In a recent New York Times opinion piece, Ezra Klein proposed a moonshot investment in “Meatless Meat.” Klein makes a cogent, fact-filled case for the government to spend a few billion dollars on public research to increase the commercial viability of plant-based and cellular (i.e., lab-created) meats.
Klein’s objective is straightforward: reduce the climate footprint of meat and dairy, reduce the suffering of animals confined in feed lots and barns, and prevent the next pandemic. He proposes use public funding to accelerate research and development—much like Tesla’s boost to e-cars or the Department of Defense’s boost to the internet—as the best way to move production and demand of alternative meats quickly and effectively.
The stakes are high. And Klein is not wrong. Cheap meat is a problem. The much-loved (recently mythologized) hamburger is brought to us by an extractive industry whose recent record profits come on the backs of disadvantaged workers, animal cruelty, mountains of manure, and a whole lot of public subsidies. But even the quickest, most superficial look at today’s U.S. food system shows the solution to the mess is not public subsidies for petri-dish proteins that will inevitably be produced (or at least funded) by a handful of large, vertically integrated food and feed companies.