From Pasture to Petri Dish: A Critical E¬¬xamination of the Cell-Based Meat Industry

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John Wargo
Essay Abstract: 
The modern system of industrial animal agriculture in the United States inflicts significant, negative consequences on the environment, human well-being, and animal welfare. Cell-based meat (CBM) – real, animal meat grown via a process of cell culture – provides a potentially ideal solution to many of these issues by circumventing the need to raise and slaughter animals in order to produce meat. While a large-scale cell-based meat economy could transform the U.S. food system, I find that such a conclusion should not automatically be assumed; a critical examination of the industry’s environmental impacts, federal regulation, and consumer acceptance must inform expectations of CBM’s potential for positive change. Currently, based on the early states of CBM technology and environmental research, the scalability of the industry and its resulting impacts on the environment are relatively unknown. Contrastingly, a joint FDA-USDA framework provides a clear path to effective federal regulation. Consensuses on naming and consumer acceptance of CBM have not yet been reached; nonetheless, these issues will undoubtedly influence the industry’s future success. Looking ahead, the cell-based meat industry must grapple with questions of technology, power, and profit or risk jeopardizing both its integrity and its potential for positive change.