Open your faith to the new meat

ALL religious authorities should without hesitation give their full backing to eco-friendly lab meat as a sustainable replacement for traditional meats which involve breeding and slaughter of livestock animals.

Lab meat is hardly a topic in the Klang Valley, as our minds are crammed with thoughts on when the next water cut will be announced.

And it was rather unfortunate that in the finance minister’s November budget speech, environmental conservation was mentioned only in paragraphs 224-227 of the 248-paragraph statement.

Coming at the tail end, it failed to make an impact although roughly RM500 million would be spent on measures to conserve the environment.

Of course, the budget speech focused chiefly on reviving our national economy, which as been pulverised by Covid-19.

But as Nobel laureate Wangari Mut Maathai has pointed out: “The environment and economy are really two sides of the same coin. If we cannot sustain the environment, we cannot sustain ourselves.”

Covid-19 was the result of massive forest devastation and wildlife capture that brought the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 into a marketplace, where it jumped onto humans and spread worldwide at lightning speed. Coronaviruses can also jump from wildlife to livestock.

In November 2020, Denmark slaughtered its population of 15 million farm minks because SARS-CoV-2 had infected the minks and jumped to humans. The mink is a lovable animal bred for its fur.

The felling of more jungles has intensified contact between wildlife, humans, and livestock. No scientist will guarantee you that another deadly virus will not jump from wildlife to infect chickens, ducks, pigs, cows, lambs, and goats.

What they can guarantee you is that should livestock get infected, the killer virus will jump to humans, devastating lives and the economy further.

German government scientists at the Federal Research Institute for Animal Health recently inoculated six cows with SARS-CoV-2 in a test. Two animals, including a calf, tested positive after nose swabs a couple of days later.

Livestock’s connection to viral diseases has been well established, but what is its connection to climate change?

The world climate is getting hostile because we are vastly increasing the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and livestock rearing is one of the major contributors.

Meat production accounts for 30% of all greenhouse gas emissions, with half of it coming from cattle, especially beef cows as they belch out methane as a by-product of their digestive processes.

Methane possesses a heat trapping ability that is about 90 times more climate damaging than carbon dioxide, and all the farm cows in the world together produce 600 billion litres of methane every day.

Livestock also accounts for 65% of total human-related nitrous oxide emissions. Nitrous oxide is even deadlier than methane as it is 300 times more destructive than carbon dioxide. As for CO2, global livestock is responsible for seven gigatonnes of this gas emission per year.

A Klang Valley resident intermittently suffering water cuts should feel disturbed to know that one-third of the global fresh water supply is consumed by livestock.

You need 6,000 litres of water to produce 1kg of pork, 10,000 litres for 1kg of lamb, and 15,000 litres for 1kg of beef. Globally, 200 trillion litres of water are consumed by farm animals annually.

Malaysians are the 10th biggest meat-eaters (in terms of per capita) in the world, making it imperative that we find alternative protein sources.

Seven years ago, a European food scientist introduced the world’s first lab meat that cost US$325,000 to produce. But it wasn’t the price that stirred interest; it was the technology.

Stem cells from the muscle of an animal were placed in a culture medium that fed the cells, allowing them to grow new muscle tissue.

The cost of production has since fallen so dramatically that last month Singapore became the first country to approve the sale of lab meat in a restaurant.

This puts Singapore on top of the map in the global hunt for solutions to reduce the ecological damage of livestock rearing and consumption.

Last October, theSun reported Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin as saying that we should not go back to the old ways in the face of Covid-19 and climate change.

“Just as we need a vaccine for Covid-19, climate change requires urgent solutions that cannot wait for the next generation.”

Lab meat, or cell-cultured meat, saves the climate and the animals as well. Over 50 billion farm animals are killed for meat every year, and those in factory farms are bred in horrendously cruel living conditions to maximise production at the lowest cost.

Just as the crammed housing for our foreign construction and factory workers makes these hostels ideal grounds for the spread of

Covid-19, so are high density factory farms a likely future pandemic breeding ground.

Instead of hesitating, our religious authorities must become forces of climate salvation.

The push for non-vegetarians to dine on cell-cultured meat should come from the religious leadership because Malaysians carve their lifestyles in accordance with the sermons they hear.

Will the livestock industry collapse with cell-cultured meat? Not if preachers encourage conversion of livestock into labstock, with bioreactors displacing farm animals.

A bioreactor is an industrial plant roughly the size of a single-storey terrace house and is used for growing animal cells. Malaysian farmers can be trained to handle bioreactors instead of breeding cows, pigs, and chicken.

Farm animals have emotions that are similar to humans and they suffer mental anguish when led to the slaughterhouse.

If you treasure compassion, you will agree with the ancient sage Chuang Tzu who wrote: “Yes, in the age of perfect virtue, people lived in common with birds and beasts, and were on terms of equality with all creatures, as forming one family.” (The Writings of Chuang Tzu, Bk9, Pt2, Sect2 v. 2).

Here is the advice of Buddha in Nirvana Sutra (Ch4: The Nature of the Tathāgata, Pt1): “Any meat that is clearly present should not be eaten; to eat it constitutes a transgression. I am now proclaiming this rule eliminating meat eating. To eat meat is to cut out the seeds of your own great compassion.” He was referring to livestock meat.

Towards end-December, the World Health Organisation issued a toughly worded statement that warned: “The pandemic has highlighted the intimate links between the health of humans, animals and the planet. Any efforts to improve human health are doomed unless they address the critical interface between humans and animals, and the existential threat of climate change that is making our earth less habitable. This is a wake-up call, and all religious leaders must now sound the alarm.”

The writer champions interfaith harmony. Comments:

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