MEAT grown artificially in labs will be a greener alternative for consumers who can’t bear to go vegetarian but want to cut the environmental impact of their food, according to new research.

The study found that growing meat in the lab rather than slaughtering animals will generate only a tiny fraction of the greenhouse gas emissions associated with conventional livestock production.

The researchers believe that their work suggests artificial meat could help to feed the growing world population while reducing the impact on the environment.

According to the analysis by scientists from Oxford University and Amsterdam University, lab-grown tissue would produce greenhouse gases at up to 96 per cent lower levels than raising animals. It would require between seven per cent and 45 per cent less energy than the same volume of conventionally produced meat and could be engineered to use only one per cent of the land and as little as four per cent of the water associated with conventional meat.

“The environmental impacts of cultured meat could be substantially lower than those of meat produced in the conventional way,” said Hanna Tuomisto, the researcher at Oxford University who led the study.

“We are not saying that we could, or would necessarily want to, replace conventional meat with its cultured counterpart right now.”

“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,” she added.

Aside from its predicted environmental benefits, lab-cultured meat should also provide cheap nutrition, and would help to improve animal welfare as well as potentially taking huge pressure off farmland around the world.

Animal protein is an increasing part of diets around the world, as millions of people in rapidly emerging economies such as China and India are drawn out of poverty and able to afford more meat in their diets. The pressure that this has created for more meat has been an important factor in rapidly rising grain prices, deforestation in the Amazon, increasing water scarcity and rising pressure to find new farmland, leading to “land grabs” where countries such as China buy up farmland in poorer nations.

Research into cultured meat is still in its infancy, according to Tuomisto. Nevertheless, strides forward in the past few years, by which the principles behind tissue culture have been proved several times, mean scientists are increasingly confident that they may be able to create lab-grown meat cultures that would replace conventional meat.

Tuomisto predicts that, if more resources are put into the research, the first commercially available lab-grown meat would be possible within five years. The first samples are likely to be rather like mincemeat in texture, and producing steaks could take at least five years longer, in her view. “We can demonstrate that it is possible, but it is very expensive. Getting to [commercial production] depends on more money being put into this research,” she said.

Given the environmental and economic benefits, Tuomisto urged environmental organisations and governments to consider funding the research. Already, the anti-meat organisation People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is funding some research. The Oxford-led research, to be published soon in Environmental Science & Technology, was funded by New Harvest, a nonprofit research organisation working to develop new alternatives to conventionally produced meat. An earlier version of the study was presented at a conference last year.

The study showed some of the complex implications of tissue engineering. For instance, it would take more energy to produce lab-grown chicken than it does for poultry, but would only use a fraction of the land area and water needed to rear chickens. But the research did not take into account other effects such as transport and refrigeration. The research team based their calculations on a process using the bacterium Cyanobacteria hydrolysate as a nutrient and energy source for growing muscle cells. — The Guardian, London

Opinion

Editorial

Avenfield relief
Updated 30 Sep, 2022

Avenfield relief

Accountability cannot continue to be treated like a revolving door in which politicians can be shoved in or pulled out on a whim.
Dar’s plans
Updated 30 Sep, 2022

Dar’s plans

For starters, the country doesn’t have spare dollars to burn.
Another targeted attack
30 Sep, 2022

Another targeted attack

WEDNESDAY’S deadly attack on three Chinese-origin individuals in Karachi’s Saddar area demonstrates the threat...
More leaks
Updated 29 Sep, 2022

More leaks

Recent leaks look more like an inside job than the work of a foreign power.
A depressing winter
29 Sep, 2022

A depressing winter

WINTER is on its way, with a massive gas crunch looming as elevated global LNG prices have eroded the cash-strapped...
Great expectations
29 Sep, 2022

Great expectations

CONSIDERING that the Afghan Taliban have been in the saddle for over a year now, the UN has expressed frustration...