Environmental Impacts of Cultured Meat

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Climate Impacts of Cultured Meat and Beef Cattle (2019)

In this study, we present a more rigorous comparison of the potential climate impacts of cultured meat and cattle production than has previously been made. Warming impacts are evaluated using a simple climate model that simulates the different behaviors of carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), and nitrous oxide (N2O), rather than relying on carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) metrics. We compare the temperature impact of beef cattle and cultured meat production at all times to 1,000 years in the future, using four synthetic meat GHG footprints currently available in the literature and three different beef production systems studied in an earlier climate modeling paper. Cattle systems are associated with the production of all three GHGs above, including significant emissions of CH4, while cultured meat emissions are almost entirely CO2 from energy generation.
Under continuous high global consumption, cultured meat results in less warming than cattle initially, but this gap narrows in the long term and in some cases cattle production causes far less warming, as CH4 emissions do not accumulate, unlike CO2. We then model a decline in meat consumption to more sustainable levels following high consumption, and show that although cattle systems generally result in greater peak warming than cultured meat, the warming effect declines and stabilizes under the new emission rates of cattle systems, while the CO2 based warming from cultured meat persists and accumulates even under reduced consumption, again overtaking cattle production in some scenarios.
We conclude that cultured meat is not prima facie climatically superior to cattle; its relative impact instead depends on the availability of decarbonized energy generation and the specific production systems that are realized.


Commentary on "Climate Impacts of Cultured Meat and Beef Cattle (2019)" Bruce Friedrich - February 19, 2019

In fact, the paper makes clear that in every single scenario considered, including the absolute worst-case for clean meat, clean meat is much better for our climate than even the “best” conventional meat production systems for at least the next 100 years—the time when humanity will be most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.
But it's actually much better than that for clean meat: If you look at the study’s Figure 1, you can see that three of the four clean meat scenarios show clean meat outperforming all of the conventional meat systems for at least 800 years.
The only scenario where conventional meat outperforms clean meat on climate impacts is based on the worst-case clean meat Life Cycle Analysis (LCA), and even there clean meat is better for 100-400 years, depending on which of the conventional systems you choose.


Environmental Impacts of Cultured Meat Production (2011)


Cultured meat (i.e., meat produced in vitro using tissue engineering techniques) is being developed as a potentially healthier and more efficient alternative to conventional meat. Life cycle assessment (LCA) research method was used for assessing environmental impacts of large-scale cultured meat production. Cyanobacteria hydrolysate was assumed to be used as the nutrient and energy source for muscle cell growth. The results showed that production of 1000 kg cultured meat requires 26–33 GJ energy, 367–521 m3 water, 190–230 m2 land, and emits 1900–2240 kg CO2-eq GHG emissions.
In comparison to conventionally produced European meat, cultured meat involves approximately 7–45% lower energy use (only poultry has lower energy use), 78–96% lower GHG emissions, 99% lower land use, and 82–96% lower water use depending on the product compared. Despite high uncertainty, it is concluded that the overall environmental impacts of cultured meat production are substantially lower than those of conventionally produced meat.