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Lab-Grown Meat & Global Poverty Crisis

For those looking for new ways to alleviate global hunger, lab-grown meat may not be the cure-all solution that researchers are claiming it to be.

Many scientists and animal welfare activists are praising the new in-vitro hamburger, declaring it a “step towards a day when meat can be produced in a cost-effective, time-efficient, and completely animal-free manner.” These supporters posit that producing in-vitro meat (IVM) could reduce the animal suffering, negative environmental woes, and overall human health risks associated with the structure of modern, industrial factory farming.

How does IVM work, exactly? Mark Post, a Dutch researcher from the University of Maastricht and lead researcher in the IVM project explains that scientists can grow animal muscle by collecting healthy animals and culturing them in a sterile environment, thus avoiding inhumane slaughter practices and establishing a safer food supply.

Some people, however, are not quite as enthusiastic about the prospect of lab-grown meat. Foremost, critics point out that IVM is likely to be an expensive item for quite some time—the first in-vitro hamburger cost researchers $325,000 to produce. That’s a lot of money, especially for a burger that taste-testers reported as having a “yuck factor”.

What’s more, vegan groups like the Dutch Vegan Society suggest that veganism and vegetarianism already exist as ways to access a safer food supply and avoid cruel slaughter practices, thus making IVM an overpriced, extraneous solution.

The Dutch Vegan Society questions why anyone would choose IVM when many plant-based protein options like vegan and vegetarian burgers already exist on the market that taste better and look like meat products that people are familiar with.

That is—why would people who do not approve of the modern meat industry opt for IVM meat if it does not taste any more like meat than the vegan burgers already on the shelves for under $5?

Even further, many argue that the real solution to feeding the world is through reforming agricultural practices, distribution, and access to markets in the developing world. The developing world will not find a solution to its hunger crisis in a lab-grown hamburger that they cannot produce themselves, thus subjecting them to further exploitation by global markets that are already pitted against them.

Rather, Kanayo Nwanze, the president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development, claims that “Africa can—and should—feed Africa”. That is, for agriculture thrive and yield the greatest returns in struggling developing countries around the world, “development efforts must focus on the smallholding farming sector,” rather than on developing new, expensive scientific solutions abroad.

If anything, the lab-grown burger has sparked a useful discussion about the merits of a plant-based diet and the ways in which technological “quick fixes” to global health and poverty crises can fall short.

In the wake of technological advancement like IVM, economists, politicians, and humanitarians are beginning to understand that perhaps the only way to get rid of global hunger is to reform developing countries from the “ground up” by improving agricultural infrastructure and providing impoverished countries with the means to produce their way out of poverty.

– Alexandra Bruschi

Sources: Scotland on Sunday, CNN, Huffington Post, The Dutch Vegan Society
Photo: Discovery