HAVE THE ANIMALS AND EAT THEM TOO
for Flevo Campus Essay Competition
Denouncing domestic animals as wasteful meat producers misses the chance for actual impactful solutions. The fixation on artificial meat as the answer to the sustainability question will neither improve living conditions of livestock nor live up to ecological expectations. A cautionary comparison with other disruptive inventions shows that technological innovation is not the silver bullet it promises to be.
Industrial meat production is undoubtedly a driving force of deforestation.1 And whilst opinions on the ethics of killing animals for food vary greatly between groups, most would unite against large scale industrial butchering. Addressing these issues, meat surrogates from plants or stem cells intend to ease ethical concerns whilst promising to tread light on the environment at an affordable price.2
However, there is a trap we might fall into down the road of artificial meat. Controversially discussed but widely acknowledged — 'rebound effects' occur when the increase of efficiency leads to a more intensive use and overall higher demand. For instance, efficiency gains of LED lights resulted in more light, not less electricity use.3
Without any environmental, ethical and economic limits, there is nothing that would prevent rebound effects from artificial meat. Thus a superior efficiency of producing meat surrogates would likely lead to an overall greater consumption of ‘meat’ which could offset and surpass any environmental gains.4
The conclusion to abolish all animals, when faced with the issues of factory farming, conveniently avoids questions such as whether meat is a luxury or a necessity, how to value the role of farmers and disregards the cultural significance of animal husbandry.
The obsession with artificial meat demonstrates our tunnel vision on technological innovation as the only means of tackling issues that were caused by other technologies in the first place. As a result, we disregard opportunities of social innovation, institutional innovation and economic innovation that could offer more meaningful solutions.
There are sustainable ways of eating animals but artificial meat seems unlikely to be one. Animals are important for humans, culture and landscape and removing them completely would not be beneficial for the environment.
Jonas Görgen — 2021
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