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In vitro meat not as ecological as we think?

Given the large contributor of greenhouse gases, in vitro meat seems a good ecological alternative. Several start-up companies have launched this technology despite the colossal prices and uncertain consumer demand. However, even if, in our eyes, meat has an important place in our diet, we cannot ignore the consequences it generates. That' s why in Europe we are trying to reduce this consumption. Moreover, there is the question of the ecological impact, so the concept of in vitro meat was born. The first steak was created in August 2013 by Mark Post and three years later, a Californian start-up launched the first meatball.

Why might in vitro meat be a good alternative?

It is a good alternative for those who want to continue eating meat without feeling guilty about killing animals. It is a more ethical and environmentally friendly way of eating meat, since it avoids the breeding of animals which generates up to 18% of greenhouse gases worldwide, partly due to methane and nitrous oxide. Besides, it saves animals from suffering, which is one of the reasons why people become vegetarians. Not to mention the preservation of the environment and medical reasons, such as cholesterol problems, cardiovascular diseases, etc.

On the other side of the spectrum

This cultivated meat does not have only positive points, indeed methane is a greenhouse gas more powerful than CO2. But in the long term, CO2 is more risky because it has a longer lifespan. A study over 100 years shows that the more time passes, the more the advantage of in vitro meat is reduced. After 450 years, we can see that even a farm with twice the initial carbon footprint becomes less harmful to the environment.

Greenhouse gas emissions (kg per kg of meat obtained) and CO2 equivalent warming power over 100 years for the different production methods. In the very long term (1,000 years), the environmental benefit of cultured meat is cancelled out. According to J. Lynch and R. Pierrehumbert, Front. Sustain. Food, 2019

Another problem is the price, the first steak designed in the laboratory in 2013 had cost 285,000 euros for 142 grams. Also, it is a new concept that goes against what we had known until then. Rejection is inevitable, so it will take time to accept it, especially in some countries where meat consumption is very high. Finally, there is the question of taste and nutritional qualities since cultured meat is low in iron.

In conclusion, one could believe that in vitro meat production is less advantageous ecologically, but everything is hypothetical since several factors must be taken into account in order to have more relevant results. On the one hand, everything depends on the resources used to produce the cultivated meat and the demand of the consumers. On the other hand, the emissions related to the breeding, location and processing. However, it is impossible to doubt the benefits of this meat because it participates in the reduction of diseases caused by the animals as well as the presence of nitrates in the effluents or transportation. It seems that the least risky solution would be to replace meat with legumes, cereals, or any other food that can provide a nutritional contribution comparable to that of meat.

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