Could lab-grown meat save the human race?

To many, the concept of manufacturing meat seems like a new phenomenon, with advances in genetic science, cloning, and general biology, however, it has a rather in-depth history. The first landmark experiment leading to the development of in vitro meat is the 1912 experiment performed by Alexis Carrel. In these experimentations, Carrel took tissue culture from an embryonic chicken heart, and used a mechanism of structuring and providing this culture with the necessary nutrients for continued growth, thus aiming to prove that living cells could survive indefinitely under the right conditions. Whilst the results of his experiments were anomalous and were never successfully repeated, it was the first such use of what the modern, cultured meat, science would use.

Moving forward towards the first citing of the theoretical possibilities of utilising such technology for the creation of meat for human consumption, one rather famous Conservative Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, wrote that “The great mass of human beings, absorbed in the toils, cares and activities of life, are only dimly conscious of the pace at which mankind has begun to travel”. This is the first sentence of Churchill’s 1931 article “Fifty Years Hence”, which is an extraordinary read for those who have not yet considered it. In the piece, Churchill discusses his predictions and prophecies for the next fifty years, and although Churchill is perhaps a tad optimistic at times, it provides an accurate prediction overall for developments such as nuclear science and cloning. In one paragraph, Churchill writes that “We shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing, by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium”, and thus the theory of in vitro meat was set in motion.

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A time travelling Winston Churchill wielding a lab-grown chicken drumstick in the year 2067

Not quite fifty years hence, but a mere eighty-two years later, the first public trial of lab-grown meat for human consumption was broadcast to the world. In 2013, a group of three food critics tested, on live television, the quality of lab-grown meat. At that time the cost of one lab-grown burger was around £250,000. However, since then, the costs have plummeted. Peter Verstrate, the head of Mosa Meats, a company which is planning to mass commercialise cultured meats, stated in April 2015, that he was confident that the commercialisation of lab-grown meat will happen within five years – and he is likely to be correct. Since the 2013 test, the cost of one burger has fallen from that £250,000 price tag to a mere ~£8 per piece.

With an ever-growing demand for meat from developing countries, and the mounting environmental concerns around the practice of producing and sustaining the current agricultural industry, lab-grown meat is a welcome and positive story that can, and no doubt will revolutionise the food industry. The cost of meat could be at an all-time low as the technology develops, including a wide variety of beneficial health implications.

Now let us focus on the science behind the meat. In current procedures, scientists biopsy stem or satellite muscle cells from a group of general muscle cells taken from the animal of choice. The cells taken are responsible for repairing the muscle in the donor animal. These cells are then immersed in a nutrient rich medium which encourages their potentially indefinite growth. To put this growth into context, there can be a few hundred muscle repair cells from just a few strands of muscle tissue, estimates from scientists have suggested that from as few as 10 of these cells we could, under the maximum ideal conditions, produce 50 tonnes of meat.

Next comes an area which scientists have not yet fully mastered; lab-grown cells, much like naturally grown cells, need exercise and general wear and tear to form the same texture as “actual” meat. Another problem for scientists comes in the structuring of the growth of cells. So far, it has proven difficult to structure the lab-grown cells in such a way that they produce any three-dimensional form of structure. Mainly the procedure creates a thin layer of grown cells, which can be removed and turned into what is essentially a minced meat type substance. To produce a fully formed chicken breast or steak, it would require far more development, but nothing is beyond reach. The main issue is that this common procedure produces only muscle, there is yet to be a method developed to simultaneously grow different cell types (blood, fat, muscle etc) in a natural pattern. However, once these, and a few other obstacles have been overcome, lab-grown meat production could create meat which has an identical likeness to naturally grown meat.

The latest Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) figures suggest that the agricultural industry produces around 14.5% of all total greenhouse gas emissions, greater than the entire release of emissions from global transport. Whilst the FAO has stated that emissions from the agricultural industry can, with the right implementation of waste reductions and energy saving techniques, be reduced by a third, it does not make an overall difference due to the increasing demand for meat and animal products. By the year 2050, it is estimated that the demand for meat and milk will increase 70%. Duncan Williamson, the corporate stewardship manager at WWF-UK, has stated that “Around 30% of global biodiversity loss can be attributed to livestock production”. According to the WWF “The net loss in global forest area during the 1990s was about 94 million ha (equivalent to 2.4% of total forests). It is estimated that in the 1990s, almost 70% of deforested areas were converted to agricultural land.” Regardless of one’s political position, it is difficult to comprehend the vast scale of the damage caused by the meat industry, and the potential benefits that producing meat in factories could have. An independent study from the Environmental Sciences & Technology Journal has shown that lab-grown beef takes 55% less energy to produce, 4% of the total greenhouse emissions and 1% of the total land use. One of the major criticisms however of the practice, is that since the levels of energy consumption are so high, and estimates as to how much energy will be needed for a level of in vitro meat production on a commercial scale are not known, it is said that the solution could be equally as polluting as the current meat industry, although indirectly. However, with advances in power generation, such as the emergence of cleaner fossil fuel power generation technology, nuclear and renewable energy sources, high energy consumption does not necessarily indicate that the process is not “green”, only that our main method of producing electricity is not.

A problem that will cause us havoc over the next few decades is the growing rate of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in bacteria. Without effective antibiotics, medical procedures will become ever more difficult. The world health organisation has stated that standard procedures such as “organ transplantation, cancer chemotherapy, diabetes management and major surgery (for example, caesarean sections or hip replacements) become very high risk”. In addition to common diseases such as pneumonia and chest infections could become extremely lethal once again. Such an eventuality would increase the rates of mortality, increase the average length of stay within a hospital, and dramatically and adversely impact the economic standing within nations. For us to prevent widespread antimicrobial resistance a major step must be taken to do two things: reduce the rate at which microbes are becoming resistant, and two, develop new strains of antibiotics. The latter is not relevant within this article, however, the prior is. The intensive farming industry is one of the largest causes of AMR that we’ve identified. In essence, antibiotics are being used within intensive battery farming to ensure that animals are able to survive in squalid conditions, this is used to reduce the price of meat, and to also increase the amount produced. According to a report produced by an independent body chaired by the British economist Jim O’Neill, farming within the US uses up to 70% of antibiotics which are critical to medical use in human beings. These antibiotics are used in healthy animals to both speed up growth, and as a preventative measure to stop disease spreading due to the unhealthy conditions the animals are kept in, as a result, the levels of AMR is becoming ever more prevalent – especially within countries that have massively developed economically over the past 20 or so years. Due to a lack of regulation, antibiotics which are kept as a last resort to save the lives of human in case of widespread AMR are being used within the farming industry, because of this, bacteria is ever more likely to adapt to become resistant. In a recent study from China has shown that some strains of Escherichia coli have developed resistance to colistin, a form of polymyxin antibiotic. This antibiotic is a last resort antibiotic, one of the last effective forms in our antibiotics armoury.

The waste runoff from intensive farming is another major concern when antibiotics are used in farming, there is very little that can be done to prevent these antibiotics escaping into the environment. Studies of sludge at wastewater facilities have shown a growing level of resistance across the spectrum. It is evident that with in vitro meat that there is no necessity to facilitate the rearing of animals, and thus there needs not be any form of antibiotic use over the lifespan of livestock. The effect this has on AMR will be substantial. Potentially influencing the lives of millions over the next few decades. If there is a single overwhelming argument in favour of the development and use of commercially viable in vitro meat production, this is it. Opponents to cultured meat state that despite growing levels of AMR in intensively farmed animals, there are precautions which can be taken to ensure general levels of AMR are reduced, namely by regulating and reducing the use of antibiotics within the farming industry, however to do this, the agricultural industry must raise the standards of care for animals, thus increasing the price of meat. This is another area where in vitro meat could one day beat normally reared meat.

The cost of developing a lab-grown burger in 2013 was £250,000, by 2015 that price had dropped to £8. With the technology still in development, it would not be too foolish a projection to suggest that this price will drop further. The cost of meat grown in a lab will almost certainly reach a price that is cheaper than naturally raised meat, with the quality and health implications being better by all measurements. With less of an environmental footprint, a reduced effect on the development of antimicrobial resistance, and with in vitro meat being potentially lower-priced than battery farmed meat, the arguments for its consumption are great. Without even touching upon the morality of consuming another creature in being, the emergence of lab-grown meat is a positive development for society.

 

Why the House of Lords should remain unelected, and what reforms should be made to strengthen democracy.

The House of Lords is an institution within the British system of governance which today serves as the upper chamber in our bicameral political system. Its role is to act as a check and balance to the power of the House of Commons. It’s certainly not perfect, but it has developed and evolved since the very first “model parliament” of 1295.

Recently we have seen more calls than ever to see a proportion of the House of Lords become an elected body. This was last attempted via the House of Lords Reform Bill 2012. This bill was introduced by Nick Clegg to Parliament whilst he was Deputy Prime Minister – showing the scope of political power behind electoral reform of the House of Lords. Of course, this bill was quashed following opposition from within the Conservative Party, and rightfully so. Attempts to reform the House of Lords, to turn it into an elected body, must be opposed.

So why not an elected upper chamber? Well, primarily, the unelected nature allows the Lords to contain peers which otherwise would not be politically active and hence ensures that relevant expertise is incorporated directly into the law-making system of the United Kingdom. For example, peers like Lord Colwyn, who was a Member of the Royal College of Surgeons of England and Royal Society of Medicine. Knowledge such as this is crucial in a parliamentary system which relies on reason to rule, rather than charisma and the ability to act as a politician.

Additionally, the tenure created in an unelected body means Lords do what is right, rather than appeal to populism in order to get elected. Sometimes what is right isn’t popular. It would be popular to reduce all taxes and increase spending by many within the electorate, but, obviously, such an action is not feasible by any means, and thus such an action could never be sanctioned by a member of the House of Lords with levels of intelligence that respective members should all have. They cannot fear campaigning for election; they are accountable to the nation and not the subsection of society that they would purport to represent.

The House of Lord’s appointed nature also means that scrutiny is properly administered regardless of the government in power. A politicised, elected, House of Lords could circumvent scrutiny from the lower chamber simply due to ideological concurrence with the party in power in the Commons, thus removing any real checks and balances. If we look at today’s political system and assume that a House of Lords would be elected in between the General Elections, then it would follow that there’s nothing to stop the Conservatives (for example) in this country being both the majority within the Commons and the Lords. Such an event would cause a severe conflict of interest relating to the aims of both chambers. Proper scrutiny would not be possible when party whips could easily threaten any Peers which act outside the party line with deselection or lowered campaign funds when it comes to the re-election due to their rebellious nature. If we turn our attention to the current state of affairs within the Labour Party, there have been various allegations of a potential mass deselection of Parliamentarians who aren’t loyal to Jeremy Corbyn – if true, such a situation could easily occur within an elected House of Lords.

A final reason why an elected chamber is unnecessary is because of the limitations already in place within the current system of governance. The Parliament Act of 1911 removed the ability for the House of Lords to use its suspensory veto and confirmed the supremacy of the elected House of Commons in doing so, meaning the House of Lords could only suspend and amend bills for a 2 year period. Additionally, it meant that all Money Bills presented to the Lords must be passed within 1 month, or they would be presented to Her Majesty regardless of the consent of the Lords. Subsequent amendments to the Parliament act in 1949 saw the Lords can only delay a bill for up to 1 year. The Salisbury Convention also means that no policy outlined in a party’s manifesto can directly be rejected by the Lords, and thus the democratic nature of the Commons is protected, and the primacy of the elected chamber remains integral and intact.

That being said, the House of Lords could be reformed to increase its effectiveness further; the removal of political parties would ensure that the central party system has little control over the outcome of the votes within the Lords. This reform would work to create a more cooperative and expertise based House of Lords, and less of a politicised unelected chamber. Secondly, the removal of the ability for the Prime Minister to advise the Queen on which members of society would be pertinent for appointments. This would reduce the nepotism and patronage that the Prime Minister can utilise for political gain, it also means that the appointment of peers isn’t entirely political in the Minister appointing those whom she or he knows would be sympathetic to the causes which they would pursue. Following on from this point, it’s necessary for the number of peers within the House of Lords to be capped; equal in number to the House of Commons could be a target to prevent the flooding of the House of Lords, in addition to the fact that the Upper Chamber can seat fewer than half of all Peers regardless. The size and cost of government would be reduced, whilst additionally not affecting the effectiveness of the revising chamber.

Currently, a proportion of the House of Lords is appointed by the House of Lords Appointments Commission. Established in the year 2000, this is an independent committee which seeks out to appoint people to the lords who are independently minded and who have the relevant expertise to work within the House of Lords. A reform to allow this body to advise all appointments to the Queen would be in the interests of democracy rather than to have the Prime Minister give advice the Queen on the majority of occasions. The strengthening of this body to allow those that are of great value to the nation, and with specialist knowledge, to become Peers is the way forward to best scrutinise parliament.

Lords existing for entirely religious reasons is contrary to the purpose of the Lords. The Lords, by its very existence, should exist as a revisionary body, scrutinising proposals which come from the House of Commons to safeguard the constitutional legitimacy and effectiveness of any bills which are set to be passed. The selection of a person “by God” does not a qualified Lord make and, in its current format, it should follow those Lords who profess to represent those of the religion should equally have a place within the Commons based on religious beliefs, or that these people need no representation in the Lords either. Thinking from an independent standpoint, it would seem ludicrous to have members of the House of Lords in existence solely to represent the views of atheists, so why is it at all necessary for there to be a subsection within the Lords to protect a certain religious grouping?

Finally, the House of Lords Reform Act of 2014 allowed members of the House of Lords to formally resign or retire, something which previously was constitutionally impossible. Following on from this innovation, the setting of a retirement age for Lords to ensure the quality of scrutiny and standards within the Lords would help make the House of Lords a more effective body within the British political system. Ultimately, the revisions outlined within this article are reforms which would strengthen the ability of the Lords to revise and scrutinise the Commons, as well as fortify the UK’s democracy.

Coming out as a Tory: Why I left UKIP.

Recently I made one of the hardest decisions of my life. You might think that for an 18-year-old like me it would be getting engaged to my fiance, deciding to take the leap and move out, or finally choosing which course and University I’m going to; but no.

Since 2010, I’ve been an active member of UKIP. I can remember at the ripe old age of 12 leafleting to help for their general election campaign with my grandfather. Over my time in the party I met some of the most brilliant people and found some of my best friends; it’s certainly no lie that if it weren’t for UKIP, I would never have found my partner, nor ever had the opportunity to see what it’s like to campaign with very little equipment, and with a bipolar public image that could get you both hugged and spat on in the space of 5 minutes.

Of course, that was 6 years ago now, and recently I made the decision to join the Tories. This is the first time I’ve announced to many that I’ve left UKIP, although, on the plus side, I’m sure many of my friends in the Conservative party will be happy to hear this. Telling a few of my close friends that I’d left reminded me of what it felt like to come out the closet!

So to explain my motives as to why I made this change, it’s best to state it this way: I’m a libertarian. I believe most strongly in the freedoms of the individual to have control over their social and economic prospects. I believe that I’m now best placed to achieve this within the Conservative Party. We’re the only party locally that has the ability to make a difference on the councils, the only party that can make substantial change in order to reclaim the freedom our forefathers have fought for, and the only party that, in the past, has stood up and fought so vehemently to protect both economic and social liberties.

It was the Conservative party to first have a sitting female MP, to first have a female Prime Minister. It was the Conservative party that legalised Gay marriage and allowed the Churches to finally decide their own religious stances, not be dictated to by the state. It was our party that brought into legislation a referendum on our membership of the European Union, and I hope it will be our party to finally take us out of it.

To quote Margaret Thatcher: “You may have to fight a battle more than once to win it”, and our fight for liberty and freedom is one which will always occur. I hope that all those in UKIP respect my decision, as I have made sure to make this piece positive as to what I can achieve within the Conservative party, rather than the bountiful reasons as to why I have left UKIP. And I certainly hope that my new family will become as close to me as my last once was!

Find me on Twitter: @_JamieHollywood