Growing up on a cattle ranch has exposed me to some of the benefits and issues that we face in the current agricultural industry. The global population will continue to grow and there are not enough resources to provide food to everyone with our current food production techniques. Advancements must be made, starting in our generation, for the coming generations to survive. If technologies are not applied in the food industry, the traditional agriculture practices we currently have to offer will not be enough to sustain the present standard of living; hunger will globally skyrocket. The education of the public about technological advancements is a critical requirement to ensure that they embrace the change. Research has indicated a great environmental impact will stem from the clean meat movement as well. Despite this, many lawmakers are concerned about who will be regulating this type of meat production, and if it will even be feasible on such a large-scale. As the debate begins, it must be remembered how crucial technological advancements in the food industry will be for our future.
Hunger is a problem worldwide, not just in third-world countries, but all around us in the United States. We are already failing to meet the needs of the global population, and clean or cultured meat is an opportunity to change that. The climbing global population is expected to reach 9.8 billion by 2050, and food production will need to increase by 100% to support the growth. Technological advancements will be responsible for 70% of the increase (Stein, D., 2018). Farm production will still exist until, and maybe even after, scientists find a way to make ribeyes and porterhouses look and taste the same from a lab as they do from an animal. As human populations increase, animal populations will need to increase as well; thus an increased use of resources like land and water by both people and animals. In a research study by Hanna L. Tuomisto and M. Joost Teixeira De Mattos conducted in 2011, the clean meat movement will reduce approximately 7–45% of energy usage, except for traditional poultry production (which is already lower), 78–96% of greenhouse gas emissions, 99% of land usage, and 82–96% of water usage, depending on the product when compared to “conventionally produced European meat” (Tuomisto, H. L, and De Mattos, M.J.T, 2011). Though variable with different products, the conclusion from this study is that the environmental impacts of cultured meat production are overall lower than those of traditionally produced meat.
Cultured meat has the potential to overcome various environmental, health, and ethical issues that have emerged globally from animal product consumption and the industrial agriculture that supports it. Research on the social studies of economies and markets (SSEM) by Michael J. Mouat and Russell Prince this year, has shown that the clean meat movement can be a huge “disruption” (in a positive sense) to the world. If produced on a large-scale, this would revolutionize the economics behind food production. Land, water, and feed would be replaced with laboratories, cell culture media, and large petri dishes. The for the market for the new inputs would explode, and the resources saved by consuming cultured meat will be available for the growing population’s use. However, the effects on the traditional agriculture methods is still unknown, and so is the time that it will take to reach a large-scale production. Despite all hopes for the future, the realistic time it will take for the delivery of cultured meat at a competitive price point with traditionally produced meat is unclear. To produce clean meat on a large-scale is significantly more challenging than on the small-scale that has been done thus far. The main factor is being able to produce culture media that can qualify with the meat quality standards, while also being appropriately priced. Leaders of the cultured meat industry want to make a visible impact on the environment, specifically global climate change. From this point, it is projected to take many decades to reach this goal, if it is even possible (Stephens, et al., 2018). The research has shown that it is, but it cannot be completely known until other factors, public acceptance of the cultured meat in particular, have been seen. The largest influence on whether or not clean meat will be successful is how the public perceives it. Because of technological advancements in the past, not only in the food industry but in health industry as well, that had not been properly investigated the trust of the public does not go very far. Without the proper education behind the simulated meat, misconceptions could lead to the new technology being totally thrown out of the industry, as seen with bovine somatotropin, or bST. This is an FDA approved hormone that helps increase milk production in dairy cattle (Tauer, L. W., 2016).
The simple word “hormone” resulted in the loss of a large potential for new efficiency in milk production, only because the public did not understand the meaning or effects that the addition would have. In a hypothetical choice experiment conducted by Peter Slade, consumers were given the alternative of purchasing burgers that were made from beef, plant-based protein, or cultured meat. The willingness to purchase plant-based and cultured meat burgers was found to correlate with age, sex, views of other food technologies, and attitudes towards the environment and agriculture. Consumers were told that all burgers tasted the same, and beef burgers were the still the visible favorite. With equal prices, 65% of consumers would still purchase the beef burger, 21% would buy the plant-based burger, 11% would choose the cultured meat burger, and 4% would make no purchase at all. Those who opted for plant-based and cultured meat burgers were found to be highly, but not exactly, linked. For example, women were more willing to buy plant-based burger rather than a beef burger, but less willing to buy a cultured meat burger than either of the other two. Overall, individuals that have a positive attitude toward other food technologies and genetically modified organisms were more willing to buy either of the two non-traditional patties. Due the existing availability of vegetarian burgers, consumers may already be more accepting of a simulated meat burger rather than a simulated chicken breast or steak. It is still unknown whether consumer preferences may vary based on the type of meat as well as the meat product being simulated. (Slade, P., 2018). Due to the uncertainty of the public’s willingness to buy the cultured meat, the potential effectiveness of it can be questioned. Another concern to the public is that if cultured meat becomes more popular than traditional meat, the current agriculture market will suffer an enormous blow.
Millions of people will be laid off from farms, slaughterhouses, and packaging plants. Growing up on a cattle ranch myself, this is a side effect that is very important to me. Additionally, the current population of animals would become worthless and would most likely be euthanized. Owners will not be able to afford to take care of them any longer and the population of the herd will be too great for their use. If taste and visual appearance are not closely replicated, the chances of this happening may be lowered. Regardless, cultured meat will have to be monitored and regulated closely to keep from ruining the public’s trust. Members of the House of Representatives met earlier this year and were concerned that the USDA, specifically the FSIS, would not be suitable regulators (Servick, Kelly, 2018). The inspectors are used to monitoring farm-to-table production, not lab-to-table processes. Either a new branch in the USDA may appear, or another department could come into play, but the red tape is going to play a role in what happens in this emerging side of the food production industry. If the public is not easily able to access the cultured meat at a decent price, and government regulations normally inhibit access, the success of clean meat will be limited. The technological advancements of cultured meat still have much testing and perfecting to go through before being made available for public consumption. It is still yet to be produced on a large-scale.
The reality is that there is still much uncertainty surrounding this development. Depending on how well received by consumers the cultured meat is, the effects will vary on the environment, traditional food production units, and world hunger. Even though the clean meat movement is still in the development stage, it may be a viable option to prepare for the fast approaching food shortage that will descend if the increases in food production made are not enough. If nothing else, this is a good place to start investigating new resources and it should be considered as a feasible option. I do not think that the current negative mindset of the public towards the combination of food and technology will bodes well for the success of cultured meat. Educating the people will first be required before the majority of them would be willing to purchase it for their families. Overall, there is great potential in clean meat, all depending on the public’s reception of it.