|Demand of the question |
Introduction. Define cellular agriculture.
Body. Various advantages and disadvantages.
Conclusion. Way forward.
Cellular agriculture is a branch of biology that focus on the production of agriculture products from cell cultures using a combination of biotechnology, tissue engineering, molecular biology, and synthetic biology to create and design new methods of producing proteins, fats, and tissues that would otherwise come from traditional agriculture. Various products like artificial muscle proteins, milk, eggs, gelatin, coffee, leather and silk are produced.
Various advantages of cellular agriculture-
- Less environmental impact- Figures show 70% lower use of resources like land, food grain, water, and thus reduced carbon emissions to produce a kilogram of meat. From an environmental standpoint this means less water is used to produce meat, less methane gas is put into the atmosphere, and it’s overall a much cleaner solution than factory farming.
- Better Products- Another exciting aspect of cellular agriculture is the ability to design and tune what you are making. For instance, you could make meat with fewer saturated fats and more unsaturated fats, or you could make leather of different thicknesses. You could make milk without lactose, or eggs without cholesterol.
- It is more sustainable: There is no doubt that it is a more sustainable solution. Unlike conventional animal husbandry that has pretty much reached the limits of its efficiency, cellular agriculture has the potential to improve its resource intensiveness over time. It can help make global food production more sustainable than it is now.
- Food security- It could enable larger numbers of people to access higher quality nutrition and achieve better health outcomes. There are still hundreds of millions of people that don’t have access to food at all, or don’t have enough food. This number is expected to increase to billions in the coming years. Cellular agriculture can help to produce more food to feed the world’s people that still go hungry
- Healthier and cleaner food products– Producers can control the fat and protein content. They can also control the taste and other features. If we take fat for example, lab grown meat could be produced to contain more omega-3 fatty acids and less harmful fats. Products are grown in a sterile environment, so there is no contamination. This means that the products will be free of many potential diseases. A lot of the antibiotics and drugs that are used to treat sick livestock animals will no longer be necessary.
- Meet demands of growing population– World population is expected to grow to between 10 to 13 million people between the years 2050 and 2100. India’s population is also exploding. Lab grown consumables can use to feed many.
- Reduce risks– It can minimise some risks associated with animal farming such as animal diseases, antibiotics, and growth hormones. Also lab grown meat can be more consistent in terms of quality – because more is in the producer’s control, lab grown meat may be of a particular standard/quality more consistently compared to farm grown meat which can vary in quality.
- Employment generation– It adds jobs to the economy. Various lab and factory workers, researchers, scientists etc. get new jobs. Further research and development industry develop and boost with technological advancements.
Various disadvantages and issues related to cellular agriculture-
- Expensive– It is very expensive to produce. Technology employed and expenditure on research and development increase the cost of the products and make it non-affordable at present.
- At the cost of animals– It is true that cultured products save many animals from being slaughtered. However, many of the animals will be used for research and development purposes are probably animals that are on the slaughter lines. Harvesting of animal cells to culture require blood of foetuses from slaughtered pregnant cows as the growth medium. So, to mass-produce laboratory-grown consumables scientists would need a constant supply of live pigs, cows, chickens and other animals from which to take cells.
- Safety Concerns- Whether genetically modified, factory-grown products are safe for us to eat is yet to be studied. There ethical concerns similar to GMO crops. There can be a lack of trust between consumers and companies.
- Potential issues over regulation– The process behind food regulation takes a long time. This could impact how quickly quality and safety among all products are standardised. Regulation is not easy. Testing methods for safety, which governing bodies for regulation demand time and resources. This could push development even farther back.
- Cheaper alternatives– Better, cheaper and more effective alternatives regarding food supply for the present and future are present. Some argue that moving towards more plant based diets (or diets with less meat, dairy and animal products) make better use of resources, and are cheaper, more effective, quicker to implement and healthier than what lab grown meat can offer as a food source. We also already have several plant based meat substitutes in the markets.
- Wrong priorities– Considering greenhouse gases/climate change, and other forms of pollution agriculture only produces about 9% of total greenhouse gas emissions. Comparatively, transport, electricity generation, and industry produce almost 80% of total GHGs combined. If there is concern over GHG emissions and other environmental issues, it makes far more sense to focus on these sectors first, rather than food and agriculture.
- Complete Nutrition– Cellular Agriculture can control nutritional content like fat and protein content. But, overall nutrition is important too. There are certain nutrients which we can only get in bulk from natural agriculture outside a lab.
India has an opportunity to become a major player in cellular agriculture. Union government charged Hyderabad-based Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology with the goal of producing lab grown meat on a commercial scale in five years. But the sector needs proper standards and regulation with greater public investment in research and development, as well as private investment in entrepreneurship.