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Nothing wrong with some healthy skepticism

Progressive Cattle Editor David Cooper Published on 24 January 2020

In an era of 24-hour news cycles, constant digital streaming and sensory overload, we don’t use our minds very well. The brain is the most complex and underappreciated organ in the body. Perhaps we should exercise ours with a balanced set of tools – including among them a healthy dose of skepticism.

We as living beings have two doxastic attitudes – belief or disbelief – used constantly as we weigh messages claiming to be factual, philosophical or imagined. Your mind uses these two attitudes with varying levels of intensity each day.

But there’s a third possible doxastic attitude, called suspended judgment, that’s quite useful as we travel toward what William Blake called “the palace of wisdom.” As society keeps barking its claims of alternative facts and “fake news,” it’s probably wise for us to use a little more suspended judgment in our regular routines.

Nowhere is this more evident than with the accelerating fever for alternative protein, especially cell-cultured methods of protein creation. The push is attracting attention, investment and a tide of almost cultish belief in the impossible. Healthy skepticism would again be warranted.

Alison Van Eenennaam, extension specialist at University of California – Davis, offered clear insight to this during a presentation at the recent Range Beef Cow Symposium. Highlighting several companies and investors promoting fake meat products in U.S. markets, she focused in on commercial claims made in their investor literature for cell-cultured proteins.

Using long-criticized and discredited data released by the Food and Animal Organization of the U.N., companies such as New Harvest, global consulting firm AT Kearney and Future Meat Technologies of Israel are pushing such staggering claims as the following:

  • By the year 2030, 70% of all U.S. beef will come from “modern production methods” that include fermentation farms and alternative protein production methods; by 2019, the prediction was “10 percent of all meat” to have originated from those methods.

  • Also by the year 2030, demand for cow products will cut herds in half and demand for products reduce 70% – with other animal products following suit. (RethinkX)

  • Other predictions claim that 35% of all meat will be cell-cultured by 2040 and 25% to be vegan-meat product.

Suspended belief for these kinds of over-the-moon predictions doesn’t seem to be stopping others from opening their wallets. Investments for these products have reaped $900 million for vegan meat products and $50 million for cultured meats, Van Eenennaam shared.

These apostles of doom can spend their lucre where they want. But it’s a Sisyphean task to claim their investments spell impending decline of traditional ranching and farming – in 10 years, no less.

Skepticism goes both ways, of course. Those criticizing the sustainability of traditional ag say we have some facts ourselves that warrant healthy skepticism.

Fair enough. But if Earth has for millennia used ruminants to graze forage and process it into healthy protein, it’s reasonable to believe it will continue for generations. Either way, it will be an interesting 10 or 20 years to see how the predictions hold up. end mark

David Cooper
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