – and can avoid the current situation of the mass slaughter of beings who possess at least some of the same characteristics of consciousness as humans.

Anticipating a change in public attitude

As technology provides a wider range of attractive substitutes, we can anticipate a growing change in public attitude. The writer Arwa Mahdawi has suggested that “Carnivores are going the way of cigarette smokers”:

By 2050, there’s a good chance that it will be socially unacceptable to eat meat. In the same way that we’re now horrified people used to smoke in offices and airplanes, we’ll find it almost unthinkable that people used to consume animals so casually and frequently.

RAFT anticipates that this change in attitude could take place faster – well before 2050.

Plant-based meat alternatives

Plant-based meat alternatives are already growing in number. They include products from, in no particular order:

  • Vivera – who state they are “Feeding the Goodness Revolution with the most delicious plant-based food”
  • The Fry Family Food Co – who encourage consumers to “Swap meat with 100% plant-based products”
  • Tofurky, with their plant-based burgers that are said to be not only “mouth-watering” but also “crazy good for the environment”
  • Oumph – who claim their products have a “completely unique structure and texture… unlike anything else from the plant kingdom”.

Other companies whose products contain plant-based meat alternatives, and which make broadly similar claims, include Linda McCartney Foods, Quorn, Gosh, Naturli, Iceland, Beyond Meat, and Impossible Foods – as featured in the “Impossible Burger” served in some Burger King restaurants.

However, these products, along with lab-grown clean meat, presently face a number of challenges:

  • Their taste and texture is felt by many to compare poorly to that of “real” meat
  • The cost of lab-grown clean meat remains high
  • There are no processes in place, yet, for larger-scale production of lab-grown meat.

More benefits ahead

Considerable research and development is now underway to address the challenges faced by clean meat. A report from the Adam Smith Institute, “The prospects for lab-grown meat”, urged UK businesses to increase investment in the field. The report highlighted progress in recent years as follows:

  • In 2013 the cost of a burger made with meat grown in a lab stood at around $250,000, but by 2018, the price tag had dropped to just £8.
  • Clean meat could mean a cut in agricultural greenhouse gas emissions of 78%-96%, while using 99% less land.
  • Clean meat has the potential to solve the looming antibiotic resistance crisis. With farming using up to 70% of antibiotics critical to medical use in humans, cases of resistance are on the rise, driven by intensive farming practices.
  • Clean meat will also reduce cases of food poisoning as, unlike on farms, growth takes place under controlled conditions.

Moreover, it is estimated that the processes that create clean meat will use 96% less freshwater, as well as 99% less land. (The meat portion of a single quarter pounder hamburger currently requires more than 2,000 litres of freshwater.)

Health benefits should also be emphasised: Since clean meat is grown in a sterile environment, there’s no need to use antibiotics. Also, the levels of various types of cholesterol and fat in clean meat can be precisely controlled.

Think how much faster these important gains for the environment and for health could be realised if there is extra investment, not just from businesses, but also from the public sector.

Agricultural research already receives a sizeable budget from public funds. A significant portion of this budget should be applied to accelerating all aspects of progress with clean meat.

Making clean meat really clean

One complication with creating clean meat is the current reliance on one or more products that still need to be derived from slaughtered animals. These products include foetal bovine serum, a mixture harvested from the blood of foetuses excised from pregnant cows slaughtered in the dairy or meat industries. This serum contains a cocktail of proteins that make it ideally-suited for helping all kinds of animal cells grow and duplicate.

Options to avoid use of foetal bovine serum include recombinant DNA technology and the use of pluripotent stem cells. The latter method has been adopted by the Dutch company Meatable, who have been working with researchers from Cambridge University.

As well as technical challenges to be overcome, there is the challenge of developing clean meat regulatory regimes that are suitably agile (that is, fast-moving), but also suitably robust. These regulatory systems need to guard against inadvertent public health risks, whilst avoiding becoming bogged down in any protectionist measures that give undue support to the incumbent food production industry.

Critically, the public must be kept well-informed throughout, to prevent any panics similar to those over GMO foods.

Managing the transition

There are many potential new uses for the agricultural land that was formerly dedicated to livestock for the food industry. These uses include new towns and cities, smart rural communities, regions for sports and other recreation, different forms of “rewilding”, and areas dedicated to “compassionate biology” (also known as “high-tech Jainism” or “paradise engineering”).

Decisions on new usage should be taken, based not just on financial criteria, but taking into account the full range of flourishing covered in RAFT.

Inevitably, the changes envisioned in this goal will raise concerns for people who are presently employed in farming and in food processing. As with all RAFT projects, consideration should be given to putting in place subsidies and other assistance, to avoid unnecessary hardship during the transition.

Interim targets

To accelerate progress with Goal 11, two interim targets for 2025 are proposed:

  1. Clarify the range of health benefits from alternatives to slaughtered meat, bearing in mind that consumption of meat has been linked to many diseases.
  2. Demonstrate “full taste parity” of selected alternatives to slaughtered meat. Indeed, the rich variety of new types of meat that could become available – for example, meat equivalent to that from a stegosaurus or a tyrannosaurus – could stimulate much greater public interest in eating this sort of food.

Moving forwards

Humanity’s longer-term future lies, not just on the Earth – with a much improved environment – but also in the universe beyond our home planet. The next chapter envisions a potential step-up in progress in our cosmic journey upwards and outwards.

For more information

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Recent Posts

RAFT 2035 – a new initiative for a new decade

The need for a better politics is more pressing than ever.

Since its formation, Transpolitica has run a number of different projects aimed at building momentum behind a technoprogressive vision for a better politics. For a new decade, it’s time to take a different approach, to build on previous initiatives.

The planned new vehicle has the name “RAFT 2035”.

RAFT is an acronym:

  • Roadmap (‘R’) – not just a lofty aspiration, but specific steps and interim targets
  • towards Abundance (‘A’) for all – beyond a world of scarcity and conflict
  • enabling Flourishing (‘F’) as never before – with life containing not just possessions, but enriched experiences, creativity, and meaning
  • via Transcendence (‘T’) – since we won’t be able to make progress by staying as we are.

RAFT is also a metaphor. Here’s a copy of the explanation:

When turbulent waters are bearing down fast, it’s very helpful to have a sturdy raft at hand.

The fifteen years from 2020 to 2035 could be the most turbulent of human history. Revolutions are gathering pace in four overlapping fields of technology: nanotech, biotech, infotech, and cognotech, or NBIC for short. In combination, these NBIC revolutions offer enormous new possibilities – enormous opportunities and enormous risks:…

Rapid technological change tends to provoke a turbulent social reaction. Old certainties fade. New winners arrive on the scene, flaunting their power, and upturning previous networks of relationships. Within the general public, a sense of alienation and disruption mingles with a sense of profound possibility. Fear and hope jostle each other. Whilst some social metrics indicate major progress, others indicate major setbacks. The claim “You’ve never had it so good” coexists with the counterclaim “It’s going to be worse than ever”. To add to the bewilderment, there seems to be lots of evidence confirming both views.

The greater the pace of change, the more intense the dislocation. Due to the increased scale, speed, and global nature of the ongoing NBIC revolutions, the disruptions that followed in the wake of previous industrial revolutions – seismic though they were – are likely to be dwarfed in comparison to what lies ahead.

Turbulent times require a space for shelter and reflection, clear navigational vision despite the mists of uncertainty, and a powerful engine for us to pursue our own direction, rather than just being carried along by forces outside our control. In short, turbulent times require a powerful “raft” – a roadmap to a future in which the extraordinary powers latent in NBIC technologies are used to raise humanity to new levels of flourishing, rather than driving us over some dreadful precipice.

The words just quoted come from the opening page of a short book that is envisioned to be published in January 2020. The chapters of this book are reworked versions of the scripts used in the recent “Technoprogressive roadmap” series of videos.

Over the next couple of weeks, all the chapters of this proposed book will be made available for review and comment:

  • As pages on the Transpolitica website, starting here
  • As shared Google documents, starting here, where comments and suggestions are welcome.

RAFT Cover 21

All being well, RAFT 2035 will also become a conference, held sometime around the middle of 2020.

You may note that, in that way that RAFT 2035 is presented to the world,

  • The word “transhumanist” has moved into the background – since that word tends to provoke many hostile reactions
  • The word “technoprogressive” also takes a backseat – since, again, that word has negative connotations in at least some circles.

If you like the basic idea of what’s being proposed, here’s how you can help:

  • Read some of the content that is already available, and provide comments
    • If you notice something that seems mistaken, or difficult to understand
    • If you think there is a gap that should be addressed
    • If you think there’s a better way to express something.

Thanks in anticipation!

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