Some may say, “there is nothing like a juicy hamburger,” and here is the USA we are fortunate to have access to affordable meat. While the cost of your next hamburger may not weigh too heavily on your pocket, the quantity resources required to produce one pound of beef may surprise you. One pound of meat is fed by nearly 7 pounds of grain, 53 gallons of water, 70 square acres of land, and 1,000 BTU of energy(The Meat Revolution- Mark Post). Additionally, animal agriculture produces 5 times the amount of greenhouse gasses than other food sources (Smithsonian Mag). Finally, 56 billion land animals are killed every year solely for food. The impacts on marine animals are high as well but difficult to estimate. More information about the impacts of animal agriculture. But what can be done? Is there a better way to grow meat that uses less resources and reduces animal suffering?
From the petri dish to the plate
Yes, our guest this week, Bjørn Kristensen from the School of History, Philosophy, and Religion, studies the ethics behind cultured meat or clean meat. Similar scientific advances in muscle tissue culture that have led to lab grown human organs are now being harnessed to grow animal muscle for human consumption. Clean meat is made from cells that can be obtained with no harm to the animal donor. One company, Hampton Creek Foods, has cultured chicken muscle with cells from a chicken feather. Hampton Creek Foods and Finless Foods are focused on producing clean meat with zero animal suffering. Clean meat is literally clean because it is grow under 100% sterile conditions. This means no natural parasites or other infections, and no need for antibiotics nor artificial growth hormones. While Bjorn maintains that the best option for the both purposes of sustainability and reduction in animal suffering is eliminating animal products from one’s diet, within the next year or two, companies such as Hampton Creek and Finless Foods will be introducing clean meat which is structurally identical to meat coming from mainstream animal agriculture. This means that even those who choose not to stop eating meat will have options that do not require an animal to be killed for their food.
The best part: by some estimates a few animal cells can be used to grow 10,000 kg of meat (The Meat Revolution- Mark Post). Practically speaking, clean meat could reduce the number of cows in animal agriculture from half a billion to thirty thousand. This reduction animal agriculture would free up land and resources for other food sources such as vegetable crops, lessen the amount of greenhouse gasses being emitted by animal agriculture, and it would lower animal suffering.
When practicality meets ethics
Animal agriculture is an ethical issue. The intersection occurs when humans act as mediator and place the needs of one species over the needs of another. Bjorn studies this ethical conundrum. In the case of animal agriculture,we have placed our desire for meat over the needs of the individual animals within the current food system. For these animals, their entire life is planned for their death, process, and consumption, and this planned “life” comes with emotional consequences for the animals. Check out this video about chickens, considered one of the most abused animals. Clean meat could alleviate the need for so much animal suffering to feed humans and other non-human animals.
Consider this: humans are not the only animals on the planet that consume meat from animal agriculture. While humans can actually survive and thrive on a plant-based diet, other carnivorous animals must consume flesh to survive. Pets, zoo animals, and wildlife in rehabilitation also require animal proteins, and the animals that are harvested to produce pet food are at the bottom of the food chain. Removing small fish or small rodents from natural ecosystems means that animals in the wild have to get energy from other sources. For some wild animals, such as marine mammals, this is simply not possible. Few have considered that clean meat could become an alternative protein source for pets and other wildlife that have been removed from their natural habitat. Bjørn explored the ethics of “captive predation” or feeding captive animals with other animal protein sources in a recent paper that he presented at the International Conference on Cultured Meat in Maastricht, the Netherlands.
Because it’s who you are
Bjørn’s “when I grow up” career choice was a veterinarian, and although not a vet now, his concern for animals has not dwindled. During college, Bjørn started out as a Human Services major at Finlandia University, but switched his focus after taking some philosophy and religious studies classes. Eventually, he transferred to Northern Michigan University and found a connection between concern for animals and philosophical study, particularly in animal ethics. Bjørn began to consider graduate school after his professor in existentialism, Anthony Aumann, encouraged him to apply. Bjørn applied toOregon State University, and began to develope his thesis concerning inter-species justice with Robert Figueroa his major advisor.
Hear more about clean meat and Bjørn’s work and journey to graduate school this Sunday October, 8 at 7pm on 88.7FM KBVR Corvallis. Listen live online anywhere!
Continue the conversation with Bjørn and learn more about clean meat ethics and research:
@BjornKristensen on twitter
You can also download Bjorn’s iTunes Podcast Episode!