Quantcast

Lab Grown Meat Could Be Worse for the Climate Than Farm-Raised Beef, Oxford Study

Climate
KarinaKnyspel / iStock / Getty Images

2018 saw a number of studies pointing to the outsized climate impact of meat consumption. Beef has long been singled out as particularly unsustainable: Cows both release the greenhouse gas methane into the atmosphere because of their digestive processes and require a lot of land area to raise. But for those unwilling to give up the taste and texture of a steak or burger, could lab-grown meat be a climate-friendly alternative? In a first-of-its-kind study, researchers from the Oxford Martin School set out to answer that question.


The results, published in Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems Tuesday, concluded that lab-grown meat could actually make climate change worse. It all depends on whether the energy used to grow the cultured meat is still generated from fossil fuels.

"The climate impacts of cultured meat production will depend on what level of sustainable energy generation can be achieved, as well as the efficiency of future culture processes," lead study author Dr. John Lynch said in a press release.

To reach their conclusions, researchers compared the greenhouse gas emissions of three different methods of cattle farming and four methods of growing lab-based meat, assuming the energy system remained the same as it is today. They then calculated how those emissions would impact global temperatures over the next 1,000 years. In some cases, they found, lab-grown meat would actually generate higher temperatures.

The reason all hinges on the different ways that methane and carbon dioxide behave in the atmosphere:

"Cattle are very emissions-intensive because they produce a large amount of methane from fermentation in their gut," study co-author and Halley Professor of Physics at the University of Oxford Raymond Pierrehumbert said in the press release. "Methane is an important greenhouse gas, but the way in which we generally describe methane emissions as 'carbon dioxide equivalent' amounts can be misleading because the two gases are very different. Per tonne emitted, methane has a much larger warming impact than carbon dioxide, however, it only remains in the atmosphere for about 12 years whereas carbon dioxide persists and accumulates for millennia. This means methane's impact on long-term warming is not cumulative and is impacted greatly if emissions increase or decrease over time."

Because of this, energy-intensive methods for growing cultured meat that release carbon dioxide could have longer-term climate impacts than cattle raising.

The researchers said that there was certainly potential in developing lab-grown meat, and it had other benefits such as freeing land for carbon sequestration. However, it was important to consider all potential consequences of both methods.

"If we simply replace that methane with carbon dioxide it could actually have detrimental long-term consequences," Lynch said.

Cultured meat has yet to be mass-produced for public consumption, BBC News noted. A Dutch lab claimed to have made the first lab-grown burger in 2013. Last year, a company named Just made lab-grown chicken nuggets.

"Essentially, the process involves collecting stem cells from animal tissue and then getting them to differentiate into fibres, these are then developed and grown into a sufficient mass of muscle tissue that can be harvested and sold as meat," Matt McGrath wrote for BBC News.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

A tropical storm above Bangkok on Aug. 04, 2016. Hristo Rusev/ NurPhoto / Getty Images

By Jeff Turrentine

First off: Bangkok Wakes to Rain, the intricately wrought, elegantly crafted debut novel by the Thai-American author Pitchaya Sudbanthad, isn't really about climate change. This tale set in the sprawling subtropical Thai capital is ultimately a kind of family saga — although its interconnected characters aren't necessarily linked by a bloodline. What binds them is their relationship to a small parcel of urban land on which has variously stood a Christian mission, an upper-class family house, and a towering condominium. All of the characters have either called this place home or had some other significant connection to it.

Read More Show Less
orn_france / iStock / Getty Images

By Susan McCabe, BSc, RD

Dioscorea alata is a species of yam commonly referred to as purple yam, ube, violet yam, or water yam.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Left: MirageC / Moment / Getty Images Right: Pongsak Tawansaeng / EyeEm / Getty Images

By Lizzie Streit, MS, RDN, LD

Sole water is water saturated with pink Himalayan salt.

Read More Show Less
People march to TCF Bank Stadium to protest against the mascot for the Washington Redskins before the game against the Minnesota Vikings on Nov. 2, 2014 at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Hannah Foslien / Getty Images

Maine Gov. Janet Mills signed a bill into law Thursday banning public schools or universities in the state from using Native American mascots, names or imagery. Mills' action will make Maine the first state in the nation with such a ban once it goes into effect later this year, The Bangor Daily News reported.

Read More Show Less
A man protests against the use of disposable plastics outside the Houses of Parliament on March 28 in London. John Keeble / Getty Images

Plastic pollution across the globe is suffocating our planet and driving Earth toward catastrophic climatic conditions if not curbed significantly and immediately, according to a new report by the Center for International Environmental Law (CEIL).

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Gov. Jay Inslee (D-WA) testifies during a House Energy and Commerce Environment and Climate Change Subcommittee hearing on Capitol Hill on April 2 in Washington, DC. Zach Gibson / Getty Images

By Julia Conley

A new climate action plan put forth by Democratic presidential candidate Gov. Jay Inslee on Thursday is being praised for highlighting the enormous benefits that would result from a rapid shift in the U.S. to a renewable energy economy that centers on the needs of workers and vulnerable communities.

Read More Show Less

Mitshu / E+ / Getty Images

By Alina Petre, MS, RD (CA)

Veganism is a way of living that tries to minimize animal exploitation and cruelty.

Read More Show Less

6okean / iStock / Getty Images Plus

A federal judge ruled this week that the Food and Drug Administration must begin implementing regulations for the many types of e-cigarettes now on the market in the U.S.

Read More Show Less