Lab-Grown Meat Could Slash Emissions by 96%

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Meat in a petrie dish held by gloved hands in a lab setting.

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Fake meat is always a divisive topic. While this (occasional) meat eater actually likes meat substitutes, many others dismiss them as little more than processed junk food. But move away from meat substitutes made from seitan, quorn and tofu and the like, and into the realm of lab-grown artificial meat and the topic gets even more controversial. Nevertheless, evidence is mounting that artificial meat could slash carbon emissions and land use by an astounding number. Lloyd already reported on the implications of mass adoption of lab-grown meat, including lower greenhouse gas emissions and, perhaps less obviously, plummeting rural real estate values as ranch land is abandoned as unprofitable.

But The Guardian is reporting on new research on artificial meats from Amsterdam University and Oxford University that aims to quantify just how big a difference a shift from live animal agriculture to artificial meat could have. And the impact is pretty astounding:

...lab-grown tissue would reduce greenhouse gases by up to 96% in comparison to raising animals. The process would require between 7% and 45% less energy than the same volume of conventionally produced meat such as pork, beef, or lamb, and could be engineered to use only 1% of the land and 4% of the water associated with conventional meat.

Nevertheless, significant questions remain about the viability of artificial meat. Leaving aside the very real, very significant resistance that many consumers would have to artificial meat—and not just meat made from poop—this also marks a distinctly different, more industrialized route to feeding the world than that proposed by many advocates for integrated, small-scale agriculture, which relies on animal inputs as part of maintaining a healthy nutrient cycle.

Whether or not the food systems of the future will feature lab grown artificial meat; food from reformed, ultra-efficient megafarms; produce from small-scale integrated farms; or a combination of all this and more remains to be seen. Even the authors of this latest research are not suggesting they have all the answers—but they do point out that it is important to keep looking for solutions. As Hanna Tuomisto of Oxford University explains:

We are not saying that we could, or would necessarily want to, replace conventional meat with its cultured counterpart right now. 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.