The livestock/meat industry and lab-grown meat
The livestock and meat industry are definitely no stranger to controversy. That is to be expected and the discussion or debate if you will about lab-grown meat has the obvious challenges of competition, food safety, labeling, and regulatory oversight.
I was thinking about the current debate over lab-grown meat and where it might be headed and I decided to begin with the premise that it will be produced. The hands of time with regard to technology are not going to stop. Technology and science are largely the factors driving the changes that we experience every day. Technology has improved the productive capacity of U.S. agriculture and food production and thus, the ability to compete. It is easy to praise the improvements productive capacity but quickly cuss those technology-driven things in life we think are unnecessary or detrimental. You might hear me express that we don’t need driverless cars. Put your hands on the wheel and drive!
The industry needs to get on the same page from whatever perspective with this conversation and then move forward. It’s okay to have concerns and questions and to debate those concerns and questions. But I think from the perspective of consumers and their perception of the food industry, it is best to address those concerns and questions and arrive at consensus as an industry. I think it is very destructive when the industry uses the news media as a forum to debate topics that can and often do affect consumer perception.
I will admit that when the topic first surfaced a few months ago, it was pretty easy to come up with several reasons why lab-grown meat is simply wrong. After all, “real” meat is produced from livestock that reproduce the old fashioned way and have offspring – period. End of story. There is no reason to debate this idea any further. However, following the philosophy that “the only thing that is constant is change,” I thought that maybe my initial reaction was not very insightful even if it was true. This is far too important to simply dismiss as something that will go away. Consumer preferences and behavior can often be quite unpredictable.
Changes in the food industry are often complex and lab-grown meat is no exception. However, because it is a complex issue that consumers will read about, it is important that industry discussion be constructive and work toward industry-wide consensus.
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Outtagrass Cattle Co. cartoon by Jan Swan Wood, for the Feb. 20, 2021, edition of Tri-State Livestock News