TIPP: Will labs replace farms?


On 16th November 2022, the U.S. FDA made a historic announcement. The agency’s press release stated, “The world is experiencing a food revolution and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is committed to supporting innovation in the food supply. As an example of that commitment, today we are announcing that we have completed our first pre-market consultation of a human food made from cultured animal cells.”

Before you run to the store (or for the hills), please note that the product (chicken) is not yet available in the market. The manufacturing facility must first “meet applicable U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and FDA requirements.”

Food security has been a top issue of concern, in recent times, primarily due to climate change and supply chain disruptions caused by the global pandemic. The situation was exacerbated thanks to the Ukraine war.

It is an undisputed fact that the Earth’s climate is changing. Unfortunately, the change is not for the better. More regions are turning arid; cloudbursts and flash floods are becoming the norm leading to loss of lives and livelihoods.

Many argue that it is a natural, cyclical process in the life of a planet. They are not wrong. Others contend that human activity is responsible for the devastating changes. They are not entirely wrong, either.

But is curtailing agriculture and animal husbandry the way to go? Is jeopardizing known methods to feed the population to save the planet the best course available?

Sciences state that the main culprits causing climate change are the greenhouse gases (GHG) – methane, carbon dioxide(CO2), and nitrous oxide. They trap heat in the atmosphere causing the Earth’s temperature to rise and melt the icecaps.

Burning fossil fuels and industrial activity are mainly responsible for the emission of CO2 into the atmosphere. Nitrogen pollution is mostly caused by the manufacture and use of nitrogen-based fertilizers in the agroindustry, and methane emanation is largely attributed to the meat (beef) industry.

It is well documented that excessive use of synthetic and chemical pesticides and nitrogen fertilizers (often derived from fossil fuels) results in falling yields, biodiversity collapse, and severe pollution. Over the past half a century, the use of these fossil fuel-based products has increased exponentially.

Farmers’ associations and proponents of the traditional methods point to the need for investment in R&D in the sector. Climate-smart farming practices, an increase in “no-till and low-till farming,” and conservation programs can offset GHGs to a large degree.

Besides, it would be unfair to single out the beef industry for the methane menace. According to Nature, all organisms produce methane. NASA “has identified more than 50 “super-emitters” in Central Asia, the Middle East, and the Southwestern United States. Super-emitters are facilities, equipment, and other infrastructure that emit methane at high rates, typically in the fossil-fuel, waste, or agriculture sectors.

It must be noted that corporations largely control the agriculture and meat industry in developed countries. Some experts point to the unholy nexus between fossil fuel companies and agrochemical manufacturers. They suggest that the fossil fuel sector is counting on the agroindustry’s growing demand for ways to offset their falling profits. Decoupling the meat and agroindustry from its current associations will allow it to flourish and regain its footing.

In a recently concluded Golden/TIPP Poll, we asked 1359 American adults what they thought. We asked, “Do you agree or disagree with many Western governments that farming worldwide must be steeply curtailed to reduce methane emissions (from livestock) and nitrogen (from fertilizer)?”

The response was thus:

  • Agree 40%
  • Disagree 38%
  • Not sure 23%

The numbers of those who agree and disagree are almost the same. But, close to a quarter of the survey participants were undecided.

Is “cultivated meat” the answer?

At the recently concluded COP27, the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference, held in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, “lab-grown” meat made it to the menu of the VIP restaurant. With the FDA giving the green signal to “cultivate” chicken, one can soon expect such products to hit supermarket shelves.

Feeding the 8 billion mouths on the planet is indeed an enormous challenge. But, just as wholly boycotting fossil fuels will remain a pipedream, can “lab-grown” meat fully meet the needs of the world population? Guess only time will tell.



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