Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 18 November 2019

Lab-grown meat: a vegan shares her take on the alternative

This process still uses animals, albeit far fewer, and at the moment requires cells from something known as foetal bovine serum

A vegan Bareburger allegedly tastes like the real thing. Chris Whiteoak / The National
A vegan Bareburger allegedly tastes like the real thing. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Here’s a fact: lab-grown meat is not vegan. People who follow this lifestyle adopt the belief that no creature should be used for human purposes and animals are involved in the making of lab-grown meat, which is still 100 per cent meat by all accounts.

Now that that’s out of the way, I’ll review the nuance, because this subject is by no means black and white. We humans have some serious problems to face. Remember when, last year, it was reported that we have just 12 years to save the planet from the growing global warming crisis, alongside other significant environmental challenges? Well, top climate scientists are now saying we should make that 18 months.

Nothing is more clear: something drastic needs to be done in order for us to heal the world. And animal agriculture is one of the most detrimental industries on the planet – it is one of the highest sources of greenhouse gas emissions and is one of the leading causes of deforestation, biodiversity loss and water pollution. While it is by no means the only contributing factor to our planet’s demise, it makes sense for us to do something about it – and quick.

Is the adoption of a vegan diet our best solution in this regard? Yes.

Sure, as a vegan, I’m biased, but I’m not alone in this belief – even Dutch scientist Mark Post, who presented us with the world’s first lab-grown burger in 2013, said to The New York Times: “Vegetarians should remain vegetarian. That’s even better for the environment.”

But is it realistic that everyone on this planet will adopt a plant-based diet? Unfortunately, no.

And that’s where the benefits of lab-grown meat will come in. Not only does such meat reduce the unnecessary slaughter of billions of animals, but it will also use drastically less water, land and resources than our current meat-producing processes do. (Although it is still a far more energy-intensive method than feeding plants directly to people.)

Vegans are now spoilt for choice, so meat - real or lab-grown - is not a necessity by any means. Photo: Bloom Vegan Kitchen
Vegans are now spoilt for choice, so meat - real or lab-grown - is not a necessity by any means. Photo: Bloom Vegan Kitchen

Let’s rewind a minute, though. I mentioned lab-grown meat will reduce the slaughter of animals, but it’s important to understand that it hasn’t yet eradicated this altogether. This process still uses animals, albeit far fewer, and at the moment requires cells from something known as foetal bovine serum. This is taken from foetuses of cows at slaughterhouses, foetuses that have been whipped out of the animal’s womb at about the three-month mark. If you’re an omnivore, before you gasp in horror at this idea, then I suggest you look into the ins and outs of how your meat and dairy is made. If you’re a herbivore, then know companies across this burgeoning industry are currently looking at ways to eliminate this method altogether – so there is still hope.

But then there’s the money involved, because it’s all very expensive. Beckie Calder-Flynn, operations co-ordinator at Dutch food technology company Mosa Meat, recently told The Telegraph: “We estimate that commercialisation will bring the price of a burger down to €9 (Dh36), compared with the €250,000 it cost to make the first burger.” This will certainly make it affordable to many, but it will by no means be accessible to all.

So, is lab-grown meat the answer to some of the biggest world’s problems? It does seem like a better solution than the one we have now, if people will insist on continuing to eat meat. But it doesn’t beat going vegan – and that’s another fact.

Updated: July 31, 2019 07:49 PM

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