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Fake Meat Versus Meat with Eyes: Both Have Environmental and Economic Impacts

I’m perfectly fine with inventors working on synthetic meat and competing in the marketplace against the environmentally harmful products of industrial livestock production. But the Belgium-based International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food just cranked out a report questioning whether mass-lab-produced protein can help us escape the harms associated with CAFO beef and other critter-cut protein.

Report author and rural sociologist Philip H. Howard summarizes the argument in Civil Eats, saying, first off, that fake meat brewed chemical wizardry may do their own environmental damage:

Firstly, the idea that these alternative proteins can save the planet is highly speculative. These claims are based on a narrow assessment of which products can deliver the most protein for the least CO2. But that doesn’t tell the whole story. Products like the Impossible Burger and Beyond Burger source their ingredients from chemical-intensive (and therefore fossil fuel-intensive) monocultures and rely on heavy processing—all of which has major impacts on human health, biodiversity, and climate change [Philip H. Howard, “Fake Meat Won’t Solve the Climate Crisis,” Civil Eats, 2022.04.07].

A shift to fake meat could also harm farmers—not the rich corporate bastards for whom Amanda Radke so radically shills, but the world’s poorest farmers, who can raise a few goats and chickens but lack the capital to build their own protein synthesis factory:

Factory farming clearly has huge impacts of its own, but the environmental and social impacts of livestock vary massively. In some parts of the world, raising animals helps to use limited land and resources efficiently, buffer against food shocks, and provide livelihoods where few options are available. Livestock contributes to the livelihoods of 1.7 billion smallholder farmers in the Global South, and plays a crucial economic role for approximately 60 percent of rural households in developing countries [Howard, 2022.04.07].

Howard notes that while the little guys may be left out, the corporate overlords are already moving to control the fake-meat market. A shift to fake meat could thus be the same stuff, different day both economically and environmentally.

But hey, Big Meat, don’t throw your hats in the air and shout “Pass the barbecue sauce!” Howard and IPES-Food aren’t saying we should just keep eating all that good manly CAFO beef and Smithfield wieners. Howard’s report reminds us that industrial livestock production generates loads of greenhouse gases, infectious diseases, antibiotic-resistant pathogens, unsafe working conditions, and bad health outcomes for consumers duped into thinking you gotta eat meat to be a manly, Godly patriot. IPES-Food says producers of hoof-meat and lab-meat are overemphasizing protein:

For decades, the perceived need for more protein has led to distractions and distortions in development programs, flawed marketing and nutritional campaigns, and calls to increase the production and trade of meat, dairy, and protein-enriched foods. Today, the evidence clearly shows that there is no global ‘protein gap’: protein is only one of many nutrients missing in the diets of those suffering from hunger and malnutrition, and insufficiency of these diets is primarily a result of poverty and access. However, debates remain protein-centric, with the focus now on producing enough protein to feed the world in the face of supply constraints and rising demand. In this context, animals are consistently reduced to meat, and meat is reduced to protein. The ‘protein obsession’ is now shaping the political agenda and setting the parameters for scientific studies, media coverage, and public debate, with farming systems assessed primarily (or solely) in terms of protein production per unit of GHG emissions, and the need for a ‘protein transition’ guiding the various solutions on the table [IPES-Food, “The Politics of Protein: Examining Claims About Livestock, Fish, ‘Alternative Proteins’ and Sustainability,” April 2022].

Among other things, IPES-Food calls for breaking up corporate power (ah! the morning’s unexpected theme!) to protect diverse means of production, including chicken coops and test tubes, that respond to diverse local needs and voices:

Secondly, actions are required to address concentration of power across the food system, including through new approaches to antitrust and competition law. Targeting the practices of a limited number of dominant ‘protein’ firms could have major ripple effects. Further actions are required to promote organizational diversity and strengthen alternative supply chain infrastructures in a way that rebalances power relations and shifts discussion beyond a narrow choice between industrial meat versus industrial substitutes. Finally, debates on meat and protein must be rebuilt on the understandings and perspectives of diverse actors, including groups whose voices are rarely heard (e.g. pastoralists, artisanal fishers, Indigenous peoples, food insecure groups). This means reinvesting in deliberative democratic processes and consultative decision-making spaces, and resisting attempts to fast- track agreement around seemingly consensual ‘solutions’. It also means entering into genuine conversations where ideas are scrutinized, opposing views are confronted, uncertainties are recognized, and normative biases are acknowledged. Only by engaging in inclusive dialogue and overcoming polarization can misleading claims, false solutions, and the vested interests behind them be definitively called out, and transformative change pathways be set in motion [IPES-Food, 2022].

Meat with eyes may have its place. Beaker-brewed protein may, too. Corporate propaganda and control do not.

12 Comments

  1. John 2022-04-15

    We need to hear from and pay attention to hard STEM scientists, not “rural sociologists” ginning up their parade of horribles.

    Synthetic meats are brewed much the same as brewing beer. They pass the stringent EU food safety standards and protocols.
    Plant based meats similarly pass the stringent EU food safety standards and protocols.

    Too many rural sociologists stay in business on the backs of the rural poor – not by helping lift them out of rural poverty.
    Change is hard, yet inevitable. Millions of stranded, obsolete jobs and industries go by the wayside.

  2. larry kurtz 2022-04-15

    From the days of card tables and stock pots filled with steaming soups every Sunday on the banks of Rapid Creek Food not Bombs volunteers provided an alternative for people otherwise subjected to persecution at the hands of the christianic religionists who operate the Cornerstone Mission and shared goodies with as many as seventy people each week. A familiar refrain at those gatherings was, “vegetarian is Lakota for ‘bad hunter.'”

    “Chris White Eagle (He Sapa Wicasa Wambli Ska), an enrolled member of the Cheyenne River Sioux, manages the plant at Wild Idea Buffalo Company in Rapid City, South Dakota.”

    https://www.patagoniaprovisions.com/blogs/stories/buffalo-spirit

  3. Jake 2022-04-15

    Having recently tasted “vegetarian sausage” in a hospital under ‘no salt diet’ I can attest to the quality of the looks, taste, texture etc. I liked it, actually. I can see it to be a ‘coming thing’, even after being raised on a ranch that raised cattle and pigs. Remains, tho, to be seen scientifically of it’s carbon imprint as you expose, Cory.
    I’d bet 10 to 1 ol’ Grudzie couldn’t tell the difference in his gravy/’taters!

  4. All Mammal 2022-04-15

    Mr. Kurz, the soup and bread line you mention used to be smack in front of my house every Sunday morning. I called it my beach party.
    Thanks to the beauty of breaking bread together, it was natural for many to meander to my yard where we had some epic hackie sack circles, bartering, more nibbling, and libations. We had a strong community then. One subsistence farmer donated a whole week’s worth of sack lunches after I told him I had just started a new job out of town. He literally saved me from starving to death or hunger driving me to quit and go home.
    They never pushed religion. They fed people and cared. When I found two pre stamped and addressed envelopes on my door along with a letter asking homeowners in the area to write the mayor and county code enforcers demanding the removal of the soup line due to the alley being used as a latrine, I doubled down on my support for the generous farmers.
    Feeding people is never wrong. Especially when it is hot, wholesome, life sustaining love.

  5. Joe 2022-04-15

    Wild Idea is range-fed buffalo meat, about as far away from CAFO industrial production as one can get. Their offerings are tasty, too.

    We would do well to move towards using animal protein as a garnish (see: many Asian and Mediterranean diets) rather than the main dish it often is in the US. Healthier for us and the planet.

  6. jerry 2022-04-15

    Wild prices at Wild Idea too, kinda ritzy for the average feller.

  7. mike from iowa 2022-04-15

    If standards are so stringent why do we keep getting bacterial breakouts among food products. people are being warned Easter chocolate likely has salmonella this year. With a warning before hand one might think the problem could’ve/should,ve been fixed before retail delivery.

  8. jerry 2022-04-15

    There are few standards because there are few inspectors. Thank republicans for there lack. Everything we eat and drink now is subject to disease thanks to their greed to line their own pockets.

  9. DaveFN 2022-04-15

    John

    Chemist have been synthesizing naturally occurring chemical compounds in the lab for a long time. Sir Robert Robinson received the 1947 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work on the synthesis of natural products, especially the alkaloids. Robert Burns Woodward received the 1965 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for natural products synthesis including quinine, cholesterol, cortisone, strychnine, lysergic acid, reserpine, chlorophyll, cephalosporin, and colchicine. Chemists can produce any organic molecule that they want, and the imitation is no worse than the real thing (consider insulin which is no longer produced from porcine or bovine pancreas, which took 23,000 animals to produce one pound of poorly tolerated insulin, now produced by genetically engineered human insulin first produced in 1978).

    “Synthetic meats are brewed much the same as brewing beer.” By fermentation? Bioreactors are involved, but not fermentation. https://youtu.be/_F9TCO1IK7c

    As far as “We need to hear from and pay attention to hard STEM scientists,” we already know from past generation science that there are many sources for complete proteins, whether vegetarian and non-vegetarian in derivation. Or are you thinking that STEM scientists will accurately be able to assess the environmental and economic effects of society moving toward synthetic meats, as per Cory’s post? I suggest anything “hard STEM scientists” will publish on the latter will be as diverse as the proverbial three rabbis with four opinions. Or are you referring to the scalability of artificial meat culturing?

    The major impediment to change in western diets is cultural (and therefore fodder for sociologists and food scientists alike): our ingrained but mutable sensory expectations: mouth feel, succulence, satiety, appearance, aroma, etc. In other words, pretty much anything that leads to being overweight, judging from the US public. From the standpoint of science alone, IMHO both “real” and imitation meats are overkill relative to the fundamental chemical moieties necessary for adequate nutrition. One doesn’t need anything as fancy as an engineered Impossible Burger to eat well. Pax to those in the culinary arts.

    https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/food-science/food-odor#:~:text=Food%20odors%20have%20been%20shown%20to%20influence%20food,food%20can%20stimulate%20appetite%20%28Cornell%20et%20al.%2C%201989%29.

    A note on brewing meat–literally:

    https://affotd.com/2014/04/09/meatbeers-12-beers-brewed-with-animal-meat/

  10. Mark Anderson 2022-04-15

    Just eat hot dogs, made from the best meat. Maybe the eyes are in it too, who knows?

  11. cibvet 2022-04-16

    With a good PR firm, fake meat will thrive. It is all in the marketing approach if you look at Mark’s witty statement given that millions of pounds of hot dogs are eaten every year with ingredients of salt and offal. Oscar Meyer forever!
    I have eaten the Impossible Burger, not bad, but usually do the 2 for $5 woppers maybe once every 2 weeks if I am in town.

  12. Mark Anderson 2022-04-16

    You know cibvet, fake meat is transitional. A former student of mine who is vegan made me realize that. When I told him how much impossible tasted like beef he said “I don’t like beef”. It’s just people like me who grew up eating as much red meat as possible who need the texture, the flavor, the blood who eat it. Otherwise we would all still listen to the Amboy Dukes.

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