A new preliminary study by researchers in the United States has concluded that the environmental impact of cultured meat is likely orders of magnitude worse than traditional beef, based on current and near-term production methods. But experts are divided on whether the study, which has yet to be peer-reviewed, makes sound assumptions.
Cultured meat, produced from animal cells grown in a laboratory rather than raising, herding and slaughtering livestock, has been proposed as a significantly greener alternative to conventional meat. For example, an analysis by scientists at the University of Oxford and the University of Amsterdam in 2011 estimated that producing cultured meat would require 745% less energy than the same volume of pork, sheep or beef. . More recently, findings from Dutch environmental consultancy CE Delft indicated that cultured beef would cause up to 92% less global warming and 93% less air pollution than conventional beef, while also using up to 95% less land and 78% less water.
But now researchers at the University of California, Davis suggest that these and other studies have underestimated the environmental impact of cultured meat, and especially the cost of producing the highly refined growth medium that they say its methods of short-term production will continue to rely on SU.
The UC Davis team conducted a life cycle assessment of the energy required and greenhouse gas emissions at all stages of cultured meat production. In scenarios where the growth medium is prepared to very high purity, the carbon dioxide equivalents emitted per kilogram of meat produced were four to 25 times higher than the average value for retail beef.
UC Davis food scientist Derrick Risner, the lead author of the preprints, explains that the discrepancies in the results of his paper and previous research are primarily attributable to differences in assumptions in our short-term production model versus future production models with some more aggressive assumptions about technological progress.
Hanna Tuomisto, an associate professor of sustainable food systems at the University of Helsinki who co-authored the 2011 study when she was at Oxford, says the main difference is that the new work from UC Davis included the purification process to remove endotoxins from all ingredients used in the culture medium, including water, which is very energy intensive.
Many of the cultured meat companies say they are able to use food-grade ingredients so they don’t necessarily have to be pharmaceutical-grade ingredients, Tuomisto continues. My opinion is that this paper is overstating the energy requirements for the endotoxin removal process. Others seem to agree.
The reality is that the key assumption of the report does not reflect actual business plans or sourcing practices for cellular feed, said Cellular Agriculture Europe, a coalition of food companies based in Brussels. No company is going to expand using expensive pharmaceutical grade ingredients and we’ve already proven that we don’t need to. The Washington, DC-based non-profit Good Food Institute has echoed those concerns.
Steps for sustainability
Food company Eat Just, whose farmed chicken has been approved for sale in Singapore since 2020, is also skeptical of the new findings. The UC Davis study is based largely on the argument that the nutrients delivered to cells will continue to be pharmaceutical grade, says Andrew Noyes, a spokesperson for Eat Just. This assumption is incorrect and doesn’t align with the vision or actions of this young and rapidly evolving industry, he adds.
Meanwhile, Cindy Tian, a professor of animal sciences at the University of Connecticut who co-authored a study that induced bovine pluripotent stem cells for the first time in hopes of overcoming challenges for cultured meat, welcomes the study . You already said World of chemistry that the process of producing meat from animal cells remains highly inefficient and appears unsustainable.
I’m glad someone is telling the truth, says Tian, referring to the new UC Davis preprint. It will take years of research and many discoveries for cultured meat to be even close to the current beef production system, he adds, noting that domestication of cattle has an 11,000-year history while cultured meat has only been around for about a decade .
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