Green Living

Will cultured meat solve the environmental problem of meat?

According to a recent article in the Telegraph Journal, people in industrialized countries eat about 210 pounds of meat per person, per year. That works out to nine ounces a day, every day. And worldwide meat consumption is increasing as people in developing countries eat more meat, more often. 

The environmental impact of producing all of that meat is huge.

It’s estimated that 15 to 18 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions come from livestock production, nearly half of which comes from growing and shipping the corn and soy used as feed. Another 45 percent are digestive gasses from cows.

There is a social impact to meat consumption too since about a third of the world’s grain production goes to feeding all that livestock instead of people.

Not all meat is created equal when it comes to its environmental impact:

  • According to Environmental Working Group, pound for pound lamb is actually the most carbon-intense meat. But it’s hardly an environmental worry since lamb only accounts for one percent of all meat consumed in the U.S.
  • Second on the list of protein with the highest environmental impact is beef. The greenhouse gas emissions of beef are double those of pork and four times the emissions of chicken. That’s significant since 30 percent of all meat consumed in the U.S. is beef.
To view it from a different angle, it takes 10 to 15 pounds of grain to produce two pounds of beef and all of that grain takes a considerable amount of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and water to grow.

How will the world keep up with the global appetite and environmental demands of increased meat consumption?

One answer is cultured meat. A team of researchers at Maastricht University in the Netherlands is growing beef from actual animal tissue in their lab.  Two years ago they cooked some up in a hamburger patty and fed it to media. Their research continues as they work to reduce the overall cost of their product to a point that they can actually start selling it.  

Will lab-grown meat become a grocery store reality? Who knows but grocery stores are full of synthetic or engineered versions of common foods (whipped topping comes to mind) that have become household staples. It remains to be seen if lab-raised meat will hold the same appeal.  

Cultured meat isn’t the only way to reduce the environmental impact of meat:

  • Eating meat less often, and serving smaller portions of meat will help reduce the environmental impact of your supper.
  • Choosing better quality meat will have an impact too: Grass-fed beef has a much lower carbon footprint than factory-farmed beef.
  • Chicken has the lowest carbon footprint of all meat but other protein sources like fish, nuts, beans and lentils have progressively lower environmental impacts, with lentils having the smallest environmental impact of all common proteins.

Meatless Mondays can make a difference:
According to Environmental Working Group, if everyone in the U.S. ate no meat or cheese just one day a week it would be like taking 7.6 million cars off the road. 

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