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Robert Winner

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Would you eat "in vitro" meat?

Dutch biologist Mark Post says he can make a lab grown hamburger available by the end of the year.

What would be the impacts world wide of have lab grown meat?

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  • Jan 21 2012: Personally I have no ethical problem with eating animals. I would like to see people move towards near-vegetarianism (people need far less meat than they tend to consume, in order to get all the iron/protein/other good stuff they need that meat supplies well) and the meat industry become more like a niche market, providing meat more locally in quantities that would make it easy to house and slaughter the animals humanely. And if we ate so much less of it, it wouldn't be such a problem that organically, humanely produced meat would cost more (staying local would help lower the cost). In those tiny quantities, meat-eating would also have far less inpact on the environment in terms of things like land or water use.

    I see lab-grown meat as a complete waste of resources and scientific talent. If you love the taste of meat, but don't want to kill animals to eat, it's time to either get over your love of meat, or investigate meat-flavoured substitutes. I really don't think that anyone needs meat so badly that we have to resort to frankenfood burger options.
    • Jan 24 2012: Your second paragraph unfortunately highlights what David Croxton wrote above: "use it to feed people not to make money". In my opinion the only reason scientist are heading this way is actually under heavy investments from the food processing companies (not meat packers) who see a way to:
      a. Even more cheaply create a supply of meat that they can fully control and can generate huge revenue.
      b. Take over meat packers' market share by highlighting the more humane nature of their product.
      • Jan 24 2012: But that's just it, Jonathon. If our goal is to feed people, encouraging vegetarianism, or at least more vegetarian diets, is the way to go. The meat industry uses grain and other resources (like water) that can be used to feed a much, much greater number of people than animals (or eventually meat eaters). If we don't shift our paradigm to one of LESS meat, not just DIFFERENTLY PRODUCED meat, there will still be a resource problem. Imagine the resources needed to grow enough meat in labs if the consumer demand for meat remains as high as it is now. If we work to reduce customer demand for meat, either solution (animals or frankenburgers) will be less resource consuming. But in the end, why bother with the second option? People don't NEED meat. They certainly don't need it in the quantities they consume right now. In fact, that quantity of meat consumption by some is reducing their level of health.
      • Jan 24 2012: By the way, I assume you meant humane, not human. A more human product could really get them in trouble. :):)
    • Jan 27 2012: Why be opposed to meat when it is grown like a plant.
      You talk about the benefits of a vegan diet and automatically assume meat is antithesis to that. Why?
      Why assume a more scientific approach to meat production will not solve the problems you see and bring meat on par with your vision of veggies?

      What is the difference between a lab (greenhouse) grown tomato and a lab grown hamburger?
      • Jan 27 2012: The difference is that tomatoes already grow all by themselves. All you are doing in a greenhouse is recreating their natural environment. Lab grown meat is a much different prospect, because you are producing it in a completely different way to the way it is produced naturally. Which means that a LOT of research, experimentation, development and RESOURCES will be needed in order to make it happen. I just think it's a waste of time and resources for an unneeded outcome. Science doesn't have to run off and provide for our every whim (in this case to have our animal flesh and protect the animal too, so we don't feel bad).

        I think the better choice is to simply reduce our consumption of meat and focus our time and resources on more beneficial R&D projects, where the resource investment will produce a better outcome than lab burgers.

        And for the record, I am not opposed to eating animals at all. I am strongly in favour of moving towards a more vegetarian diet, where the AMOUNT of meat people consume is greatly reduced. Not only would this reduce the use of resources like land and water, but it is mass production that has encouraged the development of the most morally reprehensible animal husbandry and slaughter practices. Small scale farming facilitates humane treatment of animals.

        Sure, lab meat might satisfy those morally opposed to killing animals for their meat at all, but I just think we don't need it. Just eat less meat. If you're morally opposed to killing animals for food, eat no meat. If you believe it's wrong to use animal products, become a vegan. But we don't need lab meat. IMO there are so many higher priorities.
        • Jan 27 2012: "Simply reduce our consumption of meat"

          I don't think there's anything simple about that fact, it would require society itself to radically change. Most people are happy to just eat what they know they like, and if they like, they'll continue to eat lots of it.

          Lab meat may be a way of reducing the environmental impact of the enormous meat consumption in the short term. If hamburgers can be grown on demand in a lab then we won't have loads of cows farting their global warming into the atmosphere and there obviously won't be as much waste.

          I don't claim to know the exact difference between the environmental impact of loads of scientists science-ing up some beef and loads of cows being generally cow-ish, but it seems that the sheer amount of farming required to produce as much meat as is being consumed is using far too many resources, which is a point I agree with you on.

          I think lab meat may be a short term solution to the problem of epic resource consumption, but the long term solution would obviously be a reduction in the amount of meat eaten.
        • Jan 27 2012: meat grows by it self as well - you're just replacing the rest of the animal with a pertri dish of nutrients. A lot of research, experimentation and resources have been spend to generate the "perfect", germ and disease resistant, high yield product you buy in the supermarket.
          It's not about having our animal flesh and eat it too (to me), it's about generating basic nutrients for people without access to the carefully balanced and genetically selected veggies required to survive on a meatless diet. It's about efficiency of production.

          Yes, the better choice is to reduce consumption (of just about everything, including meat). Unfortunately, you fall into the trap of thinking it's a choice of "either/or". Either we do research which benefits (what you think is important) or we squander resources. Research is always additive. Research is never wasted, as long as it adds to knowledge.
          Even if we choose not to eat meat anymore, your lab burger project may one day allow us to grow replacement kidneys and livers (both delicious when well prepared!) that can safe lives (before they're cooked)
      • Jan 27 2012: Alex: Yes, but that's a lot of trouble to go to for a short term solution. And it isn't so radical a change. It's change I just made personally - going from eating meat usually more than once a day, to eating it maybe three times a week (usually when I'm out). I have basically the same diet as before, except that I eat eggs and legumes more as my protein. I already loved eating vegetables and grains, so it's really just a matter of leaving out the meat. I know I can get all the nutrients I need from meat by eating about 500g of it a week, so three meals that include meat is working out fine. I guess I treat meat now the way I treat chocolate. I like the taste a lot, but having it every day is unnecessary (and unhealthy).

        henk: maybe the research will prove useful for some other reason, though frankenburgers aren't quite the same as clone kidneys (but I take your point). In fact it's probably true to say that the idea of lab-grown meat probably wouldn't even exist if weren't for that kind of cloning technology, so I think the research chain probably goes the other way.

        Guys, we just disagree. I see it as a waste of time and resources and you don't. That's fine.
        • Feb 1 2012: well, you disagree because you think that people shouldn't eat as much meat as they should right now. It's great that you are making healthy choices for yourself, eating less meat. But why should your belief be imposed on other people?

          Even if it is relatively unhealthy, are we really going to impose a blanket diet on everyone? why stop there? let's ban smoking too!

          If they like eating meat, and producing meat costs us both economically and environmentally, then it wouldn't be a waste to look for more efficient ways to produce the meat in demand.

          Also, as the world's population continues to grow, we need to make it more efficient to produce protein. We can't rely on legumes and eggs, even if the world suddenly forgoes their appetite for meat.
      • Feb 1 2012: Elmer: I wasn't suggesting that we forceably put everyone on a particular diet - certainly not that everyone copy my eating habits. I said that I think encouraging people to reduce their meat consumption (by giving them all the information on its impact, and by making rules that demand humane treatment of farm animals (in how they are housed, fed, and slaughtered) which is fair, but would also reduce demand by increasing the price). I only gave the information on my own changing diet as an example of how I thought it would be really difficult for people to change those habits (which is what others are arguing) but actually I was really surprised as how easy it was. As long as I eat meat a couple of times a week I don't miss it at other times. That surprised me and it made me realise that there are probably a lot of people who could reduce the amount of meat they eat without feeling any hardship from doing so. I never suggested imposing that on anyone else. I'm talking about people choosing to reduce their meat consumption and just saying I think it could happen, especially if we focus on that kind of education instead of wasting time on frankenburgers.
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      Jan 27 2012: Lab grown meat . OK sounds Nice .

      Deborah "I see lab-grown meat as a complete waste of resources and scientific talent. " Why?
      I love the taste of meat,and i don't have any problem killing chicken . But still its a nice invention . It may produce cost effective meat some time or may need less resources to produce meat.. Isn't that good.

      "If our goal is to feed people, encouraging vegetarianism, or at least more vegetarian diets, is the way to go. "
      I know PETA has created some awareness of vegetarianism. But I think its never possible. as Asia and La America economy gets stronger they will be more affectionate to non veg. Meat consumption will increase day by day . And i think synthetic meat can be a solution.
      • Jan 27 2012: I agree, it could. I just think it's a bad, resource-wasting solution. I think it will take an enormous amount of time and money to develop before it becomes cost efficent.

        The way we eat has changed a lot over time. There's no reasont hat more meat HAS to become the norm, in any society. Encouraging and promoting a more vegetarian diet through education could prevent the need for lab-grown meat to be developed at all.
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          Jan 27 2012: The reason human civilization has grown so fast because they alwasy want more. Ya its true that if US becomes vegeterian africa wont have any food problem. It is not impossible also but its improbable.
          The 8 or 9 neuclear power country spen so much on military budget that can feed whole asia or africa.
          So I think rather than trying to make people vegan trying to produce cost and resource effetive synthetic meat will be more feasibl.
      • Jan 28 2012: "produce cost and resource effetive synthetic meat"

        It's not synthetic meat. It's actually animal flesh. It's just never been part of a whole animal.
    • Jan 28 2012: Deborah, as passionately as you feel about vegetarianism... and despite the fact that it's quite a populous movement...

      If we're to be honest with ourselves, you guys would have an easier time shifting mountains with shovels than changing current planetary food consumption habits through... what really amounts to chastisement. If vegetarian alternatives became superior to meat options in a number of factors including taste and cost, you'd have a much easier time convincing people.

      Falling short of that, vat grown meat is definitely a worthwhile avenue of exploration. We should be concerned about the ways in which it could be exploited... but vigilance should just be that - rather than outright fear mongering or outright emotional rejection of a product of which many details are still 'undefined'.
      • Jan 28 2012: I think it's possible that lab grown meat could be a more humane alternative (for those who believe that killing animals for food is wrong (I don't)) but I think it would take a long time to be cost efficient. Can paying lab techs to farm meat under safe lab conditions actually be cheaper than having a cow stand in a field eating grass? (I know US cows are often grain fed, but they're not here in Australia.)

        And people already love vegetarian food. They just usually eat it with meat next to it. :)
        • Jan 29 2012: >And people already love vegetarian food. They just usually eat it with meat next to it. :)

          Try walking into a restaraunt and telling people you'll be replacing their meat with extra servings of veggies.

          Try the opposite. I think you'll start to come to a realization as to the sort of entrenched social/cultural/emotional attachment we have to the taste of meat.
      • Jan 28 2012: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/45257771/ns/technology_and_science-science/t/first-lab-grown-burger-coming-right-thatll-be/

        The details - very expensive, and at the moment, pretty unappetising.
        • Jan 29 2012: It's a tad disingenious to think that the proof of concept prototypes that they're making right now will be representative in anyway of whatever final product that these companies wish to trot out. It's more likely that unless they can find a marketable form (right taste/texture/price) these products will never see the day of light.

          Of course, I wouldn't doubt for a moment that they'll release it at high prices to see if the market can bear it - marketing it as new ethical meat. I'm sure it'll do well with just moralistic vegetarians to begin with!
      • Jan 29 2012: I wasn't offering it as any kind of evidence, or assuming the final product will be exactly the same - just providing more detail on where they're up to. I mostly posted it for the details on the cost, because it's relevant to what I was saying about it being a waste of research and development resources.
        • Jan 29 2012: If they make a feasible product, then how could it possibly be a waste of research and development?

          If they don't, then how would they know how feasible it is without doing the R&D to figure that out?

          It's only a waste if the product or idea is redundant or unfeasible in the first place - but the idea of vat grown meat is appealing to many of us. And rationally assessing it, there's plenty of logical and rational reasons for us to move in this direction - less energy/calories per gram of meat, more ethical, better quality control (in theory), able to genetically engineer relevant nutrition into the product (more omega-3 fats for example).

          Of course, it's always worth bearing in mind the current condition of the research so that we don't get too ahead of ourselves - but if we're been honest here, that's not exactly what you're doing Deborah. By your own admission no less - you're proffering it up as a relevant example (if that isn't evidence, I don't know what is) of why it's 'a waste of research and development resources.'
      • Jan 29 2012: George. I will try to be clearer. It would also be great if you could not deliberately misunderstand. You said it was 'disingenious to think that the proof of concept prototypes that they're making right now will be representative in anyway of whatever final product...' In reply to that point, I said I wasn't offering it up as evidence of, or assuming, a final product in its current form. The part where I said I thought it was relevant was to do with the enormous cost.

        The reason I think it's a waste of R&D is, using your terms, I think the product is, though perhaps feasible, also redundant. We don't need a lab to produce meat. But we might need it to produce meat in sufficient quantities to meet growing demand. IF WE WANT TO MEET DEMAND. I think the better answer is to work at reducing demand. The way to do this is to not only educate people as to the environmental and resource impact of the meat industry, but also to make much stricter laws relating to the humane treatment of animals. The reason demand can be as high as it is, is because meat is so cheap (especially meat supplied for fast food). But it can only be that cheap while appalling standards remain. (Yes, I watched Food, Inc recently. :)) Changing the standards will make meat more expensive, which will drive down demand. And if our concern here is the animals (as people want lab-grown meat to avoid killing animals) those standards are a great first step anyway.
        • Jan 29 2012: What does the large cost of a prototype have to do with anything though? Prototypes of anything just cost a lot. Research and development just costs a lot. The only way to follow the logic that is been implied by what you've written is that the enormous cost of the prototype and R&D makes the final product not viable. But it's a faulty argument to make - because the end product and it's potential effect is massive and desirable.

          It is unfortunate that it takes our food industries so much energy and resources to produce the 'natural' meat that we consume so readily. On the other hand, protein and meat in general has great value as a source of nutrition; both macro and micro. Indeed, a protein heavy diet is generally more in line with our body function than the current carb and grain heavy diet that modern culture focuses on (largely due to pragmatic factors such as cost).

          In that sense, I would reject the notion that we should seek to reduce the demand of meat products. While we can certainly espouse a more balanced diet with increased vegetable load, replacing protein calories from animal sources with carbs and solely plant sourced proteins is not just ineffective, but potentially hazardous for population health and nutrition.

          At this point in time, in-vitro meat of course has a much higher cost and probably doesn't pass the taste test for many - but that's why R&D is required. The promise of a cheaper, more ethical meat source is of too great a promise to ignore.

          Ideally, in the not too distant future, in-vitro meat is a viable protein alternative to traditionally grown animal meat; one thing that can be done to make it sooner is to have the externality costs of the animal meat better represented - it'll bring the in-vitro meat to parity with traditional animal meat quicker.

          Another thing that can be done is for us to explore additional protein sources, including bugs and insects.
      • Jan 29 2012: "Try the opposite. I think you'll start to come to a realization as to the sort of entrenched social/cultural/emotional attachment we have to the taste of meat."

        Yep, true. Society is capable of change - also true.
        • Jan 29 2012: Yes... society is capable of change.
          Some changes are easier than others.
          And some changes still, are practically impossible.

          I would focus my energies on making changes that are easy and possible over focusing on tasks that are nigh on impossible.
      • Jan 29 2012: "But it's a faulty argument to make - because the end product and it's potential effect is massive and desirable."
        We disagree on that.

        "Indeed, a protein heavy diet is generally more in line with our body function than the current carb and grain heavy diet that modern culture focuses on"
        Incorrect. While we are omnivores, our digestive system is more similar to those of herbivores than carnivores. And all the unhealthy fats are animal fats.

        "I would reject the notion that we should seek to reduce the demand of meat products...replacing protein calories from animal sources with carbs and solely plant sourced proteins is not just ineffective, but potentially hazardous for population health and nutrition."
        'Reducing the demand for meat' and 'replacing animal protein with carbs and solely plant sourced proteins' are not the same the same thing, and I never advocated for erasing meat from our diets. I have consistently argued for people consuming the amount of meat we actually need to get all of the nutrients meat is good at providing, which is a piece of meat the size of the pad of the hand (the fleshy part next to the thumb on the palm) about three times a week. In my experience that is about 500g of meat per week. I think we should reduce demand by encouraging people to enjoy only the amount of meat they actually need, by education and by increasing the cost of meat to decrease demand.

        "The promise of a cheaper, more ethical meat source is of too great a promise to ignore."
        Again, we disagree on that. I don't believe it will ever be cheaper than the $1-$5 burgers McDonalds sells, which is a massive component of meat over-consumption in Western societies. Also, as I've already stated, I don't agree that humane animal husbandry and slaughter is unethical.

        And in-vitro meat production is, apparently, possible, but it can hardly be considered easy. I'd also argue that getting people to embrace any product clearly identifiable as lab meat will also not be easy.
      • Jan 29 2012: And George, let me make it clear that I understand that some people DO regard killing animals for food as unethical. But I don't think it should be stand as a given in this discussion, especially as most of the population DON'T have an ethical problem with eating animals. I consider it unlikely that in-vitro meat, even if successfully produced, will replace farm-grown meat anytime soon, because most people don't consider the goal of saving animals' lives important. If they did, massive meat consumption wouldn't be the norm.

        In fact, you've said that swapping to lab meat is the change that is 'easy and possible'. I don't think that would be any easier than convincing people to eat less meat, especially if the cost of lab meat never becomes genuinely cheap, and certainly not if the texture and taste of lab meat never really approximates the meat people enjoy the most, which is not just burgers, but also quite different and delicious things like steak and roast chicken and pork crackling.

        Also, the lab meat is grown from stem cells from leftover bits at slaughter houses, so animals did die to produce the meat he is currently cultivating.. Will that be self-perpetuating after it begins, or will the process require fresh stem cells from time to time? If the latter, then people who eshew meat-eating on the grounds that killing animals for food is wrong should be cautious about seeing in-vitro meat as an ethical alternative.
        • Jan 30 2012: I'll let you have the last word Deborah. But I should let you know, in case you take silence as some sort of tacit agreement - that I remain wholly unconvinced by your arguments.
      • Jan 30 2012: Duly noted. :)
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      Feb 2 2012: Wow so many replies to your comment; I just want to say that I agree with you. Eating an animal is not something we should oppress too much like vegans say. The problem is in the cruel animal raising industry and the environmental problems that are caused by too many animals. What's important is that we should reduce our meat consume, not that we should cut it completely which is impossible. Oh, and my opinion to the question is "I would not". I see no need in it.

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