RESEARCHERS from a renowned university in the United States say traditional meat production is likely to have less of an environmental footprint than producing meat in a lab.
The group from University of California Davis recently did life-cycle assessments on lab-grown meat and compared it to the warming potential of conventional meat. It has released the findings of the report, with the peer-review still to come.
Lab-grown meat, or animal cell-based meat, has been tipped as a more environmentally friendly alternative way of producing protein. But previous Beef Central articles have raised doubts about its viability.
The results have shown that its environmental impact could be four-to-25 times greater than retail beef. The study focused on energy used to grow the animal cells and says it was likely to show the minimal impact of lab-grown meat.
“We also acknowledge that our analysis may be viewed as minimum environmental impacts due to several factors including incomplete datasets,” the study says.
“The exclusion of energy and materials required to scale the ACBM industry and exclusion of the energy and materials needed to scale industries which would support ACBM production.”
Measuring a burgeoning industry
One of the main limiting factors to the study was the small-scale nature of the cell-based meat industry. The study was based on impact of a scaled-up cell-based meat industry.
“Currently, ACBM products are being produced at a small scale and at an economic loss, however ACBM companies are intending to industrialise and scale-up production,” it says.
“This study assesses the potential environmental impact of near term ACBM production.”
The study says the existing assessments that have been done on the impact of cell-based meat do not reflect the plans to scale up.
“The main issue with these pre-existing studies is that their technology models do not accurately reflect the current/near term practices which will be utilised to produce these products,” it says.
“Our environmental assessment is grounded in the most detailed process systems available that represent current state-of-the-art in this emerging food technology sector.
“Our model generally contradicts these previous studies by suggesting that the environmental impact of cultured meat is likely to be higher than conventional beef systems, as opposed to more environmentally friendly. This is an important conclusion given that investment dollars have specifically been allocated to this sector with the thesis that this product will be more environmentally friendly than beef.”
The importance of animal agriculture
The study says while it is difficult to assess the future impact of an industry, the scale of the economic changes being put forward in-relation to cell-based meat made it important.
“Critical assessment of the environmental impact of emerging technologies is a relatively new concept, but it is highly important when changes to societal-level production systems are being proposed.
“Agricultural and food production systems are central to feeding a growing global population and the development of technology which enhances food production is important for societal progress. Evaluation of these potentially disruptive technologies from a systems-level perspective is essential for those seeking to transform our food system.
“Ideally, systems-level evaluations of proposed novel food technologies will allow policymakers to make informed decisions on the allocation of government capital.
“Proponents of ACBM have hailed it as an environmental solution that addresses many of the environmental impacts associated with traditional meat production. Upon examination of this highly engineered system, ACBM production appears to be resource intensive when examined from the cradle to production gate perspective for the scenarios and assumptions utilised in our analyses.”
- To read the full study click here
Any debate about emissions is only part of the food/protein production issue by domestic animals.
Ruminants (cattle , sheep, goats ) are really human edible protein producers . They can utilize (and convert to human edible/ digestible protein) grasses, grain stubbles , pastoral shrubs , etc. that would otherwise be reduced / decompose to CO2 and other non human edible products . When grazing the worlds farms and pastoral properties they can produce at least 15 kilos of human edible protein for every 1(one) kg of human edible/ digestible feed they eat . Even in a total feedlot situation they produce 2kgs of human edible protein for every 1kg of this feed they consume . Without these animals some 2/3 of the world’s useable land would be unproductive as far as human food growth is concerned .
It’s hard to compete with the vibe. However, like most environmental ‘vibes’, they are easily and willingly grasped by the devotees, because of the up-front attractiveness, with nary a thought or intention of a whole of life environmental comparison. Notwithstanding, ACBM products may well bell the cat. Currently produced on a small scale at an economic loss, it will be very interesting to see how large-scale production stands up, both on economic and on a comparative whole of life emissions production grounds. If this study is an indicator, probably the answer is not very well. If this turns out to be the case, the list of EV’s, panels and turbines is so long that it will be a hard decision to select where to start the next whole of life emissions production comparison.