As the world’s population grows, our ever-increasing appetite for meat is putting heavy strains on the environment and exacerbating climate change.
The global meat industry produces more greenhouse gas emissions than all cars, planes, trains and ships combined.
But with demand unlikely to diminish anytime soon, what if science could make it possible to still eat meat without destroying the planet?
Global meat consumption has quadrupled since the 1960’s. In 35 years, with the world’s population projected to grow from seven to 10 billion, we’ll be eating 70 percent more of it than we do today.
Scientists and industry analysts agree it will be impossible to meet future demand with current production methods already stretched to capacity.
Factory farming of livestock requires large amounts of increasingly scarce water and land resources. Clearing forests for grazing also compounds the impact on climate change by removing natural carbon sinks.
Methane gas, the primary greenhouse pollutant of animal farming is 30 times more potent as a heat-trapping gas than CO2. In addition to all of these challenges, the treatment of animals in industrial farms raises significant ethical concerns.
So, if raising and eating meat is so bad for the planet, why don’t we just stop?
It sounds simple, but my dilemma is, I truly love meat. Even as a journalist who covers climate change, I can’t imagine not having that great piece of steak, my favourite french sausages, or the bacon with my eggs.
I do feel truly worried about the effects of producing meat has on our environment. In addition, the overuse of antibiotics in industrial farming has contributed to the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria – but I still can’t stop eating it.
What’s a meat-eating ‘environmentalist’ to do?
Imagine my excitement to learn of the ground-breaking work of Dutch scientist Mark Post, who claims to be on the path to solving these problems.
Post invented a lab process to grow meat – real meat – outside a cow. Lab burger, anyone?
The method has the potential to scale back the negative environmental impacts of growing meat, vastly reduce the number of animals slaughtered, and still deliver a delicious burger!
According to Post, he should be able to produce 10,000 kilogrammes of meat from just one muscle cell without harming the cow.
Here’s how it works:
While reporting this story and enthusiastically sharing it with friends and colleagues, many of them responded to the idea of laboratory-grown meat with alarm or outright disgust.
This raises the question, would people actually eat it? I realised I underestimated how attached we are to food authenticity, and that food to many is something they want to connect with.
But at the same time, most people don’t really want to know how meat ended up on their plate.
I understand that for some the idea of eating meat grown in a laboratory comes across as a sci-fi movie plot. My concern is if we don’t change how we produce meat our heavily polluted future may be much worse.
If science can alleviate some of the massive issues caused by our meat industry, I would happily be the first one to try that lab burger.
The human race is entering an era in which cultured meat from the cells of just one cow could feed the whole of Europe. To me, that sounds like something to be excited about, rather than to fear.
It will take time, but I suppose the main thing we have to do is, as the professor said; get used to it.