There are some practices you likely equate with their environmental impact. Things like throwing away too much plastic, driving your car, or using excessive amounts of hairspray might feel a little bit irreverent to the environment, but do you ever think twice before cutting into a steak on date night? If you know about the impact that commercial meat farming has on the environment, cultured meat is likely a welcome innovation for you.
Plenty of people are vegetarians for sympathetic purposes: they cannot look into the eyes of a pig, cow, chicken, or any other animal, and then eat that meat without feeling guilt. Even if you don’t share the same qualms about the ethics of eating meat, it’s hard to deny that the practice is damaging for the environment.
Aside from the fact that it will be increasingly difficult to feed a planet of meat eaters as the global population rises, the meat industry also emits a great deal of greenhouse gasses through the life cycle of animals. The combination of these factors led scientists to begin exploring cultured meat in earnest in the 2000s, though the technology had been in the works for decades.
Basically, cultured meat is meat that is identical to that produced by an animal on a cellular level, but it is created entirely in a lab. This is done by taking an animal’s cells and adding them to a culture medium which is rich in nutrients. From there, the meat grows as a culture into an edible source of protein.
The first lab grown burger was created in 2013, and things have only taken off since then. Today, scientists are able to create cow, pig, chicken, and seafood cultures from the animals’ cells; even steak isn’t out of the question for this “clean” process.
Why It Matters
Now that you understand the environmental impact of large-scale agricultural meat, you understand why this field is an important one to develop. However, you may not fully grasp just how much of an impact cultured meat could have on greenhouse gas emissions.
Estimates figure that adopting lab-grown meats on a broad scale would reduce greenhouse emissions by up to 96% over traditional livestock agriculture. No matter your stance on eating animals, that figure is difficult to argue with.
Still, the emerging cultured meat industry is not without its challenges. Bracing for the population explosion that will make livestock unsustainable, a number of startups are scrambling to create the cultured meat that most looks and feels like the authentic thing.
A testament to just how real this technology has become, HBO’s new series Years and Years features self-heating school lunches that are comprised entirely of lab-grown meat. The futuristic (but incredibly lifelike) series may well echo the real world in this respect: feeding the masses will become much more sustainable if it doesn’t rely on other living beings.
The idea that a plant-based diet is more sustainable for the planet isn’t a new one, but the fact that you may soon be able to enjoy a diet that doesn’t require an animal to die in order for you to eat meat speaks to the truly innovative moment in which the world currently exists. The coming years are likely to feature a great deal of cultured meat, and the benefits are hard to ignore.