The beef with lab-grown beef

It’s hard to beat the enticing aroma of beef sizzling on the barbecue and the satisfaction of eating a perfectly cooked burger or steak.

It’s hard to beat the enticing aroma of beef sizzling on the barbecue and the satisfaction of eating a perfectly cooked burger or steak. So when the news articles appeared over the August long weekend on the cooking and tasting of the world’s first lab-grown beef burger, developed at Maastricht University in the Netherlands over a five-year period and at a cost of more than $300,000, the reaction was predictable.

Online readers found the idea of eating lab-grown beef distasteful at best. Paired with beef consumption data from Statistics Canada that shows per capita beef and total meat consumption rose in 2012, and Health Canada’s recommending beef as a great first food for infants at six months of age, all indications are that this latest project of the anti-animal agriculture crowd is headed for an uphill battle in the court of public opinion.

It makes no sense to devote significant funds and resources to creating a hamburger in a lab when consumers already have a ready supply of affordable, delicious and nutrient-rich ground beef available at the supermarket. When it comes to the great taste of beef there is no comparison — particularly if the choice is between beef harvested from sustainably raised animals, or threads of protein grown in a petri dish.

The lab-grown meat in this particular project is touted by its promoters as the way to ‘help feed the world and fight climate change’ and as a way to mitigate animal welfare concerns. The project is funded by Google cofounder Sergey Brin, who said he was motivated by a concern for animal welfare. It is also supported by PETA.

What’s missing from this premise is the sustainability efforts of producers and the industry as a whole to ensure the industry will be able to meet the needs of a growing global demand for protein responsibly. CCA belongs to a number of groups with a sustainability focus including the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef and has spearheaded a Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef.

Environmentally, socially and economically sustainable beef production is a key pillar of the Beef Cattle Research Council (BCRC). Research funded by the BCRC has led to improvements in productivity and efficiency, which have clear implications for environmental sustainability. Improvements in feed efficiency and shortening the required number of days needed to finish fed cattle reduces the amount of methane and manure produced and resources used per pound of beef. Improvements in forage and grassland productivity lead to several environmental benefits, including increased carbon sequestration, improved wildlife habitat, contributes to biodiversity, helps maintain healthy watersheds, and reduces soil erosion

To quantify the environmental benefits of cattle production, research in the proposed second Beef Cattle Industry Science Cluster, a partnership through the BCRC and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, will examine the environmental footprint of the Canadian beef industry.

In the livestock business, good commerce includes good animal welfare. Cattle producers care for their animals every day, and that care shows up in the great taste of our product. The Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Beef Cattle, which governs areas including pain management, has recently  undergone an updating process through the National Farm Animal Care Council. The code uses valid, science-based procedures that have been vetted by a council of experts.

The CCA would like consumers to know they have many reasons to continue to feel good about eating beef. North America’s cattle industry has been successful in creating more high quality protein with fewer resources. Improvements achieved between 1977 and 2007 means that modern beef production uses 33 per cent less land, 12 per cent less water, 19 per cent less feed and nine per cent less fossil fuel energy than equivalent beef production in 1977.

Cattle producers are long-time partners with the environment — many are second, third and fourth generation families — and work to conserve wildlife and its habitat. Raising beef cattle provides jobs that sustain rural communities, uses unproductive land to produce a highly nutritious food product for the human diet, and protects habitat and wildlife. Well-managed cattle operations deliver ecosystem services that benefit the environment and society as a whole.

These are just some of the real-life benefits of sustainable beef production that lab-grown beef can’t match.

— Submitted by Canadian Cattlemen’s Association