THE BLOG
01/15/2019 15:55 EST | Updated 01/16/2019 08:31 EST

'Clean Meat' Is A Sustainable Alternative To Factory Farming

Eating lab-grown meat may be the way of the future and could help save our planet.

Two cows in a field, eating from a trough.
Marcel ter Bekke via Getty Images
Two cows in a field, eating from a trough.

More floods, more extreme storms, more heatwaves, more droughts — this is what our world will experience due to global warming and it's only going to get worse if we do not drastically transform our energy systems within the next 12 years. That's according to a recent special report from the United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The report highlights the need for people to change their eating to more sustainable options in order to limit warming to 1.5°C. Basically we need to eat less meat and the UN has been saying this for years. With 2019 in full swing, I encourage people to reconsider their eating habits and reduce their intake of meat.

Agriculture has a big effect on our environment. Farm animals are estimated to account for 14.5 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions globally and more than 45 per cent of the land surface of earth is used for grazing or growing feed crops for these animals.

World Animal Protection's report "What's on your Plate?" highlights the clear link between intensive animal production systems and environmental impacts. Canada, for example, on a per capita basis, is one of the largest GHG (Greenhouse gas) emitters in the world and livestock production is a major contributor to this problem.

However, Canadians could be changing their tune. According to research from Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, 6.4 million Canadians have diets that reduce or eliminate meat consumption. It also shows that 32 per cent of people in Canada are thinking of reducing their meat consumption over the next several months. Animal welfare concerns seem to be one of the reasons for this shift and it is no surprise veganism is on the rise — 2019 has even been dubbed the "Year of the Vegan."

But for those who cannot imagine life without meat, there is another alternative. It's called "clean meat," also sometimes referred to as "cultured meat" or "cell-based meat." This is actual meat grown from animal cells but developed in a lab without the need for factory farming. It tastes like meat because it is meat. And although it may sound far-fetched, it could be on supermarket shelves and in restaurants soon.

Dutch scientist Mark Post was the first person to make a beef burger from cow cells. Since then, other companies have come out with the goal of reducing food waste, emissions and animal suffering through clean meat. In fact, the world's first lab grown "steak" was recently created by an Israeli tech firm and it could be available commercially within about two years.

Farm animals produce the greenhouse gas methane and while carbon dioxide is often thought of as the most devastating greenhouse gas, methane is roughly 30 times more potent as a heat-trapping gas. Unlike conventional meat, clean meat produces far fewer greenhouse gas emissions and less water pollution. The world's farm animals create tremendous amounts of excrement, which eventually finds its way into our rivers and lakes with bacteria that can contaminate groundwater.

Most importantly, clean meat involves no animal suffering. Approximately 50 billion animals are factory farmed globally. They face short, miserable lives, often crammed together in cages, crates or pens. The animals are selectively bred to produce more offspring or grow faster causing a host of physical ailments including broken bones, infections and organ failure. Clean meat has the power to end this horrific suffering.

People have the power to change this too. As they become more aware of the suffering factory farmed animals face they are looking to alternatives, specifically millennials.

Canada's largest meat producer, Maple Leaf Foods, is listening to consumers concerns on animal welfare. They recently announced they have converted over half their female pigs, to an open housing system, which they say is more humane. This also leads the way for other companies in Canada to follow their approach.

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Pigs are smart, curious and would much rather spend their days socializing with other pigs than being confined to small, barren cages. Mother pigs have it the worst, inseminated in a cage no bigger than an average fridge.

And so, as public interest grows regarding animal protection and our environment, I am hopeful more people will step up to be a voice for farm animals and that people will embrace new technologies like clean meat, which can help the environment, animals and ourselves.

Josey Kitson is the Executive Director for World Animal Protection Canada. Visit World Animal Protectionto learn more.

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