“Can lab-grown food save the planet?”

Written by Daniel Pryor of the Adam Smith Institute, David E Hanke, Georgina Ferry and Prof Mick Watson in response to an article by George Monbiot claiming that lab-grown food will end farming and save the planet
Originally published on January 9th, 2020
Summarized by Aya Wallaia, AGRA Watch Intern

Photograph Credit: David Parry/PA

In a response to George Monbiot claiming that lab-grown food will end farming and save the planet, Daniel Pryor of the Adam Smith Institute, David E Hanke, Georgina Ferry and Prof Mick Watson argue that there are many overlooked consequences to this “simple solution” worth considering. 

The technology for lab grown food that Monbiot is referring to comprises of bacteria that is taken from soil, and multiplied in the lab to create a substance.  This process to make lab-grown food will depend on chemical mechanisms and therefore contribute to environmental chemical pollution. Plants, on the other hand, have unique mechanisms that use solar energy without chemical pollution, making them the superior choice for sustainable food production.

In terms of health, Pryor raises skepticism on how nutritious this lab grown food will be and claims that “no industrially generated food could provide the right mix of dietary constituents essential for health”. Hanke adds that clinical trials will be necessary to explore the potential consequences before claiming potential benefits. 

Monbiot’s argument does not fully take into consideration how this technology will affect individuals in the agriculture industry. “Globally, over 1.3 billion people rely on livestock farming for their livelihoods, either as farmers or as part of the livestock food supply chain”, stated Ferry, additionally, “millions of people globally grow, hunt or raise food not to make money, but to feed their families. Where will they get the cash to buy the new stuff? Science may seem simple, but politics is a minefield”, stated Hanke.  

Watson raises the question around how this lab-grown food will address the complexities of livestock farming without eliminating it. Though livestock farming does have issues with sustainability and does contribute to climate change, that is not true of all farming systems. Watson reminds us that “Livestock are an important part of humanity’s future food needs.”

Overall, there are many concerns that arise from presenting lab-grown food as a the simple solution for addressing climate change due to the complexities of the global food system.

 

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