For years, conversations around climate change focused on the most obvious emitters of greenhouse gasses—our traffic-choked highways, power plants and outdated factories causing visible environmental impact. But today, there's a growing awareness about the environmental impact of meat, from the way it's produced to the way it's transported and packaged.
According to a widely-cited 2021 Nature Food study, a whopping one-third of human-made greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions come from our global food system. The bulk of those emissions are attributed to agricultural activities, from livestock production to the use of fertilizer, which farmers depend on to grow food for both people and the billions of animals we eat each year.
In response to the growing body of research shining a light on the climate impact of our food, especially meat, a growing chorus of scientists, activists, policymakers and others have been pushing for urgent action. Proposed solutions include everything from eliminating meat from our diets (a hard sell for a global population eating more meat than ever before) to making meat more sustainably, through more climate-friendly farming techniques or by cultivating it in a lab.
Once viewed as too far-fetched to move the dial on climate progress, cultivated meat—meat grown in labs directly from animal cells without having to raise, slaughter or transport livestock—has now firmly gained a seat at the climate table. Beyond attracting billions of dollars in investment and support from big-name climate advocates like Bill Gates, Leonardo DiCaprio and José Andrés, the rapidly advancing cultivated meat industry has also drawn support from the world's leading climate experts, who are increasingly describing cellular agriculture as a viable solution to the planet's climate crisis.
What Are the Benefits of Lab Grown Meat?
The environmental benefits of this burgeoning industry mainly come from the way lab-grown meat is made. Developed in factories directly from animal cells, cultivated meat (also known as cell-based meat, cultured meat or lab-grown meat) requires only a fraction of the agricultural activities that go into producing conventional meat, according to initial projections. While the end products are similar, the lab-grown meat process does not require the same level of land, energy or water used to raise, feed, and transport animals in the production of conventional meat.
Though advancing rapidly, the industry is still too young for anyone to fully understand the impact it stands to have. At the moment, consumers only have access to it in select locations in Singapore, but lab-grown meat companies and regulators around the world are quickly working to ensure lab-grown meat is safe and clearing pathways toward more widespread commercialization. Believer recently broke ground on our first U.S. commercial-scale production facility. When it's up and running, the state-of-the-art lab grown meat factory in Wilson, North Carolina will be the largest in the world capable of producing at least 22 million pounds of food a year for consumers across the U.S. and beyond.
Once more facilities around the world are up-and-running, climate experts will have a clearer picture of just how transformative cultivated meat might be.
Lab Grown Meat Environmental Impact on COP27 Agenda
In the meantime, there are plenty of promising signs. Studies have found that cultivated meat could significantly slash livestock land use, and emit a fraction of the greenhouse gasses produced in conventional meat supply chains. Authors of the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assessment report echoed those findings and argued that the industry could "bring substantial reduction in direct GHG emissions from food production."
In yet another sign of just how prominent the industry has become in climate circles, cultivated meat was on the agenda at the COP27 climate conference in Egypt, where venture capitalists, business leaders, policymakers and others sampled GOOD Meat's cultivated chicken while hashing out solutions to our warming world.
Experts caution that the extent of the industry's impact will depend on its eventual scale and key choices companies make about everything from what sort of energy they use to run their plants to how they source ingredients.
But what's increasingly clear is that the path we are currently on is unsustainable. Or as U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres bluntly put it at the opening of COP27: "We are on a highway to climate hell with our foot still on the accelerator."
What's also clear is that appetite for meat is projected to increase as the global population grows and incomes rise—and that the lighter environmental impact of lab-grown meat has the interest of climate scientists and conscious consumers who want to enjoy their meat without paying a heavy price.