Artificial Meat, Real Change

Technology and Social Change

Technological breakthroughs can pave the way to major social changes—some good, some bad, some mixed. The internal combustion engine and other automobile advances, for instance, enabled numerous positive services, such as ambulances and fire engines. But the automobile also gave rise to city designs and lifestyle choices that are inefficient to the point of being almost bizarre, as in the now-common case of a freeway commuter who drives an hour or more—each way—to and from work.

In more recent years, the World Wide Web has again demonstrated that technological advances can precipitate fundamental changes in the ways that people work, play, shop, and socialize: the telecommuter is gradually replacing the freeway commuter, and MySpace and Facebook have emerged as primary ways to “hang out”.

The Impervious Dinner Plate

While computers and mobile electronics continue to revolutionize many other aspects of life, people’s eating habits have been very slow to change. Folks who ate bacon and eggs for breakfast, hamburger and fries for lunch, and pizza and beer for dinner 30 years ago are still eating those same items today. Aside from some packaging updates, the menus of restaurants that were in business 30 years ago, such as McDonald’s or Pizza Hut, remain little changed today.

Perhaps dietary habits are so deeply rooted in a person’s consciousness that they become a part of one’s identity. Certainly many community and religious events and holidays, such as Thanksgiving and Christmas, revolve around food. But whatever the reason, dietary choices have remained relatively impervious to the wave of change that has swept over many other personal choices in recent decades.

The Cost of Consistency

Unfortunately, the dominant eating habits of Western culture have proven to be wildly destructive at the environmental level. Meat, in particular, extracts a devastating toll, as it is a profoundly inefficient food item. Specifically, it generally takes approximately 10 to 25 times—that’s 2500% —more resources to produce a pound of meat than to produce a pound of vegetable food. After all, animals must either eat other animals or eat plants, whereas plants simply get their sustenance from the sun and the soil. Animals also require medicine, lodging and other upkeep, whereas plants are relatively very low maintenance. Finally, animals used for meat production expel a great deal of polluting gases, such as methane, whereas plants generally had an unequivocally beneficial effect on the environment.

The net effect of consistency in the dominant Western diet has therefore been highly negative. Indeed, many environmental scientists now consider meat to be the single most environmentally harmful modern lifestyle choice—yes, even worse than driving a gas guzzler.

And that’s not even to mention the well-documented health effects, from heart disease to obesity, of the Western and particularly American diet.

Meat Substitutes: a Good Start

Soy burgers and other vegetable-based meat substitutes (sometimes called “meat analogues”) have taken root in many households. Tofu has proven to be a sort of “miracle meat” in that it can take on so many flavors that even discriminating meat lovers can be fooled by tofu products masquerading as meat. These culinary advances have been applauded by environmentalists, nutritionists and animal rights activists alike.

But, while the personal health and environmental benefits of a vegetarian diet have been thoroughly demonstrated, whether meat substitutes can ever overtake the Whopper and the Quarter Pounder with Cheese remains to be seen.

Enter Artificial Meat

Perhaps meat substitutes do not have to replace real meat in order for many of the detrimental effects of meat production to be avoided. Scientists have now demonstrated the ability to produce actual meat—not a vegetable substitute—using cell cultures rather than cows, pigs, or sheep. Specifically, certain cell samples originally taken from an animal are then nourished and cultivated to proliferate into large quantities of such cells, thereby producing artificial meat (also “in vitro”, “synthetic” or “test tube” meat) that is at the cellular level essentially identical to meat that comes from the muscles of slaughtered animals.

Implications, Pro and Con

Many hurdles are yet to be overcome before artificial meat can fully replace slaughter-based meat. First, the in vitro technique is still too costly to compete with slaughter for meat production in the mass market. However, over time, these costs may come down, especially if a handful of early adopters are willing to pay a premium for cruelty-free meat.

Second, cell cultivation may not sound particularly appealing to a society that is accustomed to the use of farm animals to produce food. Test-tube meat may sound very “sci-fi”, mysterious, and perhaps even dangerous to the average consumer. Of course, such a perception is just that, a perception, and can probably be changed when met head-on with informational measures, such as those suggested by M. Renee Orth in her article on legislation for public surveillance of the slaughter industry.

Third, even in vitro meat is likely to prove highly wasteful of resources compared to vegetable food. While not as wasteful as traditional meat production, the new technique will still have significant, inherent overhead costs, and the conversion of organic material to meat will probably always be less efficient than a food production system that requires no such conversion.

Fourth, to the degree that synthetic meat fully replicates slaughter-produced meat, the massive health benefits of a vegetarian diet are lost.

Fifth, purists in the fields of environmentalism and animal rights activism may view artificial meat as a way of actually prolonging the meat addiction of modern culture and thereby undermining efforts to bring about true sustainability and cruelty-free living. Under this view, switching from slaughter-based meat to artificial meat is the equivalent of switching an alcoholic from wine to beer. However, if artificial meat does in fact significantly reduce the demand for slaughter-based meat, the purist argument will probably fail, at least in the animal rights field. Net environmental impact will be more difficult to resolve.

Opportunity for Long-Overdue Dietary Shifts

Notwithstanding the above reasons for caution, artificial meat has at least the potential to be a disruptive technology, one that could bring about fundamental changes in a sphere that has heretofore remained relatively impervious to change: what’s for dinner. Executed properly, artificial meat production could (i) dramatically curtail the practice of animal slaughter and thereby (ii) bring about a significant reduction of the environmental harms inherent in raising animals for slaughter. These two effects make the technology highly desirable and worthy of pursuit.


(Original pub date:  March 30th, 2009 (Cruelty-Free))

Cruelty-Free
Cruelty-Free

Invention Code Name: Uncommon Law™

Snapshot:  Uncommon Law™ Universal Judicial Opinion Entry Software Forces Judges to Be Logical

(Original article publication date:  July 15, 2008 (Inventerprise))

Problem

Common law judicial opinions have no set form or style (except that they be in English), and they are required to meet no minimum standards for quality—or even validity.  This free-form, free-wheeling approach to law evolved hundreds of years ago as an expedient measure in less-enlightened times.  And it’s time for it to go.

Solution

Uncommon Law™ software eliminates the possibility of long-winded, unnecessary rambling (the lawyers tell us they call that “dicta”) and of fallacious reasoning as follows:  a judge logs into the Uncommon Law website and enters the case number and other identifying information. He then enters conclusion and premise data that go to make up his argument into the proper field. As many fields as necessary can be used, but each entry should include only one premise or conclusion.

Result

In this way, the logical validity of a judicial opinion can be relatively easily reviewed for errors—perhaps even automatically reviewed for certain simple errors.

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Comments:  This PeopleChase database product is based on the Universal Judicial Opinion system.