When you examine a heap of sliced deli turkey from Von's, you see no obvious connection between the slippery pink sheets and a semi-winged, beaked creature, or even a lovely roasted bird like you'd enjoy at Thanksgiving. Had you no prior knowledge, if someone told you this meat -- spongy, slick, and loaded with broth -- had been popped out of a machine in a lab, you would not be surprised. Lab meat is still a few years down the road, but scientists are making strides, not least of which is this week's revelation that lab-cultured meat would significantly reduce greenhouse emissions.
According to the results of a just-released study funded by New Harvest, a non-profit research organization working to pioneer alternatives to conventionally-raised meat, meat made using a tissue engineering process being developed by study co-author Dr. Joost Teixeira de Mattos of the University of Amsterdam would have a lower environmental impact across the board -- to the tune of 78-96% lower greenhouse gas emissions, 7-45% less energy used, 99% less land used, and 82-96% less water used.
Published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology early this week, the study based the findings on an estimate of the costs needed for making 1000 kg of cultured meat using a "scaled-up" version of de Mattos's process compared with the gas, energy, land, and water use required by the kind of meat that walks and moos before it climbs into your burger. Hanna Tuomisto of Oxford University's Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, one of the project's leaders, helpfully put the findings in the drive-thru context:
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We are not saying that we could, or would necessarily want to, replace conventional meat with its cultured counterpart right now. . .[H]owever, our research shows that cultured meat could be part of the solution to feeding the world's growing population and at the same time cutting emissions and saving both energy and water. Simply put, cultured meat is, potentially, a much more efficient and environmentally-friendly way of putting meat on the table.