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‘I’ Predicts Laboratory Produced Meat Could Be on Sale in Two Years’ Time

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 25/11/2020 - 9:54pm in

More news about the rapidly approaching Science Fictional society on the horizon. Last Friday’s edition of the I for 20th November 2020 carried a piece by Madeleine Cuff, ‘Biofarm to fork: Lab-grown meat on supermarket shelf in two years’, which reported that an Israeli company has had such success growing meat in a lab, that it may be sufficiently commercially viable to compete with traditionally farmed meat. The article ran

Steak grown in a laboratory could be hitting dinner plates within two years, after an Israeli food start-up this week unveiled a “commercial prototype” of its cultured steak.

Aleph Farms’ steak slices are grown in a laboratory – they prefer the term biofarm – using cells extracted from a living cow. The firm claims its “slaughter-free” product has the taste, texture, aroma, and nutritional value of meat reared the traditional way.

It is not the first firm to produce lab-grown meat that mimics traditional meat, but it is the first to say it can produce lab-grown meat cheaply enough for the average shopper. Aleph claims its production system will soon be able to produce lab-grown steak slices as cheaply as conventional meat.

“One of the big challenges of cultivated meat is the ability to produce large quantities efficiently at a cost that can complete with conventional meat industry pricing, without compromising on quality,” said Didier Toubia, co-founder and CEO of Aleph Farms. “We have developed five technological building blocks unique to Aleph Farms that are put into a large-scale production process, all patented by the company.”

The slices are being unveiled today at an innovation conference in Singapore, ahead of a pilot launch at the end of 2022. The firm has raised $12m (£9m) in funding, including backing from the multinational Cargill, Swiss supermarket Migros and Israeli food manufacturer Strauss Group to fund its plans.

Aleph Farms says its system of meat production – which will take place in specially developed “Bio-Farms” – uses a fraction of the resources needed to rear livestock for meat. Beef is one of the most carbon-intensive foods, in part because it requires large amounts of land, food and water to rear cattle.

Switching to lab-grown meat would also curb the use of antibiotics in farm animals, one of the major drivers of antibiotic resistance around the world, Aleph Farms said.

But many consumers are still uncomfortable with the idea of eating so-called cultured meat, and farmers are expected to mount stiff opposition to its roll-out. In the US the beef lobby is already pressuring the US Department of Agriculture to define meat as a product that comes from the carcass of an animal.

This looks to me like it might be another industry puff-piece, like the glowing report a week or so ago that the rapid transit vacuum tube train system had been successfully tested. I’m starting to wonder if Lebedev or whoever owns the I now has shares in these companies.

SF writers and scientists have been predicting the development of lab-grown meat for decades now. I think it’s one of the targets the SF writers Pohl and Kornbluth take solid aim at in their 1950s satire of consumerism and advertising, The Space Merchants. It also appears in one of the Gregory Benford’s ‘Galactic Centre’ cycle of novels, where he describes the endless production of cloned turkey – lurkey- to feed an interstellar expedition sent to the centre of the Galaxy to find allies against an invading civilisation of intelligent machines. Outside SF, the late botanist David Bellamy gave an interview in the Sunday supplement for the Heil way back in the 1980s, in which he looked forward to the advent of lab-grown meat. This would end the cruelty of current farming, and cattle would then be reared as pets.

It’s an inspiring vision, and many people naturally have qualms about the way animals are reared and slaughtered. And there are plenty of veggies out there, who still want to enjoy the taste of meat. Hence the growth of vegetable substitutes.

But I’ve also got strong reservations about this. Firstly there’s the health aspect. What happens if you clone endlessly from a limited set of cells? I can see the nutritional value of such meat declining over time. I also don’t think it’s a good idea to get the meat from such a limited stock. One of the causes of the Great Potato Famine in Ireland was that the strains used by the Irish were too restricted. Other varieties of spud, which could have resisted the fungus which devastated the crop, weren’t available. And so when the fungus appeared, it destroyed such a high proportion that millions either starved to death or were forced to emigrate. And the British government was so unsympathetic, that immense bitterness was left that added a further spur to the Irish nationalists. I can see a similar problem devastating clone food.

I also worry about the potentially dehumanising effect this will have on us as well. One of the complaints we hear regularly from educators and agricultural/ nature programmes like Countryfile is that many children don’t know where their food comes from. Hence the schemes to take kids, especially from the inner city, to farms. For many people meat, and other foodstuffs, is simply what comes from the shops or supermarkets. But people aren’t robots or disembodied minds. As Priss says in the film Bladerunner, ‘We’re not computers. We’re biological’. And I’m afraid if we go down this route and begin the mass consumption of lab-grown meat, we’ll contact with that biology, to our own spiritual detriment.

And I’m not sure that it will be good for the animals either. Yes, I know the arguments. Cows need much space and vegetation, and their flatulence gives off such amounts of methane that it’s a major contributor to global warming. A little while ago a vegetarian organisation appeared on the Beeb local news programme for the Bristol area, Points West, to present their argument that if everyone in the Bristol, Somerset and Gloucestershire region turned veggie, the amount of land used for farming could be drastically reduced. The vast tracts of unused land could be rewilded, thus aiding the environment. But what humanity has no use for in the environment, it destroys or allows to become extinct. The wolf is extinct in Britain, and it’s been argued that the only reason the fox has survived is because there was precious little else left to hunt after the number of deer was reduced. And despite official protection, birds of prey are also under threat because they prey on grouse and so threatened that alleged sport and its profits in Scotland. Cattle continue to be farmed, but the previous varieties bred by our ancestors have become rare as their place has been taken by more profitable animals. If lab-grown meat takes off, then I’m afraid that cattle as a species will also become rare.

Whatever the environmental advantages, this looks like another step towards the kind of overly technological, dehumanizing dystopia SF writers have been warning us about. It’s an interesting idea, but it needs much more debate and caution.

The environmental clock is still ticking onwards

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 20/09/2020 - 5:25am in
We need a sustainable vision for the future and the political will to deliver it like never before

 

Orange sky over town in California duing 2020 wildfiresView from the top of the Humboldt County Courthouse with smoke from inland and Oregon fires covering the county. National Weather Service, Public Domain

 

“Have we fallen into a mesmerized state that makes us accept as inevitable that which is inferior or detrimental, as though having lost the will or the vision to demand that which is good?”
Rachel Carson, Silent Spring

 

Next month will be the anniversary of the launch of GIMMS and the first MMT Lens blog. In that blog, we covered the Economics of Climate Change following the comprehensive report published by the IPPC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) which warned that we only had 12 years left to half the worst effects of climate change.

Two years on, the battle to save our planet and ourselves continues, as the loss of biodiversity and human degradation persists. This week has been a depressing reminder that the clock is still ticking whilst many of our leaders still have their heads firmly stuck in the sinking sand.

This year we have witnessed devastating fires across the world. In states across Australia and its territories, the fire season has been unprecedented with an estimated 18 million hectares of fire destroying vast tracts of bush, an area greater than that of the average European country and over five times the size of blazes in the Amazon.

During the first seven months of 2020, more than 13,000 sq. km of Brazilian Amazon has been destroyed according to satellite data analysis. Fires in recent weeks of human origin in the race to expand meat production through vast deforestation have been exacerbated by the worst drought in 50 years.

And in the last few weeks, we have seen the on-going death and destruction wrought by the fires in California, Oregon and Washington states. The weather and warming climate with record temperatures, heatwaves and drought have played an important role in that devastation, as has human behaviour through poor land management and badly planned housing construction.

The consequences for a global environment under huge pressure and human health around the world will be, over time, devastating and has been made much worse by the incipient challenge presented by the Covid-19 pandemic which has both revealed how our behaviour has influenced viral threats and put real resources under severe pressure.

Alessandra Guató, a tribal leader in the Amazon wetlands, said of the destruction in her own backyard:

‘We are part of this nature we live with her day by day and it was all devastated.’

And yet her comment applies not just to the disaster that has befallen the Guató tribe which has left them without food and threatened their livelihoods it is also a warning to us all which we ignore at our peril.

This week, David Attenborough spelt out our potential fate in a sobering programme aired on the BBC ‘Extinction: The Facts’ which follows on from last year’s documentary ‘Climate Change: The Facts’. It focused, in an extremely hard-hitting way, on the existential threat posed by the loss of biodiversity. It showed clearly what that loss and extinction means, not just for the planet, but for the human species. And it demonstrated with icy clarity that human activity is driving that extinction and that we are at a critical point in our history.

David Attenborough’s documentary coincided with the fifth edition of the UN’s Global Biodiversity Outlook Report which noted the importance of biodiversity in addressing climate change and long-term food security. It concluded that action to protect it is essential to prevent future pandemics. Elizabeth Mrema, The Executive Director of the Convention on Biological Diversity said:

As nature degrades… new opportunities emerge for the spread to humans and animals of devastating diseases like this year’s coronavirus. The window of time available is short but the pandemic has also demonstrated that transformative changes are possible when they must be made.’

This is maybe our final wake-up call.

And yet, according to analysis by the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds), the UK has failed to reach 17 out of 20 UN biodiversity targets agreed at the Convention on Biological Diversity in Nagoya, Japan in 2010.

Whilst the government claims a better record, Kate Jennings, at the RSPB commented that the government’s assessment was a rose-tinted interpretation with lots of positive rhetoric that was not borne out by action. The report suggested that the UK has gone backwards, and the government’s significant failures include insufficient funding for nature conservation. Jennings said ‘‘we’re fundamentally dependent on nature so God help the lot of us if we don’t make serious headway in the next decade … past performance doesn’t inspire confidence’.

In 2016, the WWF’s Living Planet Report warned that overall global vertebrate populations were on course to decline by an average of 67% from 1970s levels by the end of the decade unless urgent action was taken to reduce humanity’s impacts on species and ecosystems. It called on governments to fast-track action on conservation, climate change and sustainable development. Now, at the end of that decade, little seems to have been achieved despite the political rhetoric. In the words of Mike Davis in an article in the Red Flag, ‘our imaginations can barely encompass the speed or scale of the catastrophe.’ While we stand by and watch in horror, we should remember the dire warning that Mike Barrett from the WWF talking about the 2016 report when he said:

‘Humanity’s misuse of natural resources is threatening habitats, pushing irreplaceable species to the brink and threatening the stability of our climate.’

This week has been an opportunity to reappraise where we are. To examine our behaviour as a human species and to understand the stark reality that saving nature is about saving ourselves. We coexist with nature not apart from it.

It was, therefore, all the more surprising to hear a Cambridge Environmental Economist claim in an interview this week whilst discussing the environmental and biodiversity challenges we face that the reality was that governments were strapped for cash, as if somehow that was an impediment to action.

At the same time, David Cameron, in an updated foreword to his memoirs, suggested in a Daily Mirror article that austerity had ‘fixed the roof when the sun was shining’ adding that ‘Covid-19 was the rainy day we have been saving for’ and that their actions ‘meant that the next but one administration was able to offer an unprecedented package of measures to prop up the economy.’ This seems as usual to be the Tories re-writing history in the face of on-going disaster.

For anyone who knows something about how government really spends, this would be a moment to fall off one’s chair in astonishment, given that the consequences of cutting public spending have been disastrous in terms of the economy, people’s lives and the public and social infrastructure. It has left it barely able to manage the on-going challenges of Covid-19 and is now revealing serious fractures in society caused by economic decline, lack of investment in public infrastructure, low wages, hunger, destitution, and homelessness.

This is not the work of a government whose role should be to serve its nation with sound policies aimed at improving lives and addressing climate change for the benefit of future generations.

The same old tropes about how government action is constrained by lack of cash or the need to balance its public accounts should now be consigned to the dustbin of history. We have watched as the government has found no money shortage to deal with the crisis we are currently going through. We have watched as it has spent like there is no tomorrow on giving contracts to all and sundry with no checks or accountability. Remembering at the same time the same lack of scarcity when the banks needed bailing out in 2008.

At the same time as a means of exercising economic control, it has cynically put the fear of God into the mind of the public that there will be a future price to pay. That in itself should be our wakeup call that government spending is not dictated by the contents of the public purse but by government choice and the need to respond to both the economic, environmental and health threats we are facing.

With that in mind, it is sad to note that a Cambridge environmental economist who ought to know better is not acting as a good advert for his environmental concerns by suggesting that there is nothing to be done because the government is strapped for cash.

It isn’t!

A tweet from 2018 by Stephanie Kelton puts it simply in a few words.

How I imagine the conversation between the last two people on Earth.

“There were plans to save humanity, but they didn’t cost it out’

They should have learned #MMT’.

While we continue to think that cost is more important than saving the planet, we remain stuck in an economic paradigm which puts balancing the public accounts as being more important than a future for our children.

At the same time, with such arguments, we place similar constraints on our ability to ensure that our young people have the education and vital skills to challenge the existing narrative of ‘there is no alternative’ to create a better and more sustainable future and be in themselves a channel for the change we need.

According to the IFS in its 2020 report, state schools have suffered the biggest fall in funding since the 1980s and the promised additional expenditure by the government will not be able to reverse the cuts by 2023 leaving school spending 1% lower than in 2009/10.

This is absurdly the same IFS that whilst reporting on the dire state of our schools due to funding cuts at the same time bemoans the state of our public finances and worries about how government can pay for its huge round of public spending. A clear contradiction in terms.

As Mary Bousted, the joint secretary of the National Education Union, noted ‘It is a historic failure of the nation’s children’. All at a time when the government should be pulling out all the monetary stops to avoid the ensuing catastrophe both environmental and economic in terms of addressing climate change and levelling up society by dealing with the poverty and inequality. It is a bleak reminder of how government choices influence detrimentally the choices of others.

Our politicians, academics, unions and the public are caught in the glare of a toxic ideology which if not swept away will constrain the ability of the human race to build a better, more sustainable future for all.

The government has the means to manage these crises. It has the monetary tools to address climate change, unemployment poverty and inequality within the context of available real resources. It has the tools to implement a just transition towards a fairer, cleaner and more sustainable planet.

As the Reverend Delman Coates observed recently:

‘We must learn to see our government as a tool of empowerment for our communities, and demand it be deployed accordingly.’

It’s up to us to make that change happen.

 

 

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The post The environmental clock is still ticking onwards appeared first on The Gower Initiative for Modern Money Studies.