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.

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Pexels

By Makayla Meixner

Black pepper is one of the most commonly used spices worldwide.

Read More Show Less
Many common snack foods have been expertly engineered to keep us addicted. Karen M. Romanko / Photolibrary / Getty Images

By Melissa Kravitz

Can't stop eating that bag of chips until you're licking the salt nestled in the corners of the empty package from your fingers? You're not alone. And it's not entirely your fault that the intended final handful of chips was not, indeed, your last for that snacking session. Many common snack foods have been expertly engineered to keep us addicted, almost constantly craving more of whatever falsely satisfying manufactured treat is in front of us.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Hannes Kutza / EyeEm / Getty Images

By Kim Knowlton

A new paper just out in The Lancet Planetary Health provides the first global indication that recent temperature increases, propelled by climate change, are in fact contributing significantly to longer and more intense pollen seasons.

Read More Show Less
Jordan Siemens / Taxi / Getty Images

EcoWatch is pleased to announce its second photo contest! Earth Day is happening on April 22nd, and this year's theme is "Protect Our Species." With that in mind, we want EcoWatchers to show us your photographs of creatures that inhabit Earth. Send us your best photos of species you value.

Read More Show Less
A new study based on data from the Energy Information Agency found that coal plants are now far more expensive to run than wind and solar power projects. reynermedia / CC BY 2.0

By Julia Conley

In propping up the coal industry, the Trump administration is not only contributing to dangerous pollution, fossil fuel emissions and the climate crisis, it is also now clinging to a far more expensive energy production model than renewable energy offers.

That's according to a new report from renewable energy analysis firm Energy Innovation, showing that about three-quarters of power produced by the nation's remaining coal plants is more expensive for American households than renewables including wind, solar and hydro power.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Cars piled up in the Iranian city of Shiraz after flash flooding swept through the city. AMIN BERENJKAR / AFP / Getty Images

At least 19 people have died and more than 100 have been injured in flash flooding in the south of Iran, the country's semi-official Tasnim News Agency said. The city of Shiraz in Fars province was the worst hit by the flooding, which occurred after a month's worth of rain fell in a few hours, CNN meteorologist Taylor Ward said.

Read More Show Less
Two Sherpa descending from Everest Base Camp, Himalayas, Khumbu, Nepal. Joel Addams / Aurora Photos / Getty Images

Climate change is having a grizzly effect on Mount Everest as melting snow and glaciers reveal some of the bodies of climbers who died trying to scale the world's highest peak.

Read More Show Less
Navajo Generating Station, Arizona. Wolfgang Moroder / Wikimedia / CC BY-SA 3.0

The Navajo Nation has decided to stop pursuing the acquisition of a beleaguered coal-fired power plant in Arizona, locking in the plant to be taken offline and its associated coal mine to close later this year.

A Navajo Nation Council committee voted 11-9 last week to stop pursuing the purchase of the 2,250-megawatt Navajo Generating Station, which with the Kayenta coal mine provides more than 800 jobs to primarily Navajo and Hopi workers as well as tribal royalties.

A coalition of utilities that own the plant said in 2017 it would cease operations due to increased economic pressure, and the plant's future has proved a flash point for national and regional energy policy and raised larger questions on how Native communities will handle ties to fossil fuel industries as the economy changes.

For a deeper dive:

Arizona Republic, Indian Country Today, AP, WOKV, Farmington Daily Times

For more climate change and clean energy news, you can follow Climate Nexus on Twitter and Facebook, and sign up for daily Hot News.