Sometimes, when confronted with the promises of technology, we are tempted to dream away to a planet where we could cheer at yet another billion extra people, where we could set our livestock free to let wolves and big cats restore ecological order and create plenty of space to regrow the ancient forests, which would once again clear the skies.
In any case we could not exclude this study in our special series on new proteins, which we may one day all be dining on.
A researcher of Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit has extrapolated production requirements for lab-grown meat, which is currently being developed at cellular scale at the University of Amsterdam.
In their joint publication in last month’s Environmental Science & Technology they conclude even at commercial scales the artificial meat, grown from muscle tissue cells, and fed byproducts of cyanobacteria, comes at only a fraction of the environmental costs of conventional meat production.
Land use requirements down 99 percent
The scientists have compared production requirements – energy use, greenhouse gas emissions, land use and water use – of a tonne of the lab-grown meat to an equal amount of pork, beef, sheep or poultry, produced by European farmers and expressed as a percentage of the requirements to produce 1000 kg of beef.
The differences are really quite dramatic: cultured meat comes at 78-96% lower greenhouse gas emissions, 99% lower land use, and 82-96% lower water use depending on the type of meat. The direct energy requirements are 7-45 lower than for beef, sheep and pork, but higher than for poultry.
According to the study production of 1000 kg of lab meat would come at GHG gas emissions between 1900 and 2240 kg CO2 equivalents.
How is the Earth going to benefit from this?
The take home message of the graph is entirely different though. Go to your local grocery shop and you won’t find the cultured meat for years to come. If you are concerned about rising CO2 levels and if you are serious about protecting the Earth’s remaining forests – but also really like to eat meat, go for poultry or pork.
As the chickens and pigs are mass-produced in confined spaces, efficiency per gram of protein is much higher than with beef, which is almost 3 times as bad for the forests and almost 5 times as bad for the climate. ‘Long live factory farming!’
[Of course you’re also free to consider plant proteins to replace your Friday steak.]
© Rolf Schuttenhelm | www.bitsofscience.org