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Is the meat raised in the laboratory actually worse for the environment?



The idea that we have to get hamburgers out of a lab rather than from a slaughterhouse – the main prerequisite for the movement of "cultivated meat" or "pure meat" – leads to excitement for two main reasons: it can save billions of animals from enormous suffering and could fight global warming by reducing the number of cattle producing methane.

The new study suggests that the second reason may be wrong and that laboratory-led meat can actually be worse on climate change. The report argues that long-term meat-growing can accelerate climate change more than regular beef. Frontiers for Sustainable Food Systems The authors note that other studies calculating greenhouse gas emissions from cattle have combined the gases together, as if all are equivalent. But not all gases are equal. Yes, cows produce a lot of methane, and methane is very bad for global warming. Yet it continues in the atmosphere for only ten years. Carbon dioxide, on the other hand, has lasted more than a century. And do you know what emit a lot of CO2? Laboratories, including those producing cultivated meat.

Within a few days of coming out, the study has already produced some terrible titles, which conclude that pure meat is not a cleaner environment. The report casts doubt on our old assumptions, and that's a good thing. But let's not replace them with new assumptions that are equally problematic. The authors emphasize that their research is based on highly speculative modeling based on some rather strong assumptions. Two of them are particularly bright. The study modeled what would happen if we assume that 1) the meat kept in a laboratory will continue to be produced using the same energy production methods currently used for energy production and 2) this will continue in over 1000 years.

To be honest, the researchers had to choose a timeframe to manage their model, and every time period would be quite arbitrary. But 1000 years is so long that it seems very unlikely that we will still use such energy-inefficient methods to make the meat kept by the lab until the end.

Is it because the clean meat companies will face pressure from their climate-friendly consumers or because politicians will take a step forward to regulate emissions or because scientists will find a way to use less energy, clean energy for energy production (solar energy and energy storage technology) are improved and cheaper), cultured meat will probably not be done using current methods, even after a century.

In other words, it is difficult to imagine a future scenario in which assumptions 1 and 2 will be true and will produce the most pessimistic possible outcomes modeled in the report.

There is another reason to be cautious about the findings of the study as the authors are the first to note: Companies that produce cultivated meat usually do not release data about their production process and how much energy they consume. They are particularly inclined to treat this information as property now that several competitors – from Memphis Mates and Exactly in the US to Aleph Farms and Future Meat Technologies in Israel – are competing to sell their products.

the best we could, "said lead author John Lynch at Quartz this week. "We have studied the whole literature, but it is still a major problem that we have no idea whether [the data] responds to what companies do or not."

So far, no one is doing cultivated meat on a large scale – production is still relatively small laboratory work. Companies are still trying to figure out how to make clean meat more attractive, while making it less expensive. So there will be limited data on how the process works on a scale, even if companies were willing to share it.

It may be in the interest of companies to become more forthcoming. Lynch's study only proves that we can not assume that the meat kept in a laboratory will necessarily be better for the environment; the study does not prove that it is necessarily worse. But his report is not the first to warn of the potential impact of cultivated meat on our climate, and that will not be the last. With the emergence of more research, consumers are likely to join academic researchers to call for more transparency. Many will not be happy to reduce the suffering of animals if they are afraid they can harm the environment.

During the last decade, the movement of pure meat has been linked to double promises – rescuing animals and saving the planet. So, of course, people now want both – and clean meat producers will need to adapt to meet that demand.


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