Freeman Cebu Business

Lab meat

FULL DISCLOSURE - Fidel O. Abalos - The Freeman

According to the United Nations’ Committee on World Food Security, food security means that “all people, at all times, have physical, social, and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food that meets their food preferences and dietary needs for an active and healthy life.” If that is so, then obviously, the opposite pervades in the country.

Undeniably, right where we are today, we can see so much uneven distribution of food. The irony is, while some are in fitness gyms spending thousands and, at the same time, go for nutritionist-planned diets to lose weight others are underweight as their pockets are starving for pennies and their wallets are on a diet.

One of the reasons is that despite having about one-fourth of our labor force in the agriculture sector, it only contributes about 11% to our Gross Domestic Product. Apparently, therefore, agriculture happens to be the most inefficient sector of our economy. Sadly, the current situation can even go worse. 

To recall, several years ago, a report revealed that even agriculture graduates disdain farming. A Filipino sociologist has observed that “Most agriculture graduates do everything but farm; they take government jobs, teach, do research, etc. They don’t want to touch the soil.” 

Worst, agricultural workers are dwindling every year as most of them, as surveyed by the Food and Agricultural Organization, migrate to urban areas seeking for better paying jobs. Some, in fact, are working as mere household helpers because, to most of them, these jobs have given them better rewards than that of the farms.

Well, we can have countless of discourses and arguments in the country as to what measures should benefit and what are those that shall disadvantaged the others. Straightforwardly, however, these arguments will never help us solve these nagging food insecurity concerns.

Other countries though have clearer paths as far as food security is concern and even beyond.  The tiny island city state of Singapore is leading the way. To recall, due to limited space, they utilized the rooftops of their skyscrapers for hydroponics since decades ago. It has become a viable undertaking through the years. 

Moreover, just last year, Singapore gave “regulatory approval for the world’s first clean meat that does not come from slaughtered animals.” According to Eat Just (the San Francisco, USA-based company that developed it), this “lab meat” (lab-grown chicken meat), will be initially used in nuggets.  As the term suggests, these are grown in a laboratory. Unlike other products that are plant-based, these are grown from animal muscle cells in a lab. 

Refusing to be outdone, some “British scientists have joined the race to produce meat also grown in the lab rather than reared on the hoof.” Scientists at the University of Bath have “grown animal cells on blades of grass, in a step towards cultured meat.” As soon the process can be reproduced on an industrial scale, they said, “meat-lovers might one day be tucking into a slaughter-free supply of bacon.”

Apart from these two entities, there are a lot more start-ups that are attempting to bring “cultured meat” to the market. 

Two of the most prominent and largest are Israel-based Future Meat Technologies and the Bill Gates-backed Memphis Meats. They are both trying to enter the market “with affordable and tasty lab grown meats.” 

These developments, however, aren’t purely motivated at all by food security concerns but for some demands for regular meat alternatives. As we all know, consumer concerns about health, animal welfare and the environment are mounting especially in the more advanced countries. Yes, these noble concerns while we, in the country, are still struggling to feed some of our countrymen even with the most basic food just for them to survive. That’s the sad reality.

However, to those amongst us who may have the money and the itch for research and development, the potential is huge.  According to Barclays, the market for meat alternatives could be worth “US$140 billion within the next decade, or about 10% of the US$1.4 trillion global meat industry.”

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