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WHAT IS MEAT?: The definition could have a significant impact on the future of our food, our health and the planet

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It may seem like cheating to consciously redefine meat in order to accommodate the lab-grown version. In fact, history is full of this type of conceptual revision.

ANDY LAMEY: How we ultimately define the word “meat” — could have a significant impact on the future of our food supply, our health and the health of the planet. It’s no secret by now that the case against meat keeps getting stronger. The social, environmental and ethical costs of industrial agriculture — exacerbated by a pandemic being traced back to a live animal market, and a vulnerable meat processing industry — have become too obvious and damaging to ignore..

For centuries, the definition of meat was obvious: the edible flesh of an animal. That changed in 2013, when the Dutch scientist Mark Post unveiled the first in vitro hamburger. By bathing animal stem cells with growth serum, Dr. Post and his colleagues were able to grow a hamburger in their lab. Their burger had essentially the same composition as a normal hamburger but a different origin… His team is one of several groups seeking to commercialize in vitro meat and bring it to market.

This prospect has triggered opposition from the agriculture industry, which in the past three years has petitioned lawmakers in some 25 states to introduce bills to prevent alternative meat products being labeled meat. The timing of these bills is not coincidental. Lawmakers know that plant-based meat substitutes have become big business: In 2019, plant-based meat sales totaled $939 million, an 18 percent increase over the year before, while sales for all plant-based foods reached $5 billion. The real reason for the meat industry’s interest in grocery labels is that it is threatened by this surge in popularity…

A helpful distinction is drawn by Jeff Sebo, the director of the animal studies program at New York University, between a food item’s origin, substance and function… A new framework that would allow us to classify lab grown meat as just “meat” would involve rethinking those principles… It may seem like cheating to consciously redefine meat in order to accommodate the lab-grown version. In fact, history is full of this type of conceptual revision. Someone asking 100 years ago what a car is could be forgiven for offering a definition that mentioned an internal combustion engine or a human driver. In the age of self-driving and electric cars we recognize that these are no longer defining features of cars…

Two considerations support trimming the conceptual fat from our understanding of meat in this way. The first is intuitive. Imagine you are served two pieces of steak, one from a slaughterhouse the other from a lab, which have an identical taste and nutritional effect. Food is by definition what we eat, and if our experience of eating the two morsels is the same surely they warrant a common concept. The second is linguistic. We use the word “milk” to classify fluids from cows, coconuts and nursing mothers, among other sources. If milk can have more than one origin, why not meat? SOURCE…

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