Lab-Grown Meat Could Cut Emissions 96%

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CC BY 2.0. Larry Hoffman

The free market Adam Smith Institute says we could be on the cusp of a revolution.

When I wrote that 41% of land in the contiguous United States is used to feed livestock, I thought it was a pretty high number. According to a new report from the free market-leaning Adam Smith Institute, however, the UK has us beat on that front:

Apparently a full 85% of the UK's land footprint is associated with animal product production.

The report makes this observation as a contrast to the land footprint of lab grown meat, which is apparently a full 99% smaller than that of its traditional agricultural counterparts, alongside a greenhouse gas emissions footprint that is between 78% to 96% smaller too.

The report, titled Don't Have a Cow Man, uses this as one proof point among many as to why the UK government should get out ahead of the lab-grown and manufactured meat industries, and harness their innovation to radically slash carbon emissions, boost conservation and biodiversity, reduce world hunger, cut down on antibiotic resistance and improve water quality too.

Specifically, the report's conclusion argues that the UK government should get behind lab grown and manufactured meats, just as it has other clean tech sectors, and that it should resist special interest groups seeking to stifle innovation or reduce consumer choice:

The UK could become a world leader in the development of that industry, and a major producer and exporter of manufactured meats. Government should establish a new, user-friendly regulatory framework under which new businesses involved in manufactured meats can flourish and prosper. It should actively encourage and promote the research that will underpin that industry. It should facilitate visas for the talented individuals who will lead it. It should liaise with UK businesses to have prizes awarded to scientists who take the key steps to make the industry viable.
Government should consider the establishment of a tax structure that encourages start-up businesses in the sector to grow and develop, and provide a regulatory regime that facilitates innovation in the area, just as its “sandbox” rules liberate new firms in financial services to innovate and experiment.

While costs and scaling up remain a challenge, the report points to the fact that the £215,000 price tag for one burger has recently been brought down to around £8 per piece, which puts it in striking distance of other plant-based alternatives like the Impossible Burger which are already gaining traction.

Of course, it's hard to imagine that lab grown or manufactured meats are likely to completely replace traditional meat and dairy anytime soon. But with demand growing around the world, governments will have to think hard about how they can either mitigate or meet that demand without trashing the environment or falling short of their international climate commitments.

It seems more likely than ever that meat alternatives will play a role in that effort. Those countries that get behind this technology early will stand to benefit from the trend.