Saturday, May 13, 2006

Could meat grown in labs save the world's lands?

[“Global Saturday” -- I’m beginning a practice of talking about an international issue of land use and community development each Saturday.]

   PBS’s “Nature” broadcast last week a program about land use tensions in Africa between lions and cattle ranchers.  Although the attitudes of most of the Kenyans they interviewed were fairly tolerant toward the big cats, this tolerance snaps when lions acquire a taste for their cattle.  It’s the same kind of tension that exists in the U.S. West over protection of the wolf and bison, and in cities over LULUs such as homeless shelters.  The program highlighted how human population pressures –- Africa has more than tripled its population over the past 50 years –- have caused losses in habitat and a critical decline in the lion population.   
   Putting on one’s skeptical glasses, it may be that megafauna such as lions, who need large expanses of land in which to hunt, may be doomed in the wild in Africa, outside of highly protected and monitored preserves.  The world’s booming population simply needs the land for agriculture.
   But here’s a fascinating potential solution.  Scientists report that it is possible to “grow” meat in a lab.  Although using cells to grow tissue is currently very expensive, the idea holds tremendous potential.  Imagine, 20 years from now, big factories in which most of the world’s meat –- chicken, beef, and salmon –- is created.   What extraordinary environmental and land use benefits!  No more destruction of the rainforest for cattle ranches.  Turning farmland back into forests to serve as carbon sinks and slow global warming.  No more killing of animals for food.  And the possible end of world hunger.  The mind boggles.  Let’s get to work!

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