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The Glowing Future of Alternative Food Production

Recently, there has been some excitement about some breakthroughs in food science, namely some new plant-based meat alternatives like the veggie burger made available by the company Beyond Meat.  I was first very excited about it myself when I heard about it, at least until I found out that it was just another veggie burger.  Wouldn't it be great if there was something even more like the real thing than what companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods have come up with, but also without the problems of traditionally harvested animal proteins?  Imagine instead something so forward leaning that it previously was only thought of in science fiction.  What I'm referring to is factory (or lab) grown meat, cultured from real animal cells but from cells harvested without slaughter.  Despite how it sounds, it isn't that far-fetched...work on this alternative source of protein is actually being done right now by start up companies across the globe.  While some of you who read this may think it is a new idea, I must assure you that it has been around for awhile.  I've actually commented on this in other avenues, but thought that it merited more time and discussion, which is why I decided to post this. 

Anyhow, the way it was explained to me it works is that they take a small sample of the type of tissue (for example, cow muscle) that is traditionally harvested from a slaughtered animal for meat, and they take these live cells and put them in a special environment where they are fed nutrition and the cells are encouraged to divide rapidly.  When done properly, you end up with a slab of living flesh that can then be harvested from the growth medium and brought to consumers.  The benefits of this approach, if it was properly implemented and it caught on, would be enormous:  the conventional farming of animals for their flesh and hide would become obsolete, putting to rest the ethical dilemmas regarding using animals in that way while at the same time benefitting the environment.  The environmental benefits would derive from the lack of need for land for grazing or animal feed...this land could then be reappropriated for anything including new types of specialty crops, residential use, or even be returned back to nature to become prairie and forest for new national parks and nature preserves (more trees, fresher air globally, possibly less global warming). 

The same method for culturing animal proteins for food could be used for really any type of cell, fish or fowl, cattle or mollusc.  Eventually, when the firms specializing in developing new food production methods along these lines would get really good at culturing tissue in this way, it could even be used to produce other animal biproducts in such a way, for example dairy milk or the organs and hides of endangered animals.  This would provide further social and environmental benefits...again, less land for cattle grazing (this time dairy), and a decrease in pressure on critically endangered animals as a legal alternative source of animal biproducts that would be readily available and indistinguishable from the real thing.  After all, who could tell the difference between a rhino tusk properly grown from cells in a lab and one harvested in the wild?  They'd be made from the same type of cells. 

Cultured meat, when eventually combined with other new and highly efficient food production techniques such as vertical hydroponic farms, could also provide food on a large enough and reliable enough scale to feed even a growing population of the future, regardless of the season or weather.  The main drawback for the firms working on it right now is just developing the economies of scale necessary to produce food in this way cheap enough to be competitive with conventional sources.  However, I believe that this is a small hiccup, and that the current estimates of cultured meat availability in supermarkets as early as the 2030s (if not sooner) are highly likely.  In the meantime, my advice for anyone that shares my excitement over this new food source is to keep your eyes open for news regarding the new startups working on this food source...once things become clearer it might not hurt for those with the heart for it to consider investing in this industry to help it along.  You might benefit from it in more ways than you can imagine.

If you want to read more about this technology, I've included below a few links related to topics mentioned in this article:

A recent article about Beyond Meat's veggie burger...

About one example of cultured meat being made (and eaten)...

The Wikipedia article on cultured meat.

By Elijah The Clown Prophet, 12/6/19