Our thoughts on study in Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems
This week a study by the LEAP (Livestock, Environment and People) programme at Oxford University was published in Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems. The study looked at the environmental impact of cultured meat production and concluded that, under the worst case scenario, it could be worse for climate change than conventional meat production in 1,000 years’ time.
Unfortunately, the study’s conclusions were misleadingly simplified in media headlines to: “Cultured meat may be worse for the climate”.
The reason we started Mosa Meat was to have a positive impact on the world, including on the vital issue of climate change. If it were eventually determined that cultured meat used more energy and was worse for the planet than conventional meat production, then we would abandon the project.
So, we were alarmed by these headlines. But if one reads the study, it actually concludes that there is a great deal of uncertainty about the impact on climate because we don’t yet know how cultured meat will be produced at scale.
The paper therefore looked at various production scenarios. Of the scenarios considered in the study, there was only one where conventional meat outperforms cultured meat. This is in the very worst case - but even then cultured meat will be better for 100-400 years, depending on the conventional production system used.
The reality is that no one can yet give a precise estimate of how far cultured meat could reduce greenhouse gas emissions. As the paper says, this will depend on the scaled-up production system, which is still being worked out by various companies, including Mosa Meat.
But there are logical reasons to think that it will be significantly better. Even in the unlikely situation where energy use is not eventually lower than with conventional meat production, the fact that cultured meat will use 99% less land will free up immense areas for carbon sequestration and clean energy production. Furthermore, unlike with conventional meat production, cultured meat production facilities can be co-located with carbon-neutral energy sources.