Lab-grown meat | Lehigh University

Climate change is not a distant threat, but a present reality. It is already affecting the lives of millions of people and the health of our planet and the meat industry drives a massive amount of harmful emissions. Meanwhile, the Italian Senate has voted to pass a bill banning the production, importation, and marketing of lab-grown meat products.

While the efforts of 93 senators out of the 154 who voted on the bill have good intentions, how does such a decision fair in the race to save the Earth from climate change and ultimately protect the future of the human race?

Banning Lab-Grown Meat

Climate change ambassadors have been calling on rich countries to cut down meat consumption if they want to have a valid chance at achieving global climate goals. Reducing meat production may be one of the most impactful changes that we can make to impact the fight against climate change.

Francesco Lollobrigida, Italy’s Minister for Agriculture, introduced the bill to the Council of Ministers in March, which was approved almost immediately. The bill titled, “the protection of human health and the Environment in Relation to the Production, Marketing, and Importation of Foods of Non-animal Origin,” encompasses rules that ban “the production and sale of so-called ‘synthetic’ food and feed,” Forbes reported on the matter.

Lollobrigida expressed optimism following the successful vote that Italy is moving in the right direction, and could become the first country globally to prohibit production, importation, and marketing of synthetic food.

The minister praised the lawmakers for giving national interests the importance they deserve. Still, the bill must go through the Chamber of Deputies to become law.

“Italy, which is the world leader in food quality and safety, has the responsibility of leading the way in health and environmental protection policies,” Ettore Prandini the president of Coldiretti, the Italian agricultural lobbyist firm said approving the Senate’s decision.

The vote does not sit well with everyone in the country, with critics, arguing that the bill focuses on non-existent products. Legambiente, a well-known Italian environmental organization brushed off the vote saying that it only serves to avoid the real conversation about the “serious responsibilities of intensive farming.”

A report by the Good Food Institute’s ‘The State of Global Policy on Alternative Proteins’ a collective announcement by the European Union and several individual nations highlighted the allocation of $534.2 million for the development of plant-based foods, lab-grown meat, and fermentation processes in 2022.

Meanwhile, in regions like the U.S., Singapore, and Israel, the market for cultivated meat is live. France is another European country making steps toward lab-grown meat, with $62.7 million set aside for the production of alternative protein sources. Furthermore, the country has committed another $11.2 million to be used to finance grants to Umiami, a plant-based food producer to purchase and repurpose a production plant.

The Quagmire of Meat and Climate Change

Every year the global consumption of meat surpasses 350 million tons – twice the amount the world’s population consumed in 1988, the Earth.Org said in a recent report. Regrettably, there are “no signs of slowing down.”

Meanwhile, research into the impact of dairy and meat production on climate change is piling up evidence that can no longer be ignored. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization states that the global food economy was responsible for more than a third of the total global greenhouse gas emissions in 2021.

Outrageously, the Earth.Org found that nearly half of these emissions can be attributed solely to livestock. A recent report from Friends of the Earth revealed that twenty of the world’s largest meat and milk producers individually emit more greenhouse gases than entire first-world nations like Germany, France, or Britain.

Meat Atlas, another study the Earth.Org conducted revealed that big livestock producers do more harm beyond the climate crisis, contributing toward the loss of biodiversity and deforestation when creating land for meat and milk production.

Unfortunately, the corporations are backed by some of the world’s largest and most powerful banks, who often sweep the climate watchers’ apprehensions under the rug.

Producers of meat and dairy products, and livestock corporations included received an astonishing $478 million in total between 2015 and 2020 in funding initiatives facilitated by commercial banks, investment firms, and pension funds, according to a report by The Guardian.

The majority of these financial backers are based in North America and Europe, underscoring the significant financial support the meat and dairy industries have received from these regions during the period.

In a bid to increase economies of scale and reduce eliminate competition, livestock corporations are preferring to acquire smaller firms. The risk of such moves is that it erodes sustainable food production methods.

“To keep up with this [level of animal protein production] industrial animal farming is on the rise and keeps pushing sustainable models out of the market,” The Guardian report added.

Greenhouse Gases Raging High

Climate change advocates are afraid that with that kind of financial support, the global meat production level could rise by 40 million tons to 366 million tons per year by 2029. According to the Atlas Meat report China, Brazil, the US, and countries in the European Union will lead the production of meat around the world, accounting for 60% of the total output.

Livestock is a major contributor to carbon emissions, and the animal agriculture sector alone is responsible for approximately 14.5% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Approximately three-quarters of the world’s total agricultural land is used for rearing livestock or growing feed crops for them. “In Brazil alone, 175 million hectares is dedicated to raising cattle,” equal to the “entire agricultural area of the European Union”.

Three-quarters of all agricultural land is used to raise animals or the crops to feed them | Source Atlas Meat

Is Lab-Grown Meat The Solution?

Cultured or lab-grown meat has been promoted as a viable alternative that could help humanity save the Earth and protect its future. According to Labiotech, this meat is produced from animal cells in a laboratory as opposed to the traditional way of keeping livestock.

The sector, which has been growing rapidly in the last ten years, believes it is possible to meet the world’s meat supply using technology, thereby reducing the impact of production on climate change.

“In time, I believe that cultured meat could fundamentally change the way the majority of meat is produced in Europe,” the COO of Mosa Meat. A Dutch company, said Peter Verstrate, said. “Moving to this more efficient method of production would have many potential benefits for Europe, such as helping to reduce emissions of methane that contribute substantially to climate change.”

Despite the surface benefits, the transition to cultured meat production is a complex matter whose scope is hard to predict or comprehend. According to a study conducted by the European Environmental Agency, the adoption of lab-grown meat may not be positively received by the masses amid concerns about genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

“Indeed, 48 % of respondents would not purchase foods that look and taste identical to meat, but are based on ingredients that are produced artificially, while 33 % would,” the agency reported.

In addition to public perceptions regarding lab-grown meat, the University of California, Davis conducted a study that raised concerns about the grand promises made by advocates of cultured meat regarding its potential to dramatically reduce global greenhouse gas emissions.

Courtesy of The Food Institute

Upon analyzing the complete life-cycle of energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions associated with the entire process of cultivating meat, the researchers discovered that lab-grown meat may have far-reaching consequences on the world’s climate compared to the conventional methods presently in use.

To produce meat in the lab, scientists need a highly refined or purified growth media. This is the main ingredient that assists in the multiplication of animal cells. Pharmaceutical companies producing this crucial material need more resources, which could potentially contribute to global warming, just in a different way than traditional meat production.

“If this product continues to be produced using the “pharma” approach, it’s going to be worse for the environment and more expensive than conventional beef production,” the UC Davis report said.

Climate change is a problem that the world must collectively solve and exploring all possible solutions is the way to go about it. The area of cultured meat is still understudied, which means governments around the world must ensure resources are allocated to such endeavors. For now, a climate-friendly burger is still a dream.

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