Sunday, August 16, 2009

Artificial meat production could prevent disease

By CHEGE MBITIRU

An end to the era of animal slaughterhouses isn’t near. However, in a decade or so, four legged and two legged creatures as favoured source of meat should expect competition. Scientists say so.

Early this month, Mr Jason Matheny of the research group New Harvest expounded on the merits of the competition in an interview with CNN. He said producing meat in-vitro would be healthier for the planet, including its top trailers: humans.

That’s because scientists—trailers of sort—will control ingredients such as fat and acid ratios in meat. To use Mr Matheny’s words, that means “a hamburger that prevents heart attacks instead of causing them.”

Additionally, the process would reduce risks of human diseases Mr Matheny claimed, with reason, livestock farming accounts for. Included are avian flu, swine flu, “mad cow disease,” Salmonella contamination; list unlimited.

Moreover, in-vitro meat production would be under sterile conditions impossible in conventional slaughterhouses and people would only produce the quantity needed. That’s efficiency. Not even hyenas survive on bones, anyway.

Shouts against “Franken food!” will soon join “No GM food!” as soon as a clip of some Hollywood “save the poor” buff munching an in-vitro hamburger appears. That’s due to peoples’ preferences of food, sometime irrationally, leading to silly consequences. This columnist would never find meat were he to insist on the favourite, octopus, non-existent in town of residence.

To those who consider the idea of in-vitro meat Quixotic, Mr Matheny has company. Netherlands has invested US$4 million in pursuit of in-vitro meat. The US-based People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals tantalizes with a US$1 million prize for an in-vitro chicken product. Loonies don’t manage these organisations.

Anyway, herds of cattle, goats and sheep on plains and rolling hills, or steers in concrete and steel feedlots for that matter, exhilarate and clog cash registers. On the other hand, livestock farming possesses downsides. A late 2006 UN Food and Agriculture Organization report talked about this.

Appropriately, the FAO titled the report “Livestock’s Long Shadow.” For a starter, livestock production accounts for 70 per cent of all agricultural land and 30 per cent of the earth’s land surface. Although a US$1 trillion business, the livestock industry isn’t a major global money player. However, the report said, “it is socially and politically very significant.”

Obviously! Livestock products provide one-third of humanity’s proteins and, of course, obesity and trailers of health problems. Of political significance, the livestock sector employs 1.3 billion people and creates livelihood for one billion of the world’s poor.

The report pointed out though that the livestock sector “emerges as one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems.” Among the sector’s evils is soil degradation and water pollution. That isn’t all.

For example, unlike coal power-based industries, the sector doesn’t produced carbon dioxide. However, it spews into the atmosphere more greenhouse causing gases than transportation. Think methane, for a start.

Writing for Australia’s The Age newspaper, a columnist gave another example. Livestock farming is responsible in the United States for 60 percent of antibiotics used. That turns out to be pollution.

The FAO report said global production of meat is projected to more than double from 229 million tonnes in 1999 to 465 in 2050.

In-vitro folks aren’t off the mark. While “anti GM and Natural Food Only!” buffs rage, many consumers remain undeterred.

As Mr Matheny observed, consumers want safer, healthier, and affordable meat, or food. Natural? A few care. Not even bread is natural.

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