Intriguing, but (like the self-driving car meme) seems to leave more questions unanswered than answered. Before I could agree or disagree with the premise, I would have to Do The Math: know how much water is consumed per kilo of meat produced by the “in vitro” lab method. I’d have to know how much fossil fuel is used to provide the light/heat/process-control functions of the lab, how much labour goes into maintaining the very precise operating conditions, what the error rate is likely to be and what the consequences of error are. And so on. And of course, at $5,000 a kilo, it’s hardly food for the masses (yet) :-) Whenever I hear a for-profit business sector proclaim that their method or technology or whatever is “the only way we will be able to feed the world,” I must confess, a few amber lights blink on my internal alarm panel.

It is hard to beat the average herbivore (goats in particular) for conversion of biomass that is not human-edible to biomass that is human-edible. What I wonder is whether a high-tech lab process can ever match the extraordinary energy efficiency of evolved biological processes.

That said, I have no argument with the moral premise. Industrialised meat production is atrocious from every angle: it involves shameful levels of cruelty to animals; it inflicts uncosted externalities on the world (primarily through antibiotic overuse, water wastage, deforestation to support plantations of animal feed crops, and runoff from CAFOs); it produces an unhealthy product that is not good for people to eat (over-fatty meat contaminated with antibiotics, and/or CJD-infected meat when herbivores are, criminally, fed on animal products).

Now, that said, I would argue that non-industrialised i.e. small-scale meat production is neither as energy-intensive as high-tech solutions, nor anywhere near as cruel as factory “farming”. I am fortunate to live in a rural area where I can obtain locally raised meat from animals whose living conditions are humane, who are not kept in close confinement, and who are not dosed with antibiotics to fatten them faster or to compensate for filthiness and overcrowding. And if we were not headed for a population of 10b by 2050, if our numbers were less grotesque, then we could have continued to produce our food by saner and less costly methods — methods, moreover, that any able person can reproduce with some learning and practise. Not methods that are patented and held as the private property of for-profit corporations, if you see where I’m headed.

The transition to “corporate lab meat” seems to me just the next step in the process of Enclosure (already in its end game). Masses of urban and suburban people are already completely dependent on for-profit corporations — secretive, antagonistic to regulation, and predatory in relation to their customer base — for their daily food. Scandalous malfeasance is the only outcome we can expect from such a setup. Transitioning to high-tech vat-based meat production seems to me merely a continuation of that historical process, hardly a radical departure or a new era.

It seems to me more like a desperate & costly bandaid, in the face of the overwhelming predicament that faces us: we are trying to support human life, and even enjoyable or healthy life, on a planet where humanity is rapidly displacing all other biomass. Unfortunately for us, the quality of life in an impoverished and simplified ecosystem must inevitably diminish — I’ve seen this in my own lifetime in terms of food quality and availability, among other indicators. So it’s our decision in the end, whether maximising our numbers at the expense of all other species is actually a “win” — when we consider the reduced quality of life that may result (or the frank impossibility of keeping up the geometric progression indefinitely).

I think the recommended read is George R R Martin — not the GoT franchise, but the quirky and polemical Tuf Voyaging: the two relevant stories are “Loaves and Fishes” and “Second Helpings.”

Retired; ex-software engineer. Paleo-feminist. Sailor. Arduino tinkerer. Enviro. Libertarian Socialist (Anarcho-Syndicalist, kinda). Writer. Altermondialiste.

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