Lab-grown meat requires fewer farm inputs than livestock, but more energy. Is it really better for the planet?

Credit: Adobe
Credit: Adobe

Cultured meat doesn’t require grazing land or tons of feed. Instead it’s grown in bioreactors like those already used to produce pharmaceuticals and ethanol. A few animal cells are chosen for the type of meat desired, and placed on a biological scaffold to grow into the right shape and structure in a bioreactor that turbocharges cell growth from a speck to a serving.

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A paper from Arizona State University, which is cited by both clean meat doubters and backers, suggests cultured meat “could require smaller quantities of agricultural inputs and land than livestock,” but at a potentially higher energy demand. The reason? It doesn’t use animals whose bodies provide temperature regulation, waste elimination and other functions that will have to be replaced by industrial equivalents. But the Good Food Institute, a leading connector of cultured meat innovators and investors, says that clean energy will develop alongside the cultured meat sector to “reduce the life cycle emissions of a clean meat facility by 40% to 80%.”

Related article:  Plant-based meat: Wholesome food, science experiment—or both?

Even if substantial energy is needed to produce clean meat, there could still be large environmental rewards. A 2018 paper by Hanna Tuomisto of University of Helsinki calculates a potentially large reduction in greenhouse gases with cultured meat compared to raising cows and sheep for meat.

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