‘We’re eating the planet to death’ – Can ‘lab-grown’ cultivated meat help save the world?

Cultivated meat is seen as a way to slash the environmental impact of agriculture

Samuel Webb
Tuesday 25 January 2022 12:41 GMT
<p>Rich Dillon says the UK can be a world leader in cultivated meat</p>

Rich Dillon says the UK can be a world leader in cultivated meat

Around a third of consumers are willing to try cultivated meat, according to research by the Food Standards Agency (FSA).

Cultivated meat, also sometimes referred to as cell-based meat, clean meat, cultured meat and in-vitro meat, is artificially-grown genuine meat that is produced by cultivating animal cells directly.

After cells are taken from a healthy animal – which isn’t killed in the process – they are placed in a large tank where they are fed nutrients until they divide and grow.

The process takes two to three weeks depending on the type of meat being produced and is currently restricted to a texture similar to mince, although that may change as technology improves.

The FSA survey into public perceptions of emerging alternative proteins also found 40% of these respondents said they would do so for environmental or sustainability reasons. However, 49% of the respondents who were unwilling to try any alternative proteins said they found cultured meat off-putting.

Rich Dillon, is the CEO at Ivy Farm, an Oxford-based meat cultivation company comprised of scientists and bioengineers who “love animals, love the planet, but also love bacon sandwiches”.

The former brewery executive says the UK is leading the way in the emerging industry and has welcomed the changing public perception of cultivated meat because at the moment humanity is “eating the planet to death”.

Global food production is responsible for a third of all planet-heating gases produced by humans, with meat causing twice the pollution of plant-based foods, according to a study by the University of Illinois.

He said: “Agriculture is the second biggest carbon emitter after energy production and environmental concerns are a primary issue for consumers, followed by health and animal welfare.

“Cultured meat enables us to eat meat without slaughtering animals and the need for factory and industrial farming. That is the stuff we would love to contribute to reducing and eliminating.

“The UK currently imports £4.5bn of meat every year, and that meat may be coming from countries with lower animal welfare practices and a higher carbon footprint.”

Respondents in the FSA research reported the biggest barrier to trying plant-based proteins was that respondents liked to eat traditional meats (36%).

“The difference is cultivated meat is meat rather than an alternative protein,” Rich said. “The taste, nutritionals, and consumer satisfaction is much better.”

As well as environmental issues, there are welfare issues to industrial farming

In October Ivy Farm cautioned that the UK risked lagging behind pro-cultivated meat countries including the US, Singapore, and Israel unless the Food Standards Agency approved the sale of cell-cultured meat by the end of 2022.

Richard added: “We have a product and a process. If we filed for approval in Singapore we would get it, but we are focused on the UK – we are a proud British company.

“I think we can get regulated next year provided we work with the FSA.”

However, there are some scientists who question how climate-friendly cultivated meat is because of the energy required to produce it.

A study by the Oxford Martin School claims artificially-grown beef could generate longer-lasting and more damaging greenhouse gases than rearing cattle normally.

The research, published in the journal Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems, suggests over a longer time frame, production of lab-grown meat could generate greater concentrations of damaging CO2.

"The climate impacts of cultured meat production will depend on what level of sustainable energy generation can be achieved, as well as the efficiency of future culture processes," lead author Dr John Lynch told the BBC.

"If the lab-grown meat is quite energy-intensive to produce then they could end up being worse for the climate than cows are."

However, Richard disputes the findings.

He said: “The environmental arguments for cultivated meat are plentiful. It reduces greenhouse gas emissions as well as land and water use. CE Delft reported that cultivated meat will produce up to 92% less carbon emissions than traditional meat and will require up to 95% less land, concluding that it can offer environmental gains compared to conventional meats.

“At Ivy Farm we are committed to using renewable sources of energy for our production to ensure that being truly sustainable is at the heart of what we do.

“Cultivated meat done right means we can love our meat and love our planet.”

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