Eating Lab-Grown Meat and Insects Could Benefit the Planet

Food and Agriculture
Nuggets made from lab-grown chicken meat in Singapore.
Nuggets made from lab-grown chicken meat in Singapore. NICHOLAS YEO / AFP via Getty Images

Consuming lab-grown meat and insects could lower carbon emissions and save water, as well as make more land available for nature, a new study has found. The scientists said that, compared with a typical European diet, these diet choices could reduce environmental burdens on the planet by more than 80 percent, BBC News reported.

The researchers also found that eating a diet with less meat and more vegetables had similar benefits for the planet to eating the lab-grown or insect-based food sources.

“With significant reductions in animal-sourced foods and substitutions with novel or future foods and plant-based protein alternatives, you can have significant reductions in environmental impacts in terms of global warming potential, land use and water use,” said Rachel Mazac of the University of Helsinki, the study’s lead author, as reported by BBC News.

The study, “Incorporation of novel foods in European diets can reduce global warming potential, water use and land use by over 80%,” was published in the journal Nature Food.

Mazac said that a vegan diet had similar impacts on the planet, and that reducing animal-based foods by 75 percent could result in a reduction of 75 percent “across all of your impacts,” BBC News reported.

The potential alternative food sources the scientists studied included lab-grown meat, milk and berries; ground-up crickets and flies; algae; kelp; mushroom protein powder; and lab-grown egg whites. The lab-grown foods being developed are rich in protein and essential nutrients.

People have been incorporating insects like crickets into their diets for thousands of years, The Conversation noted. They are high in important nutrients like iron, zinc, omega-3 fatty acids, B12, folic acid and protein.

Insect farming taxes the environment much less than meat that comes from animals raised in the cruel conditions of factory farms.

The recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report expressed the advantages of reducing overall meat consumption for people and the planet.

“We don’t want to tell people what to eat,” said ecologist Hans-Otto Pörtner, co-chair of the IPCC’s working group on impacts, adaptation and vulnerability, as reported by Nature. “But it would indeed be beneficial, for both climate and human health, if people in many rich countries consumed less meat, and if politics would create appropriate incentives to that effect.”

The question is, will people be interested in altering their diets to include lab-grown and other less environmentally-taxing food alternatives?

“In-vitro meat and other alternatives are important as they can help to reduce greenhouse emissions and lead to better animal welfare conditions. However, if cultured meat is to replace livestock-based proteins, it will have to emotionally and intellectually appeal to the Gen Z consumers. It may be through its physical appearance, but what seems to be more important is transparency around its environmental and other benefits,” said Dr. Diana Bogueva from the University of Sydney’s School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, who was the lead researcher on the 2020 study, “Gen Z not ready to eat lab-grown meat,” as The University of Sydney reported.

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