Peter G. Lurie, CSPI President

It’s daunting to think about the damage we’re doing to our planet, and the harm it will do to our own health.

But as our interview with Harvard’s Sam Myers (see "There is No Planet B") shows, solutions do exist. Some, like reducing carbon emissions from vehicles and power plants, are well known; others are less recognized. For example, livestock accounted for an estimated 15 percent of human-induced worldwide greenhouse gas emissions in 2005.

Eating less beef could drive down emissions because cattle (even if grass-fed) emit methane, a greenhouse gas that is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

What’s more, it takes tremendous quantities of water, pesticides, and fertilizer to grow the crops that animals eat. Add to that the damage caused by the animal excrement and fertilizer that can pollute our streams, rivers, and air.

That enormous environmental insult has spurred scientists and entrepreneurs to try to produce meat without farming—in a laboratory.

In essence, muscle cells from meat are placed in a petri dish and allowed to divide until enough meat is “grown.” (Companies are still working on creating the texture and mouthfeel of meat.)

It sounds like science fiction, and indeed, man-made “meats” have shown up in everything from Star Trek to Margaret Atwood. Even conventional meat producers Cargill and Tyson have invested in lab-grown meat start-ups.

The product—which is years away from supermarket shelves—is sometimes called “clean meat,” “cultured meat,” or “cell-based meat.” But not if the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association has its way.

In February, the cattlemen petitioned the U.S. Department of Agriculture to limit the words “meat” and “beef” to animals raised the traditional way. (That would also ban those words on plant-based foods like Beyond Meat, even when the products are obviously not meat.)

In May, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, publisher of Nutrition Action, and the Consumer Federation of America urged the USDA to deny the petition, since there is no evidence that consumers are being misled.

(Of course, if lab-grown meat isn’t actually meat, as the beef industry insists, the USDA has no legal authority to regulate it. The Food and Drug Administration would.)

In July, CSPI’s Greg Jaffe spoke at a meeting on lab-grown meat held by the FDA. Greg argued that if the FDA regulates lab-grown meat, the agency must review the safety of the technology and the foods well before the burgers and steaks reach supermarket shelves.

Only then will consumers have confidence in these emerging foods. And only then can these foods help us confront the threats facing our beleaguered planet.

Peter G. Lurie, MD, MPH, President, Center for Science in the Public Interest

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