UNDERSTANDING CULTURAL PERSPECTIVES ON CELLULAR AGRICULTURE
About Cellular Agriculture
Industrial animal agriculture is a multibillion-dollar global business that has devastating ecological effects on the planet and its inhabitants. It is directly responsible for a large portion of harmful greenhouse gases such as methane and uses up massive amounts of water and over 75% of available land for all food production combined. It poses significant risks to human health by creating zoonotic diseases (such as COVID-19) and antibacterial resistance (aka “superbugs”). Industrial animal agriculture breeds, raises, and slaughters billions of animals with little to no regard to animal welfare. It is not only extremely wasteful in terms of plant-based calories needed to produce animal-based calories but it will eventually fail to feed a growing population that will near 10 billion by 2050.
What can we do about this? While cultural awareness about the negative effects of animal agriculture and economic responses to it have brought us innovative plant-based solutions such as Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat products among many other vegetarian or vegan food options, this is not enough. Less than 5% of all people currently living are full-time vegetarians or vegans. And while I fully support plant-based diets, most people resist making a permanent or complete transition to animal-free diets for many different reasons. This is why I share the belief of so many cellular agriculture companies and organizations that rather than trying to change what people eat, the smarter approach is to change how it’s made. So rather than growing the whole cow, why not just grow the burger or the milk? This is exactly what cellular agriculture aims to do by culturing meat, dairy, and egg products “in vitro” that are bio-identical to their “in vivo” grown counterparts.
Cellular agriculture is a viable solution to the current problems with our food system and it has many advantages over animal agriculture. For instance, cultivated meat, also sometimes called cultured meat, clean meat, or crafted meat, uses 90% less water, 99% less land, and 40-50% less energy compared to conventional meat production. It is virtually free of hormone supplements, fecal contaminants, antibiotics, and viruses. The process of culturing meat is essentially similar to culturing other living tissue made of cells: particular muscle cells are harvested from a living animal and given nutrients to grow and multiply as they would in a living body under similar conditions. Millions of muscle strands are then combined to make a familiar food like a burger patty or a chicken nugget. This is of course a rather simple explanation of a more complicated process but I wanted to state it here just so people do not confuse cell-based meat with plant-based meat.
Because the field of cellular agriculture is still in its infancy, the success of making cellular agriculture the food production system of the future depends on the current generation of young people who are only just beginning their adult professional lives. Today’s college students, in particular, are increasingly concerned with and invested in knowing where their food comes from, which will significantly affect their lives and the lives of the generations after them. Many are already choosing to major in environmental science or related fields to become directly involved in addressing food issues related to climate change through professional careers. Indeed, there are many pathways to becoming actively involved in transforming our current food system, which is critically important in affecting climate change across the board. One of these is participation in the ongoing dialogue by way of talking to educators, researchers, companies, and organizations.
Change cannot come about by looking to the past generations who have conceived of the system we have now. To build a better future, we have to invest resources into the generation that will be instrumental in shaping it. If you are a college student, this means I am talking about you and to you. I want to listen to your concerns and questions and help you to find the answers and solutions that will matter to you. The necessary change we need to ensure a viable human future on this planet depends on your active participation in bringing this change about.