Science

New study highlights the environmental benefits of lab-grown meat

Lab-grown meat offers significant environmental benefits over conventional meat farming techniques, according to a new study
Lab-grown meat offers significant environmental benefits over conventional meat farming techniques, according to a new study
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Lab-grown meat offers significant environmental benefits over conventional meat farming techniques, according to a new study
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Lab-grown meat offers significant environmental benefits over conventional meat farming techniques, according to a new study

As a meat lover, it's been hard not to notice the rise in the price of meat at my local supermarket over the last few years. But it's not just the cost to consumers that is a major concern; it's the major role that livestock production plays on climate change. While cultured meat, also known as in vitro meat, lab-grown meat and even Frankenmeat, might not sound that appetizing to many meat lovers, a new study carried out by scientists from Oxford University and the University of Amsterdam says that cultured meat would provide substantial environmental benefits.

Although cultured meat, which is grown using tissue engineering techniques, has yet to be produced for public consumption, there are several research projects growing it experimentally, with some scientists claiming the technology is ready for commercial use. The United Nations "Livestock's Longshadow" report released in 2006 that followed a Life Cycle Analysis approach estimated that livestock are responsible for 18 percent of all greenhouse emissions, which is more than transport. Such environmental impact, coupled with the constantly rising costs of conventional meat farming techniques and the need to feed an ever-increasing world population has prompted many to see cultured meat for human consumption as inevitable.

While convincing consumers to add cultured meat to their diet might be a hard sell, the Oxford University/University of Amsterdam study indicates the technology would provide substantial environmental benefits. The team based their calculations on a process being developed by study co-author Dr Joost Teixeira de Mattos at the University of Amsterdam that uses Cynobacteria hydrolysate as a nutrient and energy source for growing muscle cells. They estimated what the various costs would be for producing 1,000 kg (2.205 lb) of cultured meat using a scaled-up version of the technology.

Compared to the costs associated with conventionally produced meat, the study estimated that cultured meat would generate 78-96 percent lower greenhouse gas emissions, would require 7-45 percent less energy to produce, would result in 99 percent lower land use, and 82-96 percent lower water use, depending on the type of meat being produced. While cultured meat would still require more energy to produce than poultry, it would only need a fraction of the land area and water needed to rear chickens.

"We are not saying that we could, or would necessarily want to, replace conventional meat with its cultured counterpart right now," said Hanna Tuomisto of Oxford University's Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, who led the research, "however, our research shows that cultured meat could be part of the solution to feeding the world's growing population and at the same time cutting emissions and saving both energy and water. Simply put, cultured meat is, potentially, a much more efficient and environmentally-friendly way of putting meat on the table."

But the team says the benefits could be even greater as their calculations don't take into account additional savings from things such as the lower energy costs of transport and refrigeration of cultured meat. They also suggest that land freed up from farming could be reforested or used for other carbon sequestration purposes to lower the carbon footprint of cultured meat even further.

Those turned off by the prospect of cultured meat can relax - at least for a while. The first such product, which is likely to be like mincemeat, isn't expected to be ready for dinner tables for around five years, with steaks estimated to take around another five years of development.

"There are obviously many obstacles to overcome before we can say whether cultured meat will become part of our diet, not least of which is whether people would be prepared to eat it! But we hope our research will add to the debate about whether we could, or should, develop a less wasteful alternative to meat from animals," said Ms Tuomisto.

A report of the Oxford University and University of Amsterdam team's research is published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

17 comments
Dave Andrews
I wonder if vegetarians would eat it, since it wouldn\'t require the killing of animals and didn\'t come from a living being.
salvatore.forte
Still I see a nonsense here in producing something like cultured meat while the real problems are: the excessive consumption of meat the meat industry that is voluntarily and with knowledge polluting our soils and farming animals in way that lead to more pollution, less quality of the meat and diseases. So cultured meat is an alternative just because of wrong choices made today. Eat less, whatever it is.
Bob Kiger
Consider vegetable-nutburgers !
Darrin Goodman
If you are going to be a vegetarian, don\'t make your food look like a meat bearing food, for instance burgers, meatloaf, tofuturky, and all the other meatless things, it just doesn\'t taste and texture out right, but they are trying
Slowburn
The UN is not a credible source.
Olaf the Orful
Who the heck thinks that synthetic meat is going to be healthy? Probably the ghouls at Monsanto with their GMO crops! If agriculture would return to the NATURAL way it was before GREED took over, there would be no problem with eating REAL beef. May the sicko\'s who came up with this junk choke on it!
Nelson
The real problem is too many people.
Dave B13
Frankenmeat, MMMmmmm taste like Vegan, smells like french fries!
YetAnotherBob
back in the 1970\'s the Back to the Land groups were making hamburger out of earthworms. It cooked like, and looked like hamburger. Taste was similar. it never caught on with consumers. Something about eating worms. But, it worked. Will this one work out? it might be good if it did. As people move out into space, over the next 50 years or so. There will be a shortage of good living space for a while there. The samples of cultured meat that I have seen are more like almost transparent slices. It\'s good to know that they are making progress. Totally synthetic \'cells\', made from bubbles of protein with vitamins and minerals, and some taste enhancing chemicals.If then glued together with gelatin, it could make hot dogs. Work up from there.
William Tewelow
I thought SPAM was cultured meat... So, you are telling me it\'s not? Oy-vay.