Global meat consumption is set to increase by over 75% by 2050, with increasing popularity in the developing world behind this dramatic rise.
Increased meat production will have a significant impact on the environment. The FAO estimates that domesticated ruminants (such as sheep and cows) release 100m tonnes of methane every year. The consumption of resources, water and energy to produce meat is enormous, and this will only increase given the rise in global meat-eating.
The unsustainability of global meat production is clear. Becoming vegetarian or vegan is an obvious solution – with benefits for the environment and health. However, for meat lovers, who can’t bear to give up a juicy steak, there may be an alternative.
What can we do about it?
One study has suggested that large numbers of people becoming vegetarians or vegans could have significant environmental benefits. Even more modest consumption would have health and environmental benefits.
A shift towards plant-based diets, in line with dietary guidelines, could reduce global mortality by 6-10% and reduce food-related emissions by 29-70% by 2050, compared to continuing on the current trajectory.
The study, which appeared in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, used computer models to assess the benefits of such a change. The results are shown in the charts below.
However, for many people the prospect of giving up meat is difficult to imagine.
Professor Mark Post agrees with them. In this video he explores the problem and proposes a possible solution – bioengineering meat in the lab.
Professor Post explains why he is worried about the impact of global meat production. The resources that go into one quarter-pounder burger are staggering:
· 6.7lbs (3kg) of feed
· 52.8 gallons (240 litres) of water
· 74.5 square feet (6.9 sq. metres) of land
· 1000 Btu (1055 kJ) of energy.
He says that while becoming a vegetarian is a possible solution, he doesn’t want to give up meat: “I know all the problems with meat-eating. But, I am a meat-eater and I will continue to eat meat.”
So he’s developed an alternative. A system for bioengineering meat in the lab. Or indeed, he suggests in your own home. Much in the same way you’d have a vegetable garden, we could one day be growing meat in our kitchens.
Producing meat in this way could have significant environmental benefits, with much reduced consumption of resources and greenhouse gas emissions. Although the appearance of lab-grown meat on our supermarket shelves is still a way off, Professor Post believes that within five to 10 years we could be able to buy cultured meat.