Pet food can damage the planet. One company hopes to change that by growing meat in the laboratory.
One study estimated that, in the United States, meat fed to cats and dogs causes 25%-30% as much environmental damage as the meat produced for people3. That includes land, water and fossil fuel use and chemical pollution.
People can help the climate by switching to plant-based diets. One in five Brits are already buying less meat4. How can concerned pet guardians balance their pet’s wellbeing with wanting to protect our environment?
Bond Pets has a solution
Lab-grown meat is made by taking a few real muscle cells from an animal, such as a cow, and multiplying them in the laboratory until there are enough to eat. It’s hoped that lab-grown meat could provide a cruelty-free and climate-friendly alternative to animal meat6.
Can lab-grown meat be cheap enough?
One of the biggest challenges that Bond Pets faces is finding a cost-effective method to grow meat. Cost is an issue shared by companies developing lab-grown meat for humans, but there has been progress in recent years.
In 2012, I was part of the team at Maastricht University that went on to create the world’s first lab-grown beef burger. The cost was £215,0007. In 2017, Memphis Meats claims to have got the cost of lab-grown chicken down to under £10,000 per kg. That’s around £1,100 for a quarter-pounder burger8. Meanwhile, Hampton Creek plans to sell lab-grown meat in supermarkets by 2018 at an unspecified price9.
Kelleman tells me that Bond Pets is trying to find the best way to produce high quality products at a commercial scale. Bond Pets is exploring partnerships with existing companies as well as developing its own technologies.
Spreading the word
Kelleman says that communicating the benefits of lab-grown meat is another challenge. While he doesn’t have any data about how many pet owners would be interested in lab-grown meat, he claims that initial reactions from pet stores and social media have been “very positive”.
A survey in February this year showed that one third of US respondents would “definitely or probably” eat lab-grown meat10. Kelleman is confident that this will translate to pet food.
Kelleman believes that being transparent about the process is key to convincing customers. He tells me, “…while it sounds strange, there isn’t anything scary about growing and harvesting protein in a fermenter vs. a farm. Both can yield natural, high quality foods.”
A promising approach
I think that lab-grown meat could be a good solution for animal lovers. It would reduce the need to kill some animals to feed others and also help the environment.
However, we shouldn’t ignore the other damage that owning pets can do. Cats kill billions of birds and small animals in the US each year11. Many dogs suffer cruelty and neglect in the so-called puppy mills that supply many pet stores12. These problems might get worse if eco-friendly pet food encourages more people to buy pets.
Perhaps one day it’ll be seen as wrong to keep animals captive. After all, many animals experience complex emotions and strong family bonds13. In the meantime, however, it makes sense to me to reduce their impact as much as possible.
What do you think? Would you feed lab-grown meat to cats or dogs?
- Cats are obligate carnivores. Cornell University (2002), Feeding Your Cat
- V-Dog, Bramble the Collie’s Secrets to Living to Age 25
- Okin (2017), Environmental impacts of food consumption by dogs and cats
- The Vegan Society (2017), Vegan lifestyle winning hearts and minds across Britain, survey shows
- Purdy (2017), A pet-food company wants to make cell-cultured meats for dogs and cats
- Tuomisto (2011), Environmental Impacts of Cultured Meat Production
- Ghosh (2013), World’s first lab-grown burger to be cooked and eaten
- $6000 per lb, according to Cosgrove (2017), Scale is the Real Barrier for Lab-Grown Meat
- Garfield (2017), Hampton Creek says it’s making lab-grown meat that will be in supermarkets by 2018
- Wilks and Phillips (2017), Attitudes to in vitro meat: A survey of potential consumers in the United States
- Morelle (2013), Cats killing billions of animals in the US
- PETA, Puppy Mills
- McRobbie (2017), Should we stop keeping pets? Why more and more ethicists say yes