Leave it to the media to pile on: Even while cheerleading for a test-tube meat project that’s about as plausible as a colony on the moon, they never forget to demonize animal agriculture.
Just 24 hours after I tried (once again) to put into perspective some of the hysteria over the fake meat project underway at Maastricht University in Holland, the news site AlterNet.org ran with yet another lengthy hosanna to Dr. Mark Post, the head of the cultured meat development project — coupled with a full-on facial to the global livestock industry.
“It was just over a year ago that the world’s first laboratory-grown hamburger was introduced to the world,” the article began. Titled, “Red meat is destroying the planet, and the Frankenburger could help save it,” the story went on to detail how test tube meat — which the writer made sure to label as cruelty-free — took four years to grow from bovine stem cells, and then “got some lukewarm reviews” from food critics.
Really? You mean a tasteless strip of rubbery protein can’t win a culinary competition with Prime beef?
As the article noted, “Because the meat was cultured from muscle with no fat cells, it lacked juiciness, and was reminiscent of an overdone, dry turkey burger. Still, the consensus was that it tasted better than expected, had the consistency of real meat, and for a first try, was not discouraging.”
Now if an actual meat product received that kind of a review, it would be immediately pulled and sent back to the testing kitchens to be totally re-engineered. But Dr. Post told NBC News that, “I’m very excited. It took a long time to get this far. I think this is a very good start.”
And they bought it!
A better set of solutions
You can understand that an entrepreneur who’s invested four years of work and blown the $350,000 that somebody fronted him would be overly enthusiastic, even if at this point his creation is a primitive, largely inedible and certainly non-competitively priced product.
What’s he going to say? “I’ve wasted a lot of time and money developing something that’s not remotely palatable, affordable or practical.” He can be forgiven for painting a rosy picture, even if his fake meat creation can’t achieve a similar color.
What’s unforgivable, however, is AlterNet’s piling on the industry with language that sounds as if it were lifted from a PETA propaganda piece.
“While anyone who has seen videos of the horrific conditions factory-farmed cows, pigs and chickens endure in their short, tortured lives might agree that in-vitro meat is a good idea, there’s an even more pressing reason to figure out a way to grow meat: the production of meat on planet Earth is killing us.”
Now, let me be clear on one point here: Climate change triggered by a century’s accumulation of carbon-based greenhouse gas emissions is no joke. Those who still pretend that the 97 percent of the world’s leading climatologists who are adamant about the threat created by the recent and significant rise in average global temperatures and their impact on melting polar ice caps, oceanic acidification and the increasing frequency of extreme weather patterns are involved in some sort of hoax or conspiracy are deluding themselves.
Climate change is real, and the threat it poses to agriculture — heck, to civilization — is likewise a clear and present danger to the infrastructure, resources and production systems that support the world’s economies.
But attempting to pin the blame on meat production, and further positing that abandoning animal agriculture would somehow halt climate change in its tracks is straying awfully far off the reservation. Modern livestock production is ever more efficient; it’s the herdsmen and ranchers in developing world who are overgrazing pastures, chopping down forests and accelerating the deterioration of arable farmland through the use of environmentally damaging production methods.
So, instead of prodding a bunch of billionaires to prop up far-fetched schemes like creating test tube meat, how about sending some of that funding to help Africans procure basic farm technology to increase their yields? Or providing alternative economic development across Latin America so that razing rainforests isn’t a go-to development plan? Or expanding access to packing plants to assure the viability of smaller-scale livestock operations across the temperate zones in North America where rainfall and pasture are abundant?
Any of those options would do far more to mitigate the eco-impact of meat production than a hundred guys like Dr. Post squandering piles of cash in their quest to “grow” meat in what can only be termed a real factory farm.
Even as the AlterNet article stated the obvious, that no matter how fast Post’s project progresses, consumers shouldn’t be “looking for a McFrankenburger Happy Meal” anytime soon, they closed with the most ridiculous statement yet from supposedly objective media professionals.
“Cultured meat products are not radically different from hot dogs or chicken nuggets, neither of which are exactly natural. Assuming it looks, feels and tastes like meat, the expectation is that environmentally conscious people will be the first to take up the cultured meat mantle.”
No — environmentally conscious people will be the last ones to embrace the “cultured meat mantle.” To even suggest such a development betrays a serious disconnect from what really motivates the cheerleaders for a project aiming to produce edible animal protein by bypassing the animals.
The fringe element that buys into the “beef is butchering the planet” notion think the world should go veggie, not switch to cultured meat.
No matter what the source, no matter how sterile the production environment, no matter how far removed from manure and methane that test-tube meat products are ultimately positioned, for the vast majority of veggie activists, even fake meat is still a four-letter world.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dan Murphy, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.