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Shmuly Yanklowitz
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America must take the lead on lab-grown meat

Supporting alternative meats is not just morally good — it’s in the country’s self-interest
(Wikimedia Commons)
(Wikimedia Commons)

Imagine taking someone from 10 years ago in a time machine to a grocery store in America today. In some ways, it might look the same, but I think the thing that would seem the most different is the proliferation of plant-based meats, ones that look and taste more like animal products they’re imitating, and that appeal to more people.

I, for one, am pleased with this recent development in the way we eat, and I’m eager for a future in which we take this even further. We’ve made terrific advancements with plant-based meat, and I believe the next frontier for us is the plausibility and popularization of lab-grown meat. We should keep advancing the options we have, and we should expand into the realm of readily available lab-grown meat, which is grown from animal tissue but does not require the moral and environmental offenses that come with using an actual animal.

However, I don’t think this advancement will come easily. The traditional-meat industry benefits from big subsidies, which can make their prices artificially low and enable their product to stamp out the less established competition. But I’m here to tell you that I think there is a practical path to a better food future because we can advocate to our elected officials by arguing that supporting alternative meats is not just morally good — it’s in America’s self-interest.

First of all, a burgeoning industry is bound to create new jobs, ones that require skill and innovation. Congresspeople should love the notion of being able to brag about bringing a brand-new field of business to their respective states. Forbes reports that, “According to the global data released by the non-for-profit the Good Food Institute, in 2021 Europe’s cultivated meat companies attracted $140 million, almost three times the amount of 2020.”

Also important, alternative meats are good for our nation’s safety. By reducing our reliance on raising livestock for food, we can create more dependable supply chains. Consequently, in the event of an economic downturn, natural disaster or, God forbid, another pandemic, we can do a better job of ensuring that the population can be fed. In doing so, we can take the Torah call of Deuteronomy 15:4, “There shall be no needy among you,” and make it a value on a global level.

By the same token, we can use a larger and more consistent food supply to reduce global hunger. This is, of course, a moral goal in its own right, and it is also beneficial for global stability. When a nation doesn’t have enough food, people need to flee. We can help avert humanitarian crises by bolstering food security.

According to Forbes, the cost of a lab-grown burger went from $330,000 in 2013 (pictured below) to $9.80 in 2019.

(Wikimedia Commons)

But these improvements don’t happen without a conscious investment in innovation. “Cultured meat technology is the Apollo program of the 21st century,” Prof. Yaakov Nahmias, the founder of the Israeli company Future Meat Technologies has previously said in a press release. “It required massive efforts of biologists, chemists, engineers and food experts to reduce the cost of cultured meat by over 1,000-fold in just a few years.”

What’s more, this will be crucial for America on the international stage. Our representatives should know that America ought to be the global leader in the emerging industry of alternative meats. If we do not take charge of this new wave of food, a country such as China will.

And if that isn’t enough, supporting alternative meats is a key environmental measure. We can look to the example of Israel, which seems to have made the alternative-protein industry its primary climate intervention. By partnering with Israel and by using its strategy as a model, we can use the size of America to our advantage to exponentially grow the impact.

I would encourage people motivated by this issue to call their Senators and members of Congress to express how important innovation in the industry of alternative meats is — and further, that, in addition to being a moral issue, action for meat alternatives is in our nation’s self-interest.

As individuals who strive to be ethical, we should want to reduce meat consumption for its own sake. However, I believe this goal is best advanced by pointing out that it’s also good business and politics.

About the Author
Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz is the President & Dean of the Valley Beit Midrash (Jewish pluralistic adult learning & leadership), the Founder & President of Uri L’Tzedek (Jewish Social Justice), the Founder and CEO of Shamayim (Jewish animal advocacy), the Founder and President of YATOM, (Jewish foster and adoption network), and the author of 22 books on Jewish ethics. Newsweek named Rav Shmuly one of the top 50 rabbis in America and the Forward named him one of the 50 most influential Jews. The opinions expressed here represent the author’s and do not represent any organizations he is affiliated with.
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