New studies further the case for cultivated meat over conventional meat in the race to net-zero emissionsNew studies further the case for cultivated meat over conventional meat in the race to net-zero emissions
By 2030, cultivated meat can be cost-competitive and massively reduce the climate impact of meat production.
March 9, 2021
New studies released today by independent research firm CE Delft show that—compared with conventional beef—meat cultivated directly from cells may cause up to 92% less global warming and 93% less air pollution and use up to 95% less land and 78% less water.
The studies model a future large-scale cultivated meat production facility and show that by 2030 the cost of meat grown from cells, or “cultivated meat,” when manufactured at scale could drop to $2.57 per pound. This production cost will enable cultivated meat to compete with multiple forms of conventional meat or serve as a high-quality ingredient in plant-based meat products.
The life cycle assessment (LCA) and techno-economic assessment (TEA) conducted by CE Delft, with support from The Good Food Institute and GAIA, are the first to utilize data from companies active in the cultivated meat supply chain. Informed by real-world inputs, the studies paint the most complete picture to date of the anticipated environmental impacts and costs of large-scale cultivated meat production.
The LCA analyzes various scenarios, including the adoption of renewable energy by both the conventional and cultivated meat industry should they go all-in on their climate mitigation efforts. In the most optimistic scenario, which factors in ambitious projections of conventional animal agriculture’s achievements in environmental impact improvements, cultivated meat outperforms all forms of conventional meat.
The LCA shows that cultivated meat, when produced using renewable energy, reduces the cumulative environmental impacts of conventional beef by approximately 93%, pork by 53% and chicken by 29%. In these scenarios, the conventional products are also produced using renewable energy.
Importantly, when production is powered by an average conventional energy mix versus a renewable energy mix, cultivated meat’s carbon footprint rises but still remains significantly lower than conventional beef’s. This key finding shows that renewable energy is the key to unlocking cultivated meat’s huge climate mitigation potential and demonstrates the dramatic gains that mutually reinforcing climate solution strategies can deliver.
Beyond emissions, the LCA also accounts for the impacts of pollutants on human health and shows that cultivated meat causes significantly less harm than conventional meat. Not included in the report are the global human health benefits associated with decoupling meat production from conditions that give rise to zoonotic disease transmission and antibiotic resistance.
Furthermore, with conventional meat using up to 19 times more land than cultivated beef—which doesn’t require crops and pastures to raise and feed livestock—a transition from conventional animal agriculture to cultivated meat production can free up land to restore ecosystems and sequester carbon. While these land-use-change benefits are not accounted for in the LCA, these parallel climate strategies can act as force multipliers in global efforts to reduce and offset carbon emissions.
These analyses provide governments interested in a safer, more secure and climate-resilient food system with data that can inform the allocation of R&D funding, considered vital to accelerating the development and global scaling of cultivated meat.
CE Delft Senior Researcher Ingrid Odegard: “With this analysis, we show that cultivated meat presents as an achievable low-carbon, cost-competitive agricultural technology that can play a major role in achieving a carbon-neutral food system. This research provides a solid base on which companies can build, improve and advance in their goal of producing cultivated meat sustainably at scale and at a competitive price point.”
GFI Senior Scientist Elliot Swartz: “As soon as 2030, we expect to see real progress on costs for cultivated meat and massive reductions in emissions and land use brought about by the transition to this method of meat production. This research signals a vote of confidence and serves as a practical roadmap for the industry to address technical and economic bottlenecks, which will further reduce climate impacts and costs. Government investment in R&D and infrastructure will be critical to accelerating the development of cultivated meat and help us achieve global climate goals. Favorable policies and carbon markets can incentivize the restoration of agricultural land for its carbon sequestration and ecosystem services potential, maximizing the climate benefits of cultivated meat.”
GFI Executive Director Bruce Friedrich: “The world will not get to net-zero emissions without addressing food and land, and alternative proteins are a key aspect of how we do that. Decarbonizing the global economy is impossible with the diffuse production process and range of gases involved in conventional animal agriculture. As these new models illustrate, if we can concentrate the environmental impact of meat production in a single, manageable space—and if we power that space with electricity generated from clean energy sources—that’s how the world gets to net-zero emissions.”
GAIA Consultant Hermes Sanctorum: "For GAIA, cultivated meat is primarily a solution for shifting away from animal agriculture and its many harms. Industrial farming has a major impact on the environment and animals. That is why we and GFI commissioned a study to make the comparison between cultivated meat and conventional meat. This study is a worldwide first: it is the first time that a study on cultivated meat has been made in collaboration with cultivated meat companies and with detailed data from these companies.”
Source: The Good Food Institute
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