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

PhotoAlto / Laurence Mouton / Getty Images

By Ana Reisdorf, MS, RD

You've probably heard the buzz around collagen supplements and your skin by now. But is the hype really that promising? After all, research has pointed to both the benefits and downsides of collagen supplements — and for many beauty-conscious folk, collagen isn't vegan.

Read More Show Less
Pixabay

By Marlene Cimons

Neil Pederson's introduction to tree rings came from a "sweet and kindly" college instructor, who nevertheless was "one of the most boring professors I'd ever experienced," Pederson said. "I swore tree rings off then and there." But they kept coming back to haunt him.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Aerial view of the explosion site of a chemical factory on March 22 in Yancheng, Jiangsu Province of China. Caixin Media / VCG / Getty Images)

At least 47 people have died in an explosion at a plant in Yancheng, China Thursday run by a chemical company with a history of environmental violations, Sky News reported.

Read More Show Less
A fishmonger in Elmina, a fishing port in the Central Region of Ghana. Environmental Justice Foundation

By Daisy Brickhill

Each morning, men living in fishing communities along Ghana's coastline push off in search of the day's catch. But when the boats come back to shore, it's the women who take over.

Read More Show Less
Pexels

By Sam Nickerson

Links between excess sugar in your diet and disease have been well-documented, but new research by Harvard's School of Public Health might make you even more wary of that next soda: it could increase your risk of an early death.

The study, published this week in the American Heart Association's journal Circulation, found that drinking one or two sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) each day — like sodas or sports drinks — increases risk of an early death by 14 percent.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Krystal B / Flickr

Tyson Foods is recalling approximately 69,093 pounds of frozen chicken strips because they may have been contaminated with pieces of metal, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced Thursday.

The affected products were fully-cooked "Buffalo Style" and "Crispy" chicken strips with a "use by" date of Nov. 30, 2019 and an establishment number of "P-7221" on the back of the package.

"FSIS is concerned that some product may be in consumers' freezers," the recall notice said. "Consumers who have purchased these products are urged not to consume them. These products should be thrown away or returned to the place of purchase."

Read More Show Less
Pixabay

By Hrefna Palsdottir, MS

Cold cereals are an easy, convenient food.

Read More Show Less
A tractor spraying a field with pesticides in Orem, Utah. Aqua Mechanical / CC BY 2.0

Environmental exposure to pesticides, both before birth and during the first year of life, has been linked to an increased risk of developing autism spectrum disorder, according to the largest epidemiological study to date on the connection.

The study, published Wednesday in BMJ, found that pregnant women who lived within 2,000 meters (approximately 1.2 miles) of a highly-sprayed agricultural area in California had children who were 10 to 16 percent more likely to develop autism and 30 percent more likely to develop severe autism that impacted their intellectual ability. If the children were exposed to pesticides during their first year of life, the risk they would develop autism went up to 50 percent.

Read More Show Less