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  • Writer's pictureDoug Hull

Alternatives for Car-bon-ivores!

I am heading into dangerous territory in this blog... meat eating! This is a contentious topic so I will do my best to avoid controversy. This means steering clear of ethical, cultural and religious arguments as these are always emotive and hard to discuss or argue objectively. Instead I will focus on the the topic of meat alternatives.

In my opinion, there is no question that the world eats too much meat, the majority of which is mass-produced in conditions which leave a lot to be desired. This process is also known as 'factory farming', and that phrase speaks for itself in describing what sort of conditions one could expect to see. It is a well documented fact that factory farming is a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions - not only carbon dioxide, but also nitrous oxide and methane from farting cows. In addition, however, is an equally worrying factor - antibiotic resistance.

It has been reported that up to 80% of the world's antibiotics are used on livestock. This is a frighteningly high figure, especially in light of the fact that increasing antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is rapidly leading us into a future where our trusted antibiotics no longer work. It is no wonder that the WHO lists AMR as one of the world's most pressing challenges, alongside climate change.

So the question I wish to explore is this - what are the alternatives for those who still like meat? (Note - I am excluding those who are happy being vegan and don't ever want to see something that looks like meat on their plate ever again!)

Firstly there is the plant based stuff - you know, the stuff that sort of looks like meat and sometimes tastes like it too (did somebody say Beyond Burger?), but is made up of plant-based protein sources. Personally I don't mind the taste of most of these products, although it definitely is a step down on the 'tasty' ladder from the real thing. I have concerns about how healthy some of these options are - especially when they are heavily processed and comprised of GM soy or corn starch or wheat. It also seems to me, based on the volume of meat alternatives on the supermarket shelves, that there is a real 'vegan band wagon' effect here - people are creating any old concoction of soya and wheat and branding it as 'vegan and earth friendly' regardless of how healthy it actually is. In my opinion, at the end of the day too much processed food is bad, period! Plus, while I love the Beyond products, I am not overly happy when I think that my burger has travelled in a carbon-belching plane across the globe to reach my plate!

Then there is the prospect of lab grown meat. This is 'real' meat grown in a lab from stem cells from an actual animal. Physiologically the product is the same as real meat, although the muscle fibres would never have been used, and other environmental factors would be absent. This is appealing to me because in theory it combines the best of both worlds - real meat protein and (potentially) taste with no antibiotics and hormones, and a massively lower carbon footprint. While there is a lot of interest in this one, there are still major challenges to be overcome. First is the cost - this needs to be scalable and cost effective or it stands no chance in the market. Second is the 'ewww' factor - which I find a little strange when I compare it to the conditions in a slaughter-house. Social acceptance of new things does take time, so this one could be solved with perseverance. Thirdly, and probably most importantly, what are these stem cells grown in and fed? Like any other mammalian cells they need food, and at the moment it seems that the most commonly used growth media contain Foetal Bovine Serum which comes from... cow foetuses! Hardly a sustainable solution, and not one that will win over the vegetarians of the world. Clearly we have the science and technology to grow meat, but until the process is sustainable and affordable it will, in my opinion, fail miserably.

Lastly, let's briefly discuss regeneratively farmed meat. Many people believe that there is a sustainable future for the meat industry, and there is a lot of evidence that cattle farming can contribute to a net-carbon-zero ecosystem if managed correctly. Cattle are very valuable in the maintenance of grasslands if their numbers are managed. In this kind of environment, the cattle eat grass which is not edible for humans, and convert it into valuable protein for human consumption. These animals are typically antibiotic and hormone free and their meat is considered by many to be extremely healthy and nutritious. The problem here again is the scale and the cost. This can only be done on a relatively small scale, which means the cost to the consumer will always be higher than the factory-farmed equivalent.

In conclusion, factory farming of meat is a growing concern for many reasons. So what can we do? I believe the answer is - moderation! I appreciate that some people will never give up eating meat completely, but perhaps we could all make an effort to be open-minded about the alternatives. If we focus on eating less meat, and when we do making sure it is of high quality, then we are taking a giant step forward in the fight against climate change!

Until next time!


aka The Regeneralist

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