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Will cell-based meat ever be a dinner staple?

As our population grows, where will all our food come from?

Food production poses one of the biggest challenges to our planet and agriculture is one of the greatest contributors to global greenhouse gas emissions.

By 2050, we will need to feed another 2 billion people without overwhelming the planet and exhausting its natural resources. At current trends of food consumption, a reduction in land use and emissions from the agricultural industry is necessary to meet global emission reduction targets.

Global meat consumption

In 2018, we consumed roughly 350 million tons of meat a year, a figure which has doubled over the last 30 years.

Environmental data highlights that by 2050, food related greenhouse gas emissions are expected to reach 11.4 gigatons of CO2-equivalents (GtCO2e). The meat industry will contribute to almost two thirds of these emissions at 7.3 GtCO2e.

Comparatively, global annual greenhouse gas emissions total 50 GtCO2e.

Global agricultural practices in order to meet the demands of our growing population and consumerism is driving biodiversity loss, increasing air and water pollution.

Agricultural expansions results in the conversion of forests, grasslands and other carbon sinks into cropland or pasture releasing carbon dioxide emissions back into the atmosphere.

The graph below represents the global mean land used to produce one kilogram of different food products, measured in meters squared per kilogram (m2 per kg).

Unsustainable meat production is land use intensive as livestock in general require larger areas for both grazing, on top of fertiliser and animal feed production.

A suggested alternative approach in reducing our dietary environmental impact is lab grown meat.

What is lab-grown meat?

Lab grown meat, not to be confused with plant-based meat alternatives, is made with cells originally derived from live animals. The muscle-specific stem cells are replicated to form small tissue that is similar in composition to muscle fibres in a steak.

Possible environmental benefits and drawbacks

Lab grown meat has the potential to generate 96% lower greenhouse gas emissions and uses 82-96% less water compared with conventionally produced meat. Besides eliminating the use of abattoirs, there’s no doubt lab-grown meat has huge environmental and economic benefits.

The estimated cost of producing lab grown meat by 2030 is £4.55 per kg. Compared to the current average cost of a beef steak in the UK at £14 per kg, this represents a significant saving for the consumer.

Replacing current livestock systems with lab-grown meat will require further research and consideration of the energy consumption and efficiency of the production process.

This alternative steak could be on our supermarket shelves in the near future, would you eat a lab-grown steak made by scientists?


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