Lab-grown meat - a cruelty free future?

The Shooters Fishers and Farmers Party brought on a ridiculous motion in Parliament about lab-grown meat, with so many inaccuracies and false claims. Abigail (and the entire rest of the chamber) voted against it, with Abigail speaking about the incredible possibilities of the blossoming lab-grown meat industry.  

Ms ABIGAIL BOYD (20:43): I contribute to debate on the motion as The Greens animal welfare spokesperson and note that my colleagues will also make contributions as spokespeople for their portfolios. Anyone reading the motion would think we were talking about some sort of underground, Frankenstein-esque operation. To the contrary, the blossoming lab-grown meat industry is a genuinely exciting opportunity for New South Wales for a number of environmental, animal welfare and economic reasons. I note the contribution of the Hon. Tara Moriarty and was pleased that the Government is funding research into cell-based agriculture opportunities. Rather than being scared by the idea of lab-grown meat, I encourage the Hon. Robert Borsak, the mover of the motion, to embrace new technologies and ways of doing things.

As is well known, agriculture is responsible for around 13 per cent of Australia's greenhouse emissions, the majority being methane from livestock. Technologies to help reduce those emissions are still relatively limited, especially in grazing systems. However, the production of lab-grown meat requires a fraction of the land and water of conventional meat production, is far less polluting and is estimated to generate up to 96 per cent lower greenhouse emissions. The animal welfare abuses within industrialised agriculture systems are also well known, with animal welfare far too often left by the wayside as the profit motive dominates agricultural processes and systems. Of the 70 billion animals farmed annually around the world, approximately 50 billion are factory farmed, enduring short and miserable lives, crammed together and unable to engage in their natural behaviours. Why would we continue doing that if we have viable alternatives?

We cannot keep destroying the forests, using up every spare piece of land and treating animals less and less humanely just to feed our ever-growing population, a task that will be made even more difficult as climate change ravages the landscape. At some point, we will need to accept that broadscale industrialised agriculture is simply not sustainable. We need to seek other options, and the more options we have, the better off we will be. On an individual level, that is the reason so many of us with an environmental conscience and who care about animal welfare have eliminated or markedly reduced our meat consumption. But individual action is not, and can never be, sufficient to tackle systemic problems like this one. It is not something business can be left to lead either. We know from experience that well-established industries with money to lose in a transition like this will kick and scream, lie and obfuscate, and do whatever they can in order to survive as long as possible, regardless of the impacts on people and planet. So it falls on responsible government to shepherd us out of old, unsustainable and unethical industries into new, sustainable and ethical ones.

That is where lab-grown meat, plant-based meat substitutes and other innovative solutions come in. The alternative meat market is in its infancy, but it is already showing great promise. That is not to say that it should escape all regulation. I agree with the mover of the motion that accurate information should be placed on all products but, as with everything else, we need to listen to the science and not to big ag's propaganda when it comes to assessing any risks and regulating accordingly. Thankfully, that task will primarily fall to the Federal Government, as other speakers have commented.

Far from the misinformation promulgated in the motion, the weight of evidence at this early stage indicates that lab-grown meat is far healthier as a food source than processed animal meat. With lab-grown meat, we can avoid the effect of growth hormones, reduce antibiotic resistance, minimise bacterial contamination and choose lower fat options. What is more, lab-grown meat promises to eventually be much cheaper than conventional meat. We did not cry when the fax machine was made obsolete by email. We should not cry now as coal-fired power gets replaced with renewables. And we certainly should not start crying at the idea that billions fewer animals will be slaughtered because we found a smarter way to feed ourselves.

Read the full debate in Hansard here.

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