CLEAN­ING OUR HANDS OF DIRTY FAC­TORY FARM­ING

The fu­ture of meat pro­duc­tion is al­most here

AQ: Australian Quarterly - - FRONT PAGE - AR­TI­CLE BY: BIANCA LE

The hash­tag ‘ve­gan’ has been used over 64 mil­lion times on pub­lic In­sta­gram posts alone. Long gone are the days where iden­ti­fy­ing as ve­gan was as­so­ci­ated with mal­nour­ished, tree-hug­ging, red paint-splash­ing pro­test­ers. In­stead, clever mar­ket­ing and in­creased con­sumer aware­ness has turned ve­g­an­ism into a multi-bil­lion dol­lar in­dus­try over the past decade, one that ex­tends be­yond food and into make-up, cloth­ing, toi­letries and health­care.

Nowa­days, you'll be hard­pressed to find a trendy cafe or restau­rant that of­fers mush­room risotto as its sole ve­gan op­tion. Ve­g­an­ism ap­peals to a gen­er­a­tion of health and eth­i­cally con­scious mil­len­ni­als, par­tic­u­larly in an era where self-iden­tity is often ex­pressed via and

(more im­por­tantly in­flu­enced by) so­cial me­dia. Celebri­ties, body builders, so­cial me­dia in­flu­encers and an­i­mal ac­tivists alike have all helped move plant-based di­ets be­yond a health fad and into the main­stream.

How­ever, I could never go ve­gan. Meat is still too cheap, con­ve­nient and de­li­cious for me to com­pletely give up, de­spite the count­less doc­u­men­taries I've watched and ar­ti­cles I've read ex­pos­ing the in­hu­mane, waste­ful and en­vi­ron­men­tally un­sus­tain­able in­dus­try of mod­ern day fac­tory farm­ing and an­i­mal agri­cul­ture. And I am not alone – global meat pro­duc­tion has in­creased by 15% in the last ten years1 in re­sponse to both the grow­ing world pop­u­la­tion and in­creased con­sump­tion of meat per capita, and there are no signs of this de­mand for meat wan­ing.

It is clear that the cur­rent ways of pro­duc­ing meat and dairy prod­ucts are un­sus­tain­able and in­ef­fi­cient. Twenty-six per­cent of Earth's hab­it­able land is al­ready used for live­stock graz­ing, and a third of crop­lands are used to pro­duce feed for live­stock. 2

Fur­ther­more, the calo­rie in­put to out­put ra­tio for meat pro­duc­tion is an econ­o­mist's night­mare; it takes 9 calo­ries of feed to pro­duce 1 calo­rie of chicken meat, and that ra­tio gets higher for pork and beef. The re­main­ing 8 calo­ries of feed is con­verted into en­ergy re­quired to keep the an­i­mal alive and pro­duce feath­ers, bones and other in­ter­nal or­gans not con­sumed by hu­mans.3 How

As some­one who has tried to go ve­gan, then veg­e­tar­ian, then flex­i­tar­ian, then ‘meat­less Mon­days', the po­ten­tial for an eth­i­cal, sus­tain­able, eco-friendly meat al­ter­na­tive seems like the only way.

I could never go ve­gan. Meat is still too cheap, con­ve­nient and de­li­cious for me to com­pletely give up, de­spite the count­less doc­u­men­taries I’ve watched.

are we are ex­pected to feed 9.7 bil­lion peo­ple by 2050 us­ing these ex­ist­ing meth­ods?

When I first heard about clean meat, im­ages of raw mince squashed in­side a petri dish on a ster­ile lab­o­ra­tory bench didn't do much to stim­u­late my ap­petite. But as some­one who has tried to go ve­gan, then veg­e­tar­ian, then flex­i­tar­ian, then at­tempted ‘meat­less Mon­days', the po­ten­tial for an eth­i­cal, sus­tain­able, eco-friendly meat

al­ter­na­tive seems like the only way I (and oth­ers like me) could re­duce my ‘tra­di­tion­ally-pro­duced' meat in­take.

Clean meat is bi­o­log­i­cally and phys­i­o­log­i­cally iden­ti­cal to tra­di­tional meat. You take a pain­less biopsy the size of a sesame seed from the mus­cle of any an­i­mal of your choice, then use tech­niques cur­rently al­ready used in re­gen­er­a­tive medicine to repli­cate the mus­cle cells, fat cells, con­nec­tive tis­sue, blood ves­sels and all other cell types found in meat. This one biopsy could po­ten­tially pro­duce enough cells to make ham­burger pat­ties for an en­tire coun­try's pop­u­la­tion, and then some.

This process re­quires 99% less land, 45% less en­ergy, pro­duces 96% less green­house gas emis­sions, and re­moves the need for slaugh­ter­houses.4

Since the an­i­mals will no longer be packed to the rafters in fae­cal-filled sheds, food­borne ill­nesses, an­tibi­otic use and drug-re­sis­tant mi­crobes would also be re­duced. Clean meat may also be health­ier for our waist­lines – man­u­fac­tur­ers can con­trol the amount of un­healthy sat­u­rated fats and choles­terol nat­u­rally found in meat, and ei­ther in­crease the amount of healthy un­sat­u­rated fats or add other types of healthy fats, such as omega-3 fatty acid found in fish and plants, into the meat.

We're not even limited to house­hold meats – ex­otic meats such as shark, whale, ze­bra or dog (or mam­moth and Tas­ma­nian tiger for the more ad­ven­tur­ous foodie) and even leather pro­duc­tion are all pos­si­ble with this new tech­nol­ogy.

When the first clean meat patty was re­vealed in 2013 to a panel of food ex­perts in Lon­don, it cost $325,000 to de­velop. In its cur­rent stage of de­vel­op­ment, it costs $11 to pro­duce one burger, but is pre­dicted to reach price par­ity with tra­di­tional minced meat by 2020. Healthy com­pe­ti­tion be­tween sev­eral clean meat start-ups, in­vest­ment from bil­lion­aires (such as Richard Bran­son and Bill Gates) and ma­jor food cor­po­ra­tions (such as Tyson Foods and Cargill), and the nat­u­ral re­duc­tion of costs once economies of scale are achieved, makes it easy to pic­ture clean meat on su­per­mar­ket shelves in the next few years.

So a fu­ture with clean meat ap­pears more ef­fi­cient, more eth­i­cal, health­ier, and is soon to be even cheaper than tra­di­tional an­i­mal agri­cul­ture. How­ever, pub­lic ac­cep­tance will be the big­gest chal­lenge for clean meat pro­duc­ers. Even if the tech­nol­ogy is suc­cess­ful and the prod­uct is cost-com­pet­i­tive to tra­di­tional meat, clean meat will fail com­mer­cially un­less it has a so­cial li­cense to op­er­ate.

So­cial Li­cence – the key in­gre­di­ent

We've seen many cases where life­sav­ing med­i­cal re­search such as stem cell tech­nol­ogy, vac­cine de­vel­op­ment and em­bry­onic ge­netic test­ing have strug­gled with pub­lic per­cep­tion and un­der­stand­ing. Peo­ple tend to be even more cyn­i­cal and less will­ing to ex­per­i­ment with new tech­nolo­gies that tinker with one of our most ba­sic in­stincts: eat­ing.

Take ge­net­i­cally mod­i­fied food for ex­am­ple; de­spite the great po­ten­tial for dis­ease-re­sis­tant, high-yield and highly nu­tri­tious crops to help solve the world food cri­sis, a re­cent sur­vey on GMOS by the Ok­la­homa State Univer­sity Depart­ment of Agri­cul­tural Eco­nom­ics

Ex­otic meats such as shark, whale, ze­bra or dog (or mam­moth and Tas­ma­nian tiger for the more ad­ven­tur­ous foodie) and even leather pro­duc­tion are all pos­si­ble.

Last year the Eu­ro­pean Court of Jus­tice ruled that only prod­ucts made with real an­i­mal milk can be la­belled as ‘milk’, ‘cream’ and ‘cheese’.

re­vealed that 82% of Amer­i­cans sup­port manda­tory la­belling of GMOS, and a wor­ry­ing 80% sup­port manda­tory la­belling of foods con­tain­ing DNA5. The per­va­sive­ness of pub­lic ig­no­rance and mis­un­der­stand­ing poses a dan­ger to the bud­ding clean meat sec­tor, so what should be done to avoid a PR dis­as­ter?

Strate­gic nam­ing is one of the most im­por­tant steps to cre­at­ing a com­mer­cially vi­able prod­uct. A rose by any other name might smell as sweet, but it prob­a­bly wouldn't sell as well. Con­sumers are more likely to pur­chase meat la­belled ‘clean' over ‘safe', ‘pure', ‘cul­tured', or ‘meat 2.0', ac­cord­ing to a sur­vey run by the Good Food In­sti­tute.6 It is a ref­er­ence to ‘clean en­ergy', but also re­minds the con­sumer that the man­u­fac­tur­ing process is both ster­ile and eth­i­cal.

Other names seen on me­dia head­lines such as tis­sue-engi­neered, syn­thetic, lab-grown, in vitro and ar­ti­fi­cial meat con­jure up im­ages of mad sci­en­tists pro­duc­ing Franken­stein meat in bub­bling beakers. In re­al­ity, clean meat will be pro­duced in large vats called biore­ac­tors, which are sim­i­lar to fer­menters in a beer brew­ery. Most pro­cessed foods, like potato chips and sauces, started off in a lab, yet no one would con­sider them as an ar­ti­fi­cial lab-pro­duced food.

Talks on nam­ing reg­u­la­tions for clean meat have al­ready be­gun in the US. On June 12th this year, the US Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion (FDA) held a pub­lic meet­ing on ‘Foods Pro­duced Us­ing An­i­mal Cell Cul­ture Tech­nol­ogy' in Wash­ing­ton, D.C.7 While the pri­mary sub­ject of the meet­ing was food safety, nam­ing of clean meat was recog­nised as the most cru­cial el­e­ment in the mar­ket suc­cess of clean meat.

Un­sur­pris­ingly, there has been a lot of op­po­si­tion from those in the cat­tle in­dus­try, and nat­u­rally the first line of at­tack is aimed at prod­uct nam­ing. The US Cat­tle­men's As­so­ci­a­tion (USCA) filed a 15-page pe­ti­tion to the United States Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture (USDA) this Fe­bru­ary ask­ing to ex­clude clean meat from the def­i­ni­tion of ‘beef' and ‘meat'. This propo­si­tion is right­fully in­tim­i­dat­ing to those in the clean meat in­dus­try, since the USCA have a dis­con­cert­ing amount of po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence and lob­by­ing power over the USDA.

It is cur­rently not yet clear whether clean meat will be reg­u­lated by the FDA or the USDA, but it is im­por­tant that the play­ing field is lev­elled and not dom­i­nated by pol­icy mak­ers who have in­ter­ests in the fac­tory farm­ing in­dus­try.

Other coun­tries have al­ready seen the suc­cess of pow­er­ful play­ers in the meat and dairy in­dus­try to dic­tate the rules for la­belling veg­e­tar­ian food al­ter­na­tives. An amend­ment was passed on April 20th this year in France that pro­hibits foods con­tain­ing a sig­nif­i­cant por­tion of plant-based ma­te­rial to be la­belled with words that are syn­ony­mous with tra­di­tional an­i­mal prod­ucts8. This ban af­fects food such as ‘tofu burg­ers, ‘soy sausages' and ‘cau­li­flower steaks'. How­ever, the bill did not ad­dress clean meat, which tech­ni­cally is still de­rived from an­i­mals.

Ad­di­tion­ally, last year the Eu­ro­pean Court of Jus­tice ruled that only prod­ucts made with real an­i­mal milk can be la­belled with dairy-re­lated terms such as ‘milk', ‘cream' and ‘cheese', with few ex­cep­tions such as co­conut milk and peanut but­ter9. If clean meat does not win the le­gal rights to its name, there is lit­tle chance the prod­uct will be ac­cepted by the pub­lic.

Meat­ing the Chal­lenge

But hav­ing the right name is only the first step. The clean meat in­dus­try needs to work to­gether and spend big bucks on ad­ver­tis­ing to make sure the right im­age is por­trayed to the world. There's no doubt in­vestors in the fac­tory farm­ing in­dus­try will ded­i­cate all their re­sources to cre­ate a com­pelling smear cam­paign at­tack­ing the sci­ence be­hind clean meat. We need only look at the resur­gence of the anti-vac­cine move­ment – which has demon­stra­bly caused an in­crease in pre­ventable deaths – to know how dam­ag­ing these at­tacks can be.

Con­sumers suf­fer in­er­tia – it takes a lot to shift con­sumer be­hav­iour. Much like the RSPCA stamp of ap­proval on free-range chicken, clean meat needs to be backed by trusted in­sti­tu­tions, such as CSIRO and Green­peace, and au­thor­ity fig­ures such as doc­tors and en­vi­ron­men­tal sci­en­tists, who al­ready have con­sumer trust.

Es­tab­lish­ing prod­uct cred­i­bil­ity is key – there's a rea­son why sports brands spend bil­lions on ath­lete en­dorse­ments and spon­sor­ships. Taglines such as ‘the meat that does no harm' or ‘meat with­out mur­der' has limited ef­fect un­less the words are com­ing from the mouths of le­git­i­mate spokes­peo­ple. Brand trust and en­dorser fa­mil­iar­ity will help clean meat build the pos­i­tive per­cep­tion re­quired to in­flu­ence con­sumer be­hav­iour and com­pel a na­tion to make the switch.

How­ever, these en­dorse­ments must be gen­uine and ev­i­dence-based. The Heart Foun­da­tion Tick was the most recog­nised food logo in Aus­tralia and was suc­cess­ful in driv­ing food com­pa­nies to re­for­mu­late un­healthy pro­cessed foods and pro­vide rel­e­vant nu­tri­tional in­for­ma­tion panel on their pack­ag­ing; but the mo­ment the Heart Foun­da­tion ac­cepted a $300,000 an­nual fee from Mcdon­alds in ex­change for a Tick on food such as the filet-o-fish and chicken nuggets, the pro­gram was doomed.

This deal alone brought about its down­fall and even­tual re­tire­ment of the pro­gram in 2015. Clean meat has the po­ten­tial to fall into the trap of los­ing con­sumer trust if claims for im­prov­ing health or hav­ing a low car­bon foot­print are ex­ag­ger­ated or not backed by sci­en­tific data.

The Foun­da­tion mo­ment the ac­cepted Heart a $300,000 an­nual fee from Mcdon­alds in ex­change for a Tick on food such as the filet-o-fish and chicken nuggets, the pro­gram was doomed.

To en­sure that con­sumers re­tain this trust, clean meat com­pa­nies need to be trans­par­ent about pro­duc­tion, poli­cies and per­for­mance. Con­sumers ex­pect this in­for­ma­tion to be freely avail­able in plain lan­guage and want the op­por­tu­nity to en­gage in dis­course about them. At this stage of de­vel­op­ment, some clean meat re­search labs have even al­lowed the pub­lic into the lab to see the sci­en­tists in ac­tion.

Once the prod­uct ap­proaches mass pro­duc­tion, how­ever, pro­duc­ers will have to con­sider how to bal­ance this ‘open source' ap­proach with the need to main­tain a com­pet­i­tive ad­van­tage. It wouldn't be dif­fi­cult to see clean meat fac­to­ries giv­ing free pub­lic tours of the fa­cil­i­ties, much like those given at beer brew­eries and choco­late fac­to­ries.

Con­sid­er­ing that the fac­tory farm­ing in­dus­try is no­to­ri­ous for its trans­parency is­sues with the pub­lic (var­i­ous laws are be­ing con­sid­ered in the US to pre­vent peo­ple from en­ter­ing or record­ing slaugh­ter­houses to doc­u­ment an­i­mal abuse and un­san­i­tary prac­tices), this as­pect could give clean meat a huge com­pet­i­tive ad­van­tage over tra­di­tional meat pro­duc­ers.

The re­sults of third-party au­dits should also be pub­licly avail­able on com­pany web­sites. This in­cludes as­sess­ments of an­i­mal well-be­ing and food safety prac­tices. If reg­u­la­tions are vi­o­lated, it is im­por­tant that the steps taken to cor­rect these vi­o­la­tions are doc­u­mented and re­leased on the web­site.

It is cru­cial we be­gin se­ri­ous dis­cus­sions about the in­evitable in­tro­duc­tion of clean meat into the Aus­tralian mar­ket. The gross value of Aus­tralia's cat­tle is es­ti­mated at $12.7 bil­lion, and we are cur­rently the third largest beef ex­porter in the world.10

Like any other new tech­nol­ogy, clean meat could dis­rupt our econ­omy, which would not only af­fect cat­tle farm­ers but also other jobs in the meat sup­ply chain such as feed­lot work­ers, trans­porters, beef pro­ces­sors and butch­ers.

But con­sid­er­ing Aus­tralia is al­ready a world leader in stem cell re­search for re­gen­er­a­tive medicine, there is a lot of po­ten­tial for us to also be­come lead­ers in the clean meat in­dus­try. Cre­at­ing this new mar­ket would not only di­ver­sify our meat econ­omy but could also ad­vance sci­en­tific tech­niques that might also be ap­pli­ca­ble in the re­gen­er­a­tive medicine sec­tor.

While there are a mul­ti­tude of time-sen­si­tive is­sues the clean meat in­dus­try must con­sider be­fore re­leas­ing prod­ucts in su­per­mar­kets, the po­ten­tial for this to rev­o­lu­tionise the fu­ture for hu­mans, an­i­mals and our planet is mind-bog­gling.

I'm op­ti­mistic that hu­mans are more likely to tran­si­tion to a clean meat diet, rather than an en­tirely plant-based diet, for the sake of our health and the en­vi­ron­ment. Hope­fully in the near fu­ture, in­ef­fi­cient, cruel and un­sus­tain­able fac­tory farm­ing will be as ob­so­lete as us­ing horses for trans­port.

[ This] would not only di­ver­sify our meat econ­omy but could also ad­vance sci­en­tific tech­niques that might also be ap­pli­ca­ble in the re­gen­er­a­tive medicine sec­tor.

IM­AGE: © Scott Bauer - US Dept of Agri­cul­ture

IM­AGE: © Peter Castle­ton-flickr

IM­AGE: © Cory Doc­torow-flickr

IM­AGE: © Régine De­batty-flickr

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