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Kathy Freston

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Humane Meat

Posted: 07/12/11 09:38 AM ET

If you have read my previous articles on HuffPost, you know that while I certainly support efforts to decrease harm to animals on farms, I don't believe that there is any meat that is truly humane. However, that's about to change, thanks to the ingenuity of science.

Just recently, Michael Specter's excellent review of humane meat for the New Yorker has created a renewed buzz about the potential for meat from animals who were not, in any conventional sense, actually animals. Innovators are currently experimenting with in vitro cultivation of meat from cells taken from animals, and some are saying that we could have chicken nuggets and burgers within five years.

I can understand how vegetarians might find the idea of dedicating resources to a new version of a product they don't consume unsettling: "We already have mock meats that are as good as meat, but that don't require the cruelty and waste of meat from animals," they argue. But I've been surprised to find that meat-eaters, also, are resistant. Think about it, though, because meat comes from living animals, it requires far more resources and causes far more pollution than would meat grown in a lab. And, of course, it comes from dead animals, and these are--mostly--animals who have been horribly abused and whose living and dying conditions were... well, let's just say not ideal. Anything that can be done to provide better food in a safer, more environmental, humane, just, and affordable manner ought to be appreciated by meat consumers.

Factory Farming: Not Natural

The farms that are responsible for almost all of the meat, dairy, and eggs produced in North America cram tens of thousands of animals into sheds that give them very little room for movement; they give the animals massive doses of drugs, which are focused both on growth promotion, and on keeping the animals alive in conditions that would otherwise kill vast numbers of them. And the amount of animal waste produced by the animals is far more than the land can absorb, so that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports that factory farms are a top contributor to water pollution in the United States.

Factory farming also hurts local and downstream communities, because the air pollution and stench they create sicken neighbors in rural communities, force residents indoors, and decrease property values. These farms introduce contaminants, including nutrient overloads, toxins, bacteria, fungi, and viruses, chemicals, antibiotics, hormones, pesticides, and heavy metals, into groundwater, rivers, streams, and lakes.

Really, it makes sense for any of us who consider ourselves to be environmentally aware to be boycotting meat on that basis alone. But humane meat can be the solution: In a study published this month, researchers found that "cultured meat involves approximately 7-45 percent lower energy use.., 78-96 percent lower GHG emissions, 99 percent lower land use, and 82-96 percent lower water use" compared with conventionally produced meat in Europe. And they didn't even include transportation and refrigeration in the study.

Factory Farming: Frankenfood

Similarly, the cruelties of modern farming are shocking to anyone who investigates. For example, our country's industrial meat production system breeds for desired traits, often with unforeseen and unfortunate consequences. For example, chickens and turkeys bred for unnaturally large breast size and rapid growth experience skeletal disorders that can cripple them, and heart and circulatory disorders that can kill them. Dairy cattle bred for unnaturally high milk production often suffer from painful and debilitating lameness of their back legs.

Of course, conditions in sheds, transport to slaughter, and slaughter are also all areas of cruelty that would warrant cruelty to animals charges were these dogs or cats, instead of chickens, pigs, and other farmed animals.

So, in vitro meat eliminates ALL of these concerns: There are no animals in the conventional sense, so all of the cruelties associated with modern farms are totally and completely gone. That's why I call it "humane meat"--because the cruelty is gone.

Is this natural?

Conclusion

It's difficult to imagine how any approach to meat production could be worse than factory farming as it is currently practiced in this country. The truth is that a sizeable portion of the population is not ready to give up meat, and so it makes sense to support innovation that allows people to have their meat, but without the environmental and cruelty associated with it. And meat-eaters might realize that the scientific progress of humane meat would allow them to continue to eat meat, but without supporting the horrible environmental effects and cruelty to animals represented by modern meat production. As with everything, progress, not perfection!