Less meat to protect the environment

Less meat to protect the environment

July 18, 2018

Less meat to protect the environment

It is now clear that rearing animals for food is a problem for the sustainability of our environments. Vegetarianism or veganism aside, the solutions could soon include lab-produced meat.

It is well known that reducing the consumption of animal products and increasing the intake of fruits, vegetables and pulses brings a number of health benefits, particularly against heart disease and cancer. A vegetable-based diet also reduces the risk of type-2 diabetes and obesity, and is thus linked to a longer life. 

However, animal farming is still an important factor in the world economy, also considering that meat consumption has increased by 56 per cent in developing countries in the last few decades. According to FAO estimates, world meat production could even double by 2050. The growing demand inevitably led to an increase of deforestation and over-grazing in countries like Brazil, making animal farming a significant source of environmental problems: it is responsible for nearly a fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions, and it contributes significantly to water pollution. This can happen in several different ways, underlined the FAO, and the animal husbandry sector quickly intensifies, with very serious implications for water quality. Possible water pollution includes nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorous from fertilizers and animal excrements), pesticides, sediments, organic matter, pathogens (E.Coli, for example) metals (selenium) and various pollutants (residues from pharmaceuticals, hormones and food additives).

The role of a meatless diet

Some believe that becoming vegetarians (or even better, vegans) is the only sensible way to combat deforestation and similar problems, as well as the best ethical choice against intensive livestock farming. A 2017 study, led by Helen Harwatt and published on Climatic Change, for example, showed that if all Americans substituted beef with beans, the country would be close to achieving the greenhouse gas targets set by Barack Obama for 2020.

Are there different alternatives? The solution could be to reduce meat consumption while improving its quality, rather than eliminating it altogether. 

One example is the organic farming movement founded by pioneer Sir Alfred Howard, it is still a small market in Europe, but it is growing fast. There are other farming models too, but none of them really manages to eliminate the impact of livestock rearing on ecosystems. This is why many are trying to produce meat in the lab. 

Tube test meat

When we talk about lab meat, we are not referring to plant- based meat substitutes, but rather to real meat. Several high-tech companies are working on a clean meat that is created in the lab, fiber by fiber, and is free from antibiotics or other farming residues. For example, the Israeli company SuperMeat was founded in 2015 and plans to launch its products in the market within the next three years. SuperMeat harvests cells from chicken (without causing any pain) and then cultures them in the lab, avoiding both the suffering related to poultry farms and all the problems they cause to the eco-system. Synthetic meat is also environmentally sustainable: according to research carried out by the universities of Oxford and Amsterdam, it could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 98 per cent, land exploitation by 99 per cent and up to 96 per cent water consumption.


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