Is cultured meat the solution to the eco-climatic crisis?
Cultured meat has many benefits and is dozens of times better than animal meat in many ways, but beyond the resources and emissions in the processes offered today, there are also issues of overconsumption, rebound effect, food waste and waste treatment, and they should bother us all
Many moral, health and environmental issues are related to the raising and eating of animal meat, and in recent years with population growth and rising quality of life in the world on the one hand and the climate crisis on the other, efforts to commercialize cultured meat have increased (not in culture but in culture).
Raising animals for food causes them great suffering, during rearing, transportation and slaughter. Animal meat, and especially red meat, is also a major source of saturated fat and cholesterol in the human body, as well as obesity. Moreover, red meat is associated with an increased risk of dying from cancer, heart attack, respiratory diseases, stroke, diabetes, various infections, Alzheimer’s, kidney disease and liver disease. In addition, in animal husbandry we often use drugs, from antibiotics to steroids, which also come to us, and is also a source of zoonotic diseases, which are passed from animals to humans. However, keep in mind that eating animal meat also has various health benefits, for example availability in protein and iron intake, even if alternatives can be found.
Raising edible animals also requires many natural resources, and is responsible for quite a few emissions of pollutants: air, soil and water sources. For example, about 70% of the world’s agricultural land is used for the benefit of livestock, and these crops are responsible for polluting surface and bottom water sources with various effluents and drugs. One of the major environmental impacts of sheep and cattle farming is increased methane emissions, as a result of digestion and fermentation processes. In fact, livestock is responsible for about 30% of the methane emissions from human processes in the world, more than emissions during production and use of fossil fuels.
Methane, only recently defined by a UN expert report as responsible for 30% of man-made warming since the pre-industrial era to the present day, is a more aggressive greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. That is, the effect of each methane molecule in the atmosphere on global warming is more significant, and a kilogram of methane is equivalent to 84 kilograms of carbon dioxide. At the same time, methane breaks down in the atmosphere much faster than carbon dioxide. Therefore reducing its emissions is expected to have a faster impact on the climate crisis recession.
Just into this complexity, enters the equation of cultured meat or synthetic meat. This meat, grown under laboratory conditions, with an accelerated division of muscle stem cells combined with plant protein, has recently been shown to be one of the significant solutions for reducing methane emissions in particular and greenhouse gases in general, and for mitigating the climate crisis. Alongside this it also makes it possible to reduce the use of land and water resources, and the effluents, wastes and emissions into the air involved in raising animals, as well as some of the negative health effects of meat and harm to the animals themselves. The news leads to an accelerated race of many research laboratories and biotech companies around the world to develop a cultured meat substitute that will be tasty, healthy, accessible and inexpensive. Many celebrities, such as Leonardo DiCaprio and Ashton Kutcher, have also decided to invest in the field, and even in Israeli companies that are at the forefront of the world.
But like any technology or alternative, the transition to cultured meat consumption has a backyard, and it raises quite a few environmental questions. One of the major issues is the issue of energy. At present, cultured meat production requires very high energy consumption, and once the electricity is produced from fossil fuels, i.e. coal, oil or natural gas, greenhouse gas emissions, even if most of them are carbon dioxide and not methane, are higher than carbon emissions from animal husbandry. Another issue is the issue of transportation, which also involves greenhouse gas emissions and many pollutants. The issue of water is also a significant issue, the use of water to grow the source of protein, for example soy, and increased use of water in the meat growing plant, which requires wastewater treatment and even water recycling.
But above all the basic question is, which is at the heart of the eco-climatic crisis, should we constantly engage in substitutes and technologies, or should we reduce originally? True, cultured meat has many benefits and is dozens of times better than animal meat, but beyond the resources and emissions in the processes offered today, there are also issues of overconsumption, rebound effect, food waste and waste management, and they should bother us all. Because without changing habits we will not be able to cope with the global climate crisis.