Why do we need pigs for pork, chickens for eggs and cows for milk? All we really need are the cells that create such things. And now it seems lab-grown meat, eggs and milk are getting closer. It is good news, but it takes us to the most important point of our times.
Imagine living in an age of plenty – imagine if we could have all the food we wanted, our clothes lasted a lifetime, and never needed cleaning. Imagine free, and limitless energy. Would that make us all better off? Or would it create one mighty, recession? The latter of those two possible outcomes is surely just as likely as the former.
According to a blog on Scientific American, lab-grown meat is nigh.
It stated: “A handful of start-ups are now taking what have solely been medical technologies and applying them to growing animal-agricultural products like meat, milk, eggs and leather.”
It works like this: "They take a miniscule biopsy of skeletal muscle (the kind of meat we eat today), isolate some satellite cells—precursors to such skeletal muscle—and start culturing them. Under conditions that approximate what happens inside the animal’s body, the cells begin dividing, and with the power of exponential growth, pretty soon you’ve got actual muscle, grown from the very same cells that would grow muscle in the animal."
This is good news indeed. The global meat industry contributes more to climate change than transport. And meat is so inefficient. For some time, we have been warned that because of projections in the growth of the world’s population, the only way we will able to feed everyone is if we all become vegetarians, as growing vegetables to eat requires less land, and creates less climate change including pollution, then raising livestock. Unless that is we can come up with a technology gix.
So, instead of having cows grazing in fields for months, turning grass into meat, which remains in the shell of the cow, then releasing it as methane, and then turning more grass into meat, we just grow what need, and only grow those animals parts we are going to eat.
It could mean the end of hunger, a kinder world for animals – although less of them, maybe – and the freeing up of land to live on.
But then this is not the only example of potential abundance. Other start-ups are developing clothing that is impervious to water – meaning that it never needs washing – and that is virtually indestructible – meaning it could last a lifetime.
Or there is the sharing car economy – think about how we will need lass cars if we start sharing autonomous cars.
All of this is spectacularly good news, at least it can be. We are more than capable of messing this one up – and rather than creating a kind of utopia, we end up destroying jobs, then the economy and creating excessive inequality on a scale never seen before.
And it is time we had a debate about this one.