An opportunity to redefine factory farming

If you think about it, the creation of cell-cultured meat could be described as factory farming

Roy Graber Headshot
Roy Graber

If you are involved in agriculture, you probably dislike the phrase “factory farming.”

One of the things that makes those two words so cringy when you hear them used together is that it really doesn’t mean anything. It’s just a derogatory label that tries to, and to some degree succeeds to, lead the everyday food consumer to think that larger-scale animal agriculture is a bad thing.

Yet, when you think about it, if you were to ask someone what factory farming was, the odds are pretty good that the answer would be something like, “well, it’s factory farming.” It’s just something that people hear and repeat without exactly being able to define it.

Unfortunately, that ambiguous phrase has become so engrained in the American vernacular that it probably won’t go away.

Isn’t cultured meat from a factory?

Maybe we can get people to think about what that phrase should really mean. I got that idea when listening to a recent Discover Ag podcast, which is ordinarily hosted by Tara Vander Dussen and Natalie Kovarik.

Vander Dussen and her husband, Daniel, are active in the dairy industry, while Kovarik and her family is active in the beef industry. Yet the two women are great advocates for the greater animal agriculture industry. In fact, it was during the 2022 Animal Agriculture Alliance Stakeholders Summit when I met them and discussed, among other things, my experience with vegan cheesecake.

During the particular podcast I referenced, Daniel stepped in for Kovarik, as the husband and wife duo talked about a range of animal agriculture topics, and the approval of cell-cultured chicken in the United States was among what was discussed.

Tara made a good point in the process. She said of the facilities where the cultured meat is produced: “This is literally a factory farm. People love to bash factory farming and this is literally a factory making your meat.”

And when you listen further when she reads about how cultured meat is formed, it certainly sounds very much more factory-produced than any meat from a slaughtered farm animal would be.

“These are grown in the factory,” she added. “It’s so crazy to me to think that people have a problem with things like GMOs, vaccines, antibiotics. All of those things are big, hot topics in our food system right now. But lab-grown meat is O.K.?”

If you listen to Daniel’s comments, you can clearly tell he doesn’t think it sounds healthy for humans or the environment, and I don’t disagree with a thing he said.

Creating a conversation

In my opinion, this could be an opportunity for animal agriculture to make a change.

Tara is right. Cultured meat sounds much more like factory farming than what people normally use that phrase to describe.

So when you hear someone say, “factory farming,” you can jump in on the conversation and ask what they mean by that. When they offer their definition, you could say, oh, well cultured meat could also be defined as factory farming, and explain why that is the case.

Even if doing so doesn’t officially change the definition, adding another definition can create conversations. It can get people to thinking, and give you an opportunity to talk about the good in meat from farm-raised animals and the reasons to be concerned with meat created through cell cultivation.

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