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Why Laboratory-Grown Meat is Not Vegan

Laboratory-grown meat is not a panacea.
By Doris Lin

Laboratory-grown meat may seem at once a Frankenfoods nightmare, as well as a solution to the animal rights and environmental concerns regarding meat-eating. While some animal protection organizations applaud the idea, meat grown in a laboratory could never be called vegan, would be wasteful, and would not be cruelty-free.

Still Contains Animal Products

Although the number of animals affected would be greatly reduced, laboratory-grown meat would still require the use of animals. When scientists created the first laboratory-grown meat, they

started with muscle cells from a live pig. However, cell cultures and tissue cultures typically do not live and reproduce forever. To mass-produce laboratory-grown meat on an ongoing basis, scientists would need a constant supply of live pigs, cows, chickens and other animals from which to take cells. The animals may even be slaughtered to produce enough live muscle cells.
Furthermore, the scientists grew the cells "in a broth of other animal products," which means that animals were used and perhaps killed in order to create the broth. This broth is either the food for the tissue culture, the matrix upon which the cells were grown, or both. Although the types of animal products used were not specified, it is clear that the product could not be called vegan if the tissue culture was grown in animal products.

Still Wasteful

Scientists are hopeful that laboratory-grown meat will reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but growing animal cells in a laboratory would still be a waste of resources, even if the cells were grown in a vegan medium. Traditional animal agriculture is wasteful because feeding grain to animals so that we can eat the animals is an inefficient use of resources. It takes 10 to 16 pounds of grain to produce one pound of feedlot beef. Similarly, feeding plant foods to a muscle tissue culture would be wasteful compared to feeding plant foods to people directly.

Energy would also be required to "exercise" the muscle tissue, to create a texture similar to meat.

Growing meat in a laboratory may be more efficient than feedlot beef because only the desired tissues would be fed and produced, but it cannot be more efficient than feeding plant foods directly to people. However, Pamela Martin, an associate professor in geophysical sciences at the University of Chicago, co-authored a paper on the increased greenhouse gas emissions of a meat-based diet over a plant-based diet, and questions whether laboratory-grown meat would be more efficient than traditional meat. Martin stated, "It sounds like an energy-intensive process to me."

Animal Use and Suffering

Assuming that immortal cell lines from cows, pigs and chickens could be developed and no new animals would have to be killed to produce certain types of meat, the use of animals to develop new types of meat would still continue. Even today, with thousands of years of traditional animal agriculture behind us, scientists still try to breed new varieties of animals who grow larger and faster, whose flesh has certain health benefits, or who have certain disease resistance. In the future, if laboratory-grown meat becomes a commercially viable product, scientists will continue to breed new varieties of animals. They will continue to experiment with cells from different types and species of animals, and those animals will be bred, kept, confined, used and killed in the never-ending search for a better product.

Also, because current research into laboratory-grown meat is using animals, it cannot be called cruelty-free, and purchasing the product would support animal suffering.

While laboratory-grown meat would probably reduce animal suffering, it�s important to keep in mind that it is not vegan and that animals will suffer for laboratory-grown meat.

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