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Davis, California

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

What is the future of meat?

The transformation of our carnivorous society

By ALEX MOTAWI — almotawi@ucdavis.edu

It’s pretty clear we have already reached the apex of meat consumption in the U.S. Animal products are finally “meating” their makers and going out of style in a flash and with good reason. Constant consumption of animal-based protein has been a mainstay in humanity since we were hunter-gatherers, but the only constant in our society is change — and it’s hitting the meat industry harder than a semi-truck.

There are a few primary problems with the meatpacking industry, and they encompass both the mental and physical realms. The most talked-about premise I’ve heard behind the abandonment of meat is the ethical quandary of mistreating and slaughtering living animals because people like eating meat. Although vegetarianism only gained popularity in the U.S. in the 1970s, vegetarianism has been and continues to be a common practice in other countries dating back to well before the 20th century. Given its long history and prevalence around the world, concerns from vegetarians about meat consumption need to be factored seriously into future decisions. Now that the U.S. as a nation has enough general food security to have the luxury of choice when it comes to daily meals, it can afford to be more humane with its nutritional choices. 

Beyond the abstract issues that are growing in priority, having a primarily meat-based diet is just not feasible anymore. As the Earth’s population is still growing, every year there are more and more humans and less and less space for livestock. The shrinking amount of available space to grow livestock will inevitably lead to a slow in meat production and will also turn even the most humane animal farms into factory farms full of mistreated animals. And to add on, the amount of arable land consumed by the production of feed for our favorite protein sources is just way too high to be feasible in the much fuller Earth of our future.

This is without even mentioning the ongoing debates about the nutritional value of meat compared to other foods in general along with theories based on us being biologically inclined to vegetarian or even frugivory diets. We have more than enough ammunition to drive our society’s transformation away from meat but with science unlocking new avenues for humanity every day, I think there’s a solid chance that meat could have a resurgence in the future.

There is a real possibility that lab-grown meat is the solution that ensures meat will be enjoyed by future generations. In my judgment, the livestock industry will be long-gone but with meat that can be grown almost anywhere with a caloric investment that’s just a fractional 

amount of traditional meat (three to four times better than chicken, six to eight times better than beef), we could very well be able to save steak. It will never be as efficient as a plant-based diet, but it’s an improvement. It also completely solves the ethical problems behind meat consumption. With no animals being harmed in its production, people would be able to eat meat without feeling guilty or morally wrong. The emergence of lab-grown meat in local markets may be met with a bit of resistance by people who like the status quo, who are scared of consuming something “unnatural,” but it’s impossible to make everyone happy and I believe that eating lab-grown meat could become the new normal.

However, this explosion of lab-grown meat is still many years down the road. A main analysis of the industry provides incredibly optimistic data stating the cost could be tenable by 2030. Other studies aren’t yet convinced implementation on a large scale is even possible due to equipment cost. To add to that, we have all had opportunities to try “alternative” plant-based meats and it’s obvious that they aren’t good enough to be legitimate replacements for traditional meat just yet. As a result, I think the U.S. meat industry is about to enter a deep dive and if it emerges, it will have a very new look. Traditional meat-based diets are being left in the past and plant-based diets are the present and future, but the lab is very well capable of ushering in a new golden age of lab-grown meat if our leaders in science can play their cards right.


Written by: Alex Motawi — almotawi@ucdavis.edu

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by individual columnists belong to the columnists alone and do not necessarily indicate the views and opinions held by The California Aggie.




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