Don’t ban meat – grow it in a lab

Innovation is key to fighting climate change.

Maria Chaplia

The fight against climate change has become one of the most widely discussed topics in the UK and globally. And for good reason. However, it is alarming that this noble goal is often used to justify all sorts of bans. Recently, for instance, Goldsmiths, University of London banned the sale of meat on campus.

Bans like this restrict our choices. And they often don’t achieve their desired goal. For instance, a ban on plastic straws and stirrers will come into effect in 2020. Some companies, like McDonald’s, are getting ahead of the ban by replacing plastic straws with paper ones. But recently, McDonald’s admitted that its new paper straws, which were supposed to decrease damage to the environment, cannot be recycled.

What’s more, when bans are seen as an easy solution, innovative ideas are often pushed out of the debate. The best way to reduce the impact of food production on the climate is to embrace innovation. On a positive note, Boris Johnson has promised to liberate the UK’s biotech sector from the EU’s anti-gene-modification rules. This could turn the post-Brexit UK into a global, future-oriented biotech powerhouse – and it could help the planet. This opportunity cannot be missed.

Currently, laws that cover genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in the UK are primarily based on EU law. It is illegal to grow gene-modified crops for commercial purposes, but they can be imported. This approach is regressive and has left British agriculture lagging behind other non-EU countries, including the US, Canada and Australia, which have booming agricultural sectors.

However unpopular it may be, gene modification has many benefits. It improves agricultural performance and reduces the need for chemicals. It also drives down the cost, energy usage and carbon emissions associated with tractor diesel fuel and pesticide spraying. Enabling gene modification would lead to lower prices in the shops and encourage farmers to innovate.

Aside from allowing the growth of GM crops, it is also essential to create fair market conditions for GM foods. Currently, under EU legislation, products containing GMO are labelled as such. This gives an unfair advantage to GMO-free food. It is intended to direct us away from the most innovative products.

Worse, gene-modification bans limit our choice by preventing the sale of meat substitutes, like those developed by Impossible Foods, or GM salmon. After Brexit, the UK could be the first European country to sell these – but only if it chooses the path of innovation. Retaining the EU’s anti-GM rules would also be a significant obstacle to striking trade deals around the world.

Imposing bans – whether on meat, plastics or GMOs – always seems like the easiest and most obvious course of action. But in the long run, encouraging innovative substitutes will be far more rewarding. More innovation means less environmental damage, more choice for consumers, and more prosperity for the country.

Maria Chaplia is European affairs associate at the Consumer Choice Center.

Picture by: Getty.

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Lord Anubis

21st August 2019 at 1:18 pm

The problem with this argument is that its core tenant is bogus. Technologies that (May) reduce the environmental impact of food production will not “Solve” anything. Even if there were improvements made short term, we do not live in a static world. All this will achieve is to kick the can down the road for a couple of years until global population growth puts us back where we are today. Unless to core issue of “Too many People” is resolved, none of this will make any difference in the long run. (The same also applies to recycling, low carbon energy and pretty much every other environmental policy that is intended, somehow, to “Save” the planet)

Jerry Owen

21st August 2019 at 9:01 am

Luckily a relatively short article, as it’s so far off the mark .There is no such thing as AGW. Much land on our planet is incapable of growing crops, the only greenery it can grow sustains animal life that we can then eat, that is called sustainability.
Sheep for example live on hillsides where no crops can be grown, they live off land we cannot usefully use and again they are sustainable food for us. Cows as a species could not exist without man and we would struggle without cows.
Our relationship with animals is wonderfully symbiotic and is a relationship that has been nurtured and honed for millenia, how wonderful it is.
By all means have GM crops and genetically produced meat as an abundance of food is beneficial to the worlds humans.

Jim Lawrie

21st August 2019 at 12:13 pm

Good post. The best Scottish lamb, by every measure, and which now costs an arm and a leg, comes from animals that have been bred and evolved over centuries to thrive on seaweed. Long before the current “crisis”.

Hana Jinks

21st August 2019 at 4:00 pm

Jim. Lamb is incredibly expensive in Australia as well. No one knows why.

Ven Oods

21st August 2019 at 1:43 pm

“Our relationship with animals is wonderfully symbiotic…”

Doubtless, those animals all agree. (Or they did in the last poll I saw.)

Lord Anubis

21st August 2019 at 2:09 pm

From a Darwinian perspective. The symbiotic relationship between Humans and our domestic animals has been very successful indeed. Domestic (And semi-domestic such as game) Animals exist in far larger numbers than they would have done had we not chosen to domesticate them for our own purposes.

They are provided with food, accommodation, security from predators and harsh weather , medical care Etc, and in return all we ask of them is that we get to Milk, shear, etc them while they live and chose the time and manner of their deaths and what happens to their mortal remains afterwards.

From a purely objective perspective, it is actually a pretty good deal! (Albeit a bit one sided, but then in reality, most deals are)

Jerry Owen

21st August 2019 at 5:24 pm

Animals need humans life and death !

Winston Blair

21st August 2019 at 6:16 am

And what exactly is the impact of food production on the climate or is this another perfect example of how (man made) Climate Change is the perfect excuse to find new ways to make more money, gain more control and power over the commoners and feel gooood about all of that without any decent scientific substantiation other than “consensus” and fear of wrongthink, Maria? Furthermore, I want my meat to have had grass for dinner.

Ven Oods

21st August 2019 at 1:45 pm

Yes, but lab meat doesn’t fart.

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