The $330,000 Hamburger

The $330,000 HamburgerMost people might think that in-vitro produced meat was an idea confined to science fiction publications, the new Frankenburger hopes to convince you otherwise. Professor Mark Post of Maastricht University is the scientist behind the research that takes cells from a slaughtered calf, transforms them into strips of flesh in a Petri dish at an institute in the Netherlands and then turns them into a meat patty — all at the research cost of a mere $330,000. This novel and unnatural idea has produced the first artificial meat that was consumed in the form of a hamburger in London on camera before an audience by two volunteers — their reaction was anything but enthusiastic.

The proponents of this venture tout the benefits of artificially grown meats to be seemingly endless. For starters, they claim that it will reduce CO2 emissions, methane gas production, eliminate animal borne diseases, feed everyone who is starving, reduce obesity and of course save the environment. Needless to say, some kinks in production need to be ironed out first such as the high cost, eliminating laboratory-borne diseases, taste and texture and not least of all, getting the public to buy into the idea of eating flesh grown in a Petri dish.

Much has been said about the growing population of the world and how to feed it, and this implies that the planet cannot sustain its current growth; in-vitro meat appears to be the direction we must take to cope with the global “food crisis.”

The problem with the term food crisis is that it does not address the root cause of hunger. There is simply not a food shortage or a lack of land to cultivate crops. The problem is that some developing countries do not have food sovereignty; that is the right to grow and manage their own food. This is not only a problem in developing countries, it is happening right here in the U.S. with the 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act. Farmers are slowly being pushed out of business with ever increasing control by the federal government and macro businesses as they micromanage food production.1

Bioethicist Jonathan Kimmelman from Yale University states “the financial benefits from genetic modification will flow mostly to the very largest agricultural producers, putting local agricultural economies at a tremendous disadvantage. That is really the central issue here.”2 Furthermore, “it is a myth that world hunger is due to scarcity of food.” Physicians and Scientists for Responsible Application of Science and Technology, October 1998.

Food sovereignty can be summarized as the right of a people to produce healthy and appropriate food through sound and sustainable agricultural methods, free from government and corporate restrictions that manipulate markets and suffocate local agricultural development. This idea ensures that a nation will be able to produce enough food to feed its people based on its own efforts. So if starving people can be given faux meat, why not give them the real thing?

Liberals claim the development of artificial meat will lead to greater food sovereignty. They point out fewer animals need be raised to produce more meat. Animal “rights” advocates and environmentalists love this idea since it fits their agenda that we all eat vegetables and forego the meat.

Such pipe dreams actually come at great cost in the real world. If we were to meet our nutritional needs by raising more crops, our arable land will need to be even more intensely farmed and this would require a net increase in the amount of fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides and other threats to biodiversity thus destabilizing the equilibrium of our environment.

The raising of livestock allows for grazing that can take place on native ecosystems rather than arable land that is more suited for crops. These ecosystems have and maintain far higher levels of native biodiversity than croplands by supporting the life of a great deal of wild animals. Many rangelands cannot be used to produce crops, so the production of meat utilizing these conditions does not limit production of plant foods because it uses otherwise non-arable farm land for livestock.

Environmentalists decry the rising levels of greenhouse gases, CO2, and how this ultimately causes global warming, and of course, animals produce CO2. Therefore we must limit the amount of animals on the planet to secure our future. The online journal PLOS One, published a study that debunks this myth by showing that nature is taking care of any excess CO2 naturally without the need for increased government control over companies and individuals through the likes of carbon tax credits.3

One example is higher forest densities, which means the world’s forests are utilizing more CO2, and the U.S. is a perfect example of this. As American timberland area has only increased by only 1 percent between 1953 and 2007, the actual volume of growing stock has increased by a stunning 51 percent during the same period. This clearly demonstrates that forests are absorbing the additional CO2 produced by civilization to our benefit hence CO2 is good.

One could go on countering the sophistic arguments put forth by advocates of test tube meat showing how it is unnatural, inorganic and upsets nature. However, the best argument is the fact that this unsavory meat is indeed a Frankenburger, a costly and artificial invention that cannot beat a delicious sirloin steak.

Footnotes

  1. http://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/FSMA/default.htm
  2. http://www.salon.com/2000/05/05/biofoods/
  3. http://www.plosone.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pone.0019577

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