This blog contains material I wrote and posted on between the years 2005 and 2011 only. It does not contain any new material. For newer writing, please check my main blog (Bill the Butcher).

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Possible Solutions to the World's Meat Problem

This is something I've been thinking about for some time now.

As we all know rather well, meat production uses up an inordinate amount of resources. In terms of animal breeding, raising, protection from disease, the growing of grain to feed them, their housing, transport, the expense and effort involved in slaughter and the preservation of the carcasses and their processing, you just think of it...the effort is enormous. And even then, after getting rid of all the inedible parts of the animal, you lose maybe half the animal: skin, bone, hair, feathers, and viscera, none of which is anywhere near as important as a by-product as it once was. Bad.

And then think about all that goes into creating the animal. The economics of the whole thing means that the animal is fed hormones to promote growth, confined to small spaces so that it does not waste food in exercise, routinely fed antibiotics so it doesn't fall sick, and given processed feeds which contain body parts of other slaughtered animals. Even if you aren't an animal rights activist the meat of such a creature doesn't seem worth the eating.

Besides which, the amount of methane animals such as cows release into the atmosphere, contributing to global warming, is simply enormous.

So, what is to be done?

Now, it takes less effort to raise one cow or pig to slaughter weight than an equivalent number of goats or sheep. This is because grass is not an efficient source of energy and ten goats would eat more grass than one cow, even if they weighed the same, to produce the same meat. So, if we could switch the world to beef and pork away from mutton, we would make a start. But the Muslim world will not eat pork and the Hindu world won't touch pork or beef, so there's a problem. Some Hindus - non-vegetarians - won't eat chickens either. Why not? How should I know?

So, if we can't continue indefinitely as we are at this time, we have to find solutions. More meat cannot be produced for a larger population without diverting grain and resources from direct human consumption; and by no means is the world going to turn vegetarian (we are not a vegetarian species anyway. I'll save my anti-vegetarian rant for another occasion).

Anyway. So I'm thinking of solutions to the problem. Here are a couple:

In the short term: Try to promote rabbit farming. If you're not pernickety about eating an animal that swallows its own waste, rabbits are fast growing and convert grass to meat very efficiently and quickly. They're also fairly resistant to disease, much more so than poultry.

In the medium term: Switch to eating insects. We already eat shrimps and lobsters and crabs, most of which consume such delicacies as stinking rotten meat. Insects like locusts and grasshoppers have infinitely less yucky diets and are much more plentiful and can be bred easily. Much of the world's population already eats insects (the Chinese used to call grasshoppers meant to be eaten "woodland shrimp" if I am not mistaken)  - they are almost fat free and full of easily assimilable protein, so eating them shouldn't be dismissed out of hand.

In the long term: Now here's where I began to let my imagination run a bit wild. Imagine a nutrient broth kept in a huge vat in sterile conditions. Imagine tissue taken from stem cells from whatever animal you want - beef, mutton, pork, whatever - and grown in this vat. Under the right conditions, it could grow forever, into a huge slab of meat tissue. All you would need was to cut slices of whatever size you wanted, perhaps by remote controlled knives. Nothing would die. There would be no waste in transport, or growing grain for the meat, or anything like that. Even vegetarians, I think, should be able to eat that without guilt.

Not that any of it will happen, of course. But it's still a thought.

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