Imitation and Cultured Meats Will Be the Norm by 2040

This story is part of Treehugger's news archive. Learn more about our news archiving process or read our latest news.
©. Memphis Meats

Conventional meat production will be seriously disrupted by these new, more environmentally-friendly upstarts, experts predict.

Twenty-five years from now, you're more likely to be throwing a lab-grown steak on the grill than one taken from a living, breathing cow. The meat industry stands poised for serious disruption by plant-based 'novel vegan' alternatives designed to imitate meat (think the Impossible Burger and Beyond Meat), as well as meat grown in laboratories, a.k.a. cultured meat.

This is the conclusion of a lengthy report released by global consultancy AT Kearney and based on expert interviews. The report highlights the environmental damage caused by conventional animal agriculture and the many challenges it faces in a changing world. These include reduced access to land, the rise of antibiotic resistance, stricter limits on agrochemical use, and consumers' increasing sensitivity toward conditions in which animals are raised.

Meat production is also highly inefficient. For example, it takes around 3 kilograms of grain to produce 1 kilogram of poultry meat. From the report:

"Bearing in mind that meat has on average the same calories per kg as a mix of wheat, maize, rice, and soy beans, the conversion of the 46 percent of worldwide feed production into meat adds less than 7 percent to worldwide available food calories...
We could feed around twice as many humans with today’s global harvest if we did not feed livestock but rather consumed the yield ourselves. Based on the current worldwide population of 7.6 billion humans, we would have food for an additional 7 billion people."

The study authors go on to state that solutions for increasing the efficiency of meat production have largely been exhausted and are not sufficient to cope with the challenges of feeding a burgeoning global population – hence, the inevitable shift.

By 2040, they predict that 35 percent of all meat consumed will be cultured and 25 percent will be plant-based 'novel vegan' replacements. These will be more appealing to consumers because of their similarity to real meat, as opposed to 'classic vegan' meat replacements, such as tofu, mushrooms, seitan, or jackfruit, and insect proteins.

Already we're seeing enormous leaps in interest and investment in companies like Impossible Foods, Beyond Foods, and Just Foods. Their products are easily scalable, more shelf-stable than actual meat, flexible in use, and require fewer inputs to produce. As co-author Carsten Gerhardt said,

"The shift towards flexitarian, vegetarian and vegan lifestyles is undeniable, with many consumers cutting down on their meat consumption as a result of becoming more conscious towards the environment and animal welfare. For passionate meat-eaters, the predicted rise of cultured meat products means that they still get to enjoy the same diet they always have, but without the same environmental and animal cost attached."

It's an interesting and detailed dive into the world of alternative protein production, and one that ends on a hopeful note. You can read the whole report here.