Raising Meat in Greener Ways

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Pioneering movie cowboys like John Wayne, Tex Ritter, and Gene Autry may not have been overly keen about the idea, but newer methods for raising beef in laboratory settings may prove to address some of our environmental, climate, and land concerns over how livestock is presently raised, processed, and shipped to markets.

A new study by Oxford University and the University of Amsterdam concludes that cultured meat, also known as in vitro meat or lab-grown meat, can deliver substantial environmental and cost benefits. A report of the Oxford University and University of Amsterdam team’s research is published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

Whether meat-eating consumers take to the idea, however, remains to be seen. Cultured meat is grown using tissue engineering techniques but has yet to be produced for public consumption. Several research projects are growing it experimentally and some scientists claiming the technology is ready for commercial use.

A United Nations “Livestock’s Long Shadow” report released in 2006 estimated that livestock are responsible for 18 percent of all greenhouse emissions, a sobering number that comes in even higher than transportation. Environmental impacts like these, ranging from methane that is emitted from cow farts to the elimination of rain forest land for grazing purposes, coupled with ongoing rises in pricing, must be considered. This is especially so, considering the need to feed an expanding world population requiring protein as part of its diet.

The Oxford University/University of Amsterdam team based their calculations on a process being developed by study co-author Dr Joost Teixeira de Mattos at the University of Amsterdam that uses Cynobacteria hydrolysate as a nutrient and energy source for growing muscle cells.

Compared to the costs associated with conventionally produced meat, the study estimated that cultured meat would generate 78-96 percent lower greenhouse gas emissions, would require 7 to 45 percent less energy to produce, would result in 99 percent lower land use, and 82-96 percent lower water use, depending on the type of meat being produced. While cultured meat would still require more energy to produce than poultry, it would only need a fraction of the land area and water needed to rear chickens.

“We are not saying that we could, or would necessarily want to, replace conventional meat with its cultured counterpart right now,” said Hanna Tuomisto of Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, who led the research, “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. Simply put, cultured meat is, potentially, a much more efficient and environmentally-friendly way of putting meat on the table.”

The study team added their calculations don’t take into account additional savings from things such as the lower energy costs of transport and refrigeration of cultured meat. In addition, land freed up from farming could be reforested or used for other carbon sequestration purposes.

The first cultured meat products aren’t expected to be ready for dinner tables for around five years, with steaks estimated to take around another five years of development.


Photo: Brave New Climate


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Glenn Meyers

is a writer, producer, and director. Meyers was editor and site director of Green Building Elements, a contributing writer for CleanTechnica, and is founder of Green Streets MediaTrain, a communications connection and eLearning hub. As an independent producer, he's been involved in the development, production and distribution of television and distance learning programs for both the education industry and corporate sector. He also is an avid gardener and loves sustainable innovation.

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