Meat has always been an important part of our diet since it is a rich source of animal proteins. Due to the strong increase of the global population there is a strong increase in the demand for meat. As a result this will cause a strong growth in the livestock sector to keep up with the demand. Although need is necessary the growth of the livestock industry has a disastrous effect on the ecology of the planet, the welfare of the livestock and human health. To prevent these problems from getting even worse and new ways of meat production have to be found. One of the possible solutions is artificial meat. To determine if artificial meat is a viable solution it is compared to the current livestock sector and the ethical problems that are current present in both industries.
Protein is an essential nutrient, which is necessary for a healthy life style and optimal functionality of out body. The most consumed type of protein is animal protein that is obtained through the consumption of meat. Although meat is an essential source of protein it is also an expensive source of protein. Due to the fact that the global human population is increasing very fast there is an increase in the demand of meat. At the moment two thirds of the agricultural land is used the produce food for livestock, which are meant for the meat industry. While only one third of the land is used for human plant based food. 1 These demands have an economic but more importantly also an ecological impact on the world due to deforesting for more land for livestock and the increase of greenhouse gases (GHG) that these animals produce. 2 A possible solution for previous mentioned problems can be the implementation of the artificial meat. The idea behind artificial meat is to cultivate animal derived cells in labs to produce meat. Although the research is still in its infancy the field of artificial meat has been seen as a very promising field of research but it will also bring some ethical issues that will be further discussed in this paper. This paper will mainly focus on the ethics behind the ecology, animal welfare, and human health.
As mentioned before the livestock sector is a large contributor to the emission of GHG. According to the UN food and agriculture organization (FAO) 14,5% of the released GHG are from the livestock industry. This number is almost equal to the total amount of emission that is produced by al the motor vehicles in the world, which is 15% of the total GHG emission a year. 4 Further on the production of meat is a very inefficient process. At the moment 70% of all the arable land on the planet are used for the production of food for livestock. 5 Of the total amount of food that the livestock digest only 5% of this energy is used for the formation of protein, which can be used for the production of meat. Making the production of edible meat a very energy inefficient process. Not only does the livestock sector require a lot of food but they also require large quantities of water. This is needed for the production of feed, animal rearing, and sanitation of the barns and livestock. The FAO has estimated that for the production of 1kg of beef a total of 15,000L of water is required. 6 Although large quantities of water are required the livestock sector is also a major contributor in worldwide water pollution. Research has shown that the livestock sector is responsible for 33% of the global nitrogen and phosphorus contamination, 50% of the antibiotic contamination, and 37% of the heavy metal contamination of fresh water. 5 When previous statements are compared with the estimations of how efficient the cultured meat industry can be some big differences can be noted. First of all experiments in the labs have shown that meat is cultivated way more efficient than cultivating livestock. Secondly analysis have shown that the cultured meat industry will require 99% less land and 80-96% less water to produce the same amount of meat. This will prevent further contamination of the fresh water reserves and will allow the 99% of land to be used for other purposes. For example they can be used for the cultivation of plant based foods or can be used for the growth of new forests. 7 Further on a new problem that would occur is the fact that this type of industry would require a larger amount of energy than the current livestock sector but the emission of GHG would be reduced by 75-95%. This makes the cultured meat industry a way more efficient and ecofriendly industry than the livestock sector currently is.
Science has already shown that animals that are used in the livestock sector are sentient and have the ability to suffer. As a result the EU legislation and UN have set up guidelines how animals have to be treated to prevent any unnecessary suffering. These include freedom from pain, injury, discomfort, and distress. Although these guidelines were made, animal farming stays an inefficient process, which demands a lot of resources. As a result a lot of companies in the livestock sector try to make their production as cost-effective as possible. This results in the fact that the animal welfare in a lot of companies is reduced to absolute minimum and even ignored in large farm factories. Another problem is that the guidelines are on a European level and are often not enforced on national level and there isn’t enough public inspection of these farms. Almost all previous problems can be negated by the use of cultured meat. First of all the harm is minimalized, because they use parental cell lines. These are collected by using a biopsy. This is an easy to execute and not harmful procedure, while the animal is sedated. The discomfort for the animal is minimal and only takes a few minutes. These cells are than cultivated and can multiply a vast number of times, which is a very efficient process and as a result not a lot of tissue samples are needed. These cultures can be harvested without any form of slaughter has to happen. 13 The only problem at the moment is the fact that these cultures need foetal bovine serum (FBS), which is necessary for the growth of the cells and is obtained from animals. Although new research have found alternatives for the FBS. At the moment prototypes of FBS-free serum are being tested, which are based on plants, fungi and algae. When these media are on point the production can become a very animal friendly process, except for the biopsies that have to be taken for new parental cell lines.
Another problem with the large populations of livestock is that they play an important role in the transmission of infectious diseases. Research have shown that 60% of all known human diseases and 75% of dangerous emerging diseases have a zoonotic origin. Due to the increased consumption of meat and future trends show that the consumption will increase will result in higher chance of epidemic due to the large livestock populations. 16 Another problem is the antibiotics abuse in the livestock sector. Here antibiotics are used as a low cost biosecurity to prevent disease in the livestock populations and promote animal tissue growth. Although the abuse of these antibiotics also had a lot of negative effects as previous mentioned it is one of the key players in the contamination of the freshwater reserves and according to the World Health Organization (WHO) the livestock sector is one of the major reasons there is a strong increase in ab-resistant bacteria. It can be concluded that the livestock sector has a large effect on the overall health of humans. This would not be a problem for the cultured meat industry. The main reason is because the production of cultured meat happens in sterile conditions. As a result no zoonosis and no bacterial contamination of the meat is possible. Another advantage of using cultured meat is that the companies can determine the composition of their product. This means they can reduce to total amount of fat their meat contains allowing for a more healthier diet. Another advantage is that there is a way larger form of control over the production of the meat than in the livestock sector, which allows for more high quality and safe meat.
The livestock sector is a very large industry, which has a disastrous effect on human health, animal welfare, and ecology. These problems will even become bigger in the future due to the increase in the world wide population. This is why cultured meat can be a solution for future problems. It will help decrease the emission of GHG and land , which is currently used by the livestock sector . This free land can be used for plant based food, new forests, and can even be used as site for renewable energy sources like windmills to produce energy for the cultured meat industry. Further on the cultured meat industry can replace/decrease the current livestock populations. This will result in lower chances of zoonosis and antibiotics abuse. Although the field of artificial meat is still young in my eyes it is a viable solution for out future problems. The population of the world is increasing this is a fact and we are running out of space to sustain ourselves. This is why we need to find new ways to sustain ourselves in a healthy way whilst protecting our planet. At the moment there maybe still a lot of controversies around artificial meat but I believe if they keep improving the product it will become a viable solution to sustain ourselves in the future.
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