Personal Carbon Footprints: Slaughter-Free Meat

The article published previously on the subject, was dedicated to discuss why agriculture is considered to be a sector that spans all the multitude of environmental problems, why animal products are responsible for so much carbon footprints, and why avoiding consumption of animal products delivers far better environmental benefits than trying to purchase sustainable meat and dairy.

This article is designed to explore and document the alternatives and substitutes to meats which are being developed around the world with the focus to help minimize the personal carbon footprints.

Here is a fact. Food and agriculture is one of the world’s largest sectors. Yet one of its core elements – livestock production – is an industry that faces enormous health and environmental challenges. Livestock farming generates more emissions than all the world’s planes, trains and cars combined. Further, the link between meat consumption and human health problems such as obesity, diabetes, cancer and antibiotic resistance is increasingly established and scientifically robust.

Here is a contributing factor to an increase in the overall consumption of animal products.  From 1990 to 2015, the number of people living in extreme poverty has fallen from 36 percent to 15 percent. The general trend for global growth rates year-on-year is upwards. With millions being lifted out of absolute poverty items such as meat, which could formerly be considered luxury items, will be consumed more readily.

Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and reported in Nature, researchers looked at what people eat and where, in a comprehensive study of global food consumption. Accordingly, the fast-growing economies of China and India are driving a global increase in meat consumption, cancelling out decreases elsewhere.

Between the years 1964 and 1966, average meat consumption per person per kg in East Asia was 8.7kg. From 1997 to 1999, that value increased to 37.7kg.  This represents an increase of over 330 percent. At current rates of farming efficiency, the number of people that can be fed per hectare of produce will decrease as demand for meat increases. Per hectare of potatoes, 22 people can be fed, from rice, 19, from lamb, 2, and from beef, just 1.

Statistics show that demand for meat in Canada is still stubbornly robust. The average Canadian typically consumes about 87 kilograms of meat products in one year, which is just slightly lower than the amount from five years ago.

Here is another perspective. “70 billion animals are being slaughtered each year to feed seven billion people”, says Dr. Uma Valeti, a cardiologist who founded California-based Memphis Meats, a leading cell-based meat company. He says the global demand for meat is doubling as more people rise out of poverty and that humanity won’t be able to raise enough cattle and chicken to sate the appetite of nine billion people by 2050. Dr. Valeti also said: “So we could just literally grow any meat, poultry or seafood directly from those animal cells.”

The meat grown from animal cells is called in-vitro.  It is also known as Cultured, Synthetic, Lab-Grown, or Clean Meat.  Using the animal cells, it takes about two days to produce a chicken nugget in a small bioreactor, using a protein to encourage the cells to multiply, some type of scaffold to give structure to the product and a culture, or growth, medium to feed the meat as it develops. The question is:

In-vitro meat consists of edible biomass grown from animal stem cells in a factory, or carnery. In the coming decades, in-vitro biomass cultivation could enable the production of meat without the need to raise livestock. Using an anticipatory life cycle analysis framework, the study described herein examines the environmental implications of this emerging technology and compares the results with published impacts of beef, pork, poultry, and another speculative analysis of cultured biomass.

Here is some history on the concept of manufacturing meat. According to the Briefing Paper published by Jennie Hollywood and Dr. Madsen Pirie, the first landmark experiment leading to the development of in-vitro meat was done in 1912 by Nobel Prize winning scientist Alexis Carrel. In these tests, Carrel took tissue culture from an embryonic chicken heart, and used a mechanism of structuring and providing this culture with the nutrients necessary for continued growth, aiming to prove that living cells could survive indefinitely under the right conditions.

Winston Churchill foresaw the massive potential for in-vitro meat two decades later, in his November 1932 article “Fifty Years Hence”. In one paragraph, Churchill writes: “We shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing, by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium.  Synthetic food will, of course, also be used in the future.” Answering the question, where that food will be grown? Churchill said: “Vast cellars, in which artificial radiation is generated, may replace the cornfield and potato patches of the world.”

After 81 years of Churchill’s prediction and after 101 years after the landmark experiment conducted by Alex Carrel, in 2013, a group of three food critics tested the quality of lab-grown meat live on television. At that time the cost of one burger was around £215,000 – funded in part by Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google.  However, since then, the costs have plummeted. Peter Verstrate, the head of Mosa Meats (a company which is planning to mass commercialise cultured meats), said in April 2015 that he was confident that the commercialization of labgrown meat will happen within five years – and he is likely to be correct.  Since the 2013 test, the cost of one burger has fallen from that £215,000 price tag to around £8 per piece.

The crop of companies racing to commercialize clean meat has grown from two to eight in just a couple of years; they are all focused on eliminating the need for factory farms and slaughter houses by simply growing meat directly from cells, outside of an animal.

The mission of Mosa Meats Company is to produce real meat for the world’s growing population that is delicious, healthier, better for the environment, and kind to animals. Their motivation was to find a new method to make real meat to feed the fast-growing population in a sustainable, healthy and animal-friendly way. The question is often asked whether the process involves genetic modification, and the answer is “No”.  Genetic modification is unnecessary for the process. The cells are doing what they would normally do inside the animal, so they do not need to be re-programmed in any way.

A food company, Just’s, in San Francisco, nurtures chicken nuggets from the cells of a chicken feather.  This meat is currently not available anywhere but Just’s chief executive Josh Tetrick says it will be on the menu in a handful of restaurants by the end of this year. Tetrick and other entrepreneurs working on cellular meat say they want to stop the slaughter of animals and protect the environment from the degradation of industrial factory farming. They say they are solving the problem of how to feed a crowded earth without destroying the planet, pointing out that their meat is not genetically-modified and does not require antibiotics to grow.

Lab-grown meat, or “clean meat“, may hit store shelves in India by 2025, The Economic Times reported. The move, brought about by a collaboration between the Humane Society International (HSI) and the Center for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), has the ability to decrease meat consumption and animal slaughter across India. The Hyderabad-based CCMB, among other organizations across the globe, is actively working to upscale clean meat production, increase productivity, and roll products out to shelves at an affordable price.

Here is a brief summary of investors:

  • Both Tyson Foods and Cargill have invested in clean-meat company Memphis Meats, alongside billionaires Gates and Branson.
  • Last year, China signed a $300 million dollar trade deal with Israel to import its clean meat technologies in an effort to reduce its animal agriculture-based greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Samir Kaul, a partner at Khosla Ventures, the first among numerous VC firms and private investors to have infused $120 million into Hampton Creek and $75 million into Impossible Foods; and
  • Socially-minded financial backers of those and other food-tech start-ups—such as Beyond Meat, Modern Meadow, Unreal Candy, Nu-Tek Salt and Bright Farms—include Microsoft’s Bill Gates, Peter Thiel of Founders Fund, Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-shing’s Horizons Ventures, and twin brothers and serial investors Ali and Hadi Partovi.

A 2015 report from the World Health Organization (WHO) classifying processed meat as carcinogenic echoes similar reports on the harmful effects of tobacco and sugar; while the work of the University of Oxford quantified the potential cost savings from reductions in meat consumption, echoing the UK’s Stern Review in 2006 – which first made the case to invest now to mitigate climate change or risk paying much more later.

Research on the financial cost of meat consumption is rapidly emerging. For example, research from the Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food at the University of Oxford estimated that eliminating all animal products from diets by shifting towards nutritionally balanced plant-based diets by 2050 could avoid USD 600 billion in climate damages and USD 1 trillion in healthcare expenses associated with treating diet-related chronic diseases.

The bottom line is that it is difficult to comprehend the vast scale of the damage caused by the meat industry, and the potential benefits that producing meat in factories could have. An independent study from the Environmental Sciences & Technology Journal has shown that cultured meat lowers greenhouse gas emissions by 78-96 percent and uses 99 percent less land.

Ottawa, Ontario, Canada – 20 October 2018