Now, more than ever, progress in sustainability has taken centre stage throughout the food industry. The momentum for change is growing. Here is how the food industry is working towards greener practices through the creation of cultured, or lab-grown, meats.
The Food Industry:
Food is responsible for 26% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Figure 1 shows the distribution of emissions within the food industry. Livestock and fish farms are the largest contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions, producing 31% of total food-related emissions. Livestock contributes further to emissions under the category Land Use. This means that livestock and fisheries contribute to 47% of global greenhouse gas emissions in total1.
It is very difficult to comprehend just how many animals are slaughtered a year for human consumption. The growing appetite for pigs has to lead to a tripling in the number slaughtered each year. 50 billion chickens are also slaughtered per year, excluding male chicks an unproductive hens2.
In December 2020, lab grown cultured meats were approved for sale and deemed safe for human consumption.
At present, there are many questions surrounding cultured meats. Who will be willing to eat them? What are the long-term nutritional effects of eating cultured meat? Will the economies of scale play a part, where low-protein meats will only be in the price-range for some consumers?
Despite the unknown, there are many benefits of cultured meats to the planet, animals and mankind.
Is it ethical to continue slaughtering billions of animals a year when it is possible to create meat which doesn’t require unnecessary deaths? Animals for food are raised in extremely poor conditions, fed to benefit the profits of the industry and have their lifespans reduced significantly. For example, the average dairy cow will live for 5 to 7 years, depending on its genetics and living conditions. However, wild cows live for 18 to 20 years, which is much longer than the lifespan of dairy cows.
Livestock and fisheries contribute to 47% of global greenhouse gas emissions released from food production. Cultured meat could generate up to 96% lower greenhouse gas emissions than conventionally produced meat, significantly reducing the emission footprint of animal products3. As the global population continues to grow, the potential of cultured meat to save land use by 99% could be essential in reducing famine in future years.
The impeding question is wether people are ready to start eating cultured meats or not. Some people must be willing to try this new product and encourage others to buy these products. If the cultured meat market is to be profitable, it must prove itself to consumers and encourage demand. If not, it is doomed for failure.
1: Ritche, H. 2019. Available at: https://ourworldindata.org/food-ghg-emissions. Accessed on: 7/1/2021.
2: Thornton, A. 2019. Available at: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/02/chart-of-the-day-this-is-how-many-animals-we-eat-each-year/. Accessed on: 7/1/2021.
3: Oxford University. 2011. Available at: https://www.ox.ac.uk/news/2011-06-21-lab-grown-meat-would-cut-emissions-and-save-energy. Accessed on: 7/1/2021.