This page contains the current draft of the full text of Chapter 11 of RAFT 2035. All content is subject to change.
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11. Clean meat
Goal 11 of RAFT 2035 is that consumption of meat from slaughtered animals will be cut by at least 90%.
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.
To accelerate progress with Goal 11, two interim targets for 2025 are proposed:
- Clarify the range of health benefits from alternatives to slaughtered meat, bearing in mind that consumption of meat has been linked to many diseases.
- 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.
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
- The 2018 book by Paul Shapiro, Clean Meat: How Growing Meat Without Animals Will Revolutionize Dinner and the World
- The 2016 essay by David Pearce, Compassionate Biology
- Research by Peta UK: “Vegan Meat Brands That Are Changing Everything”