A new ex-ante life-cycle assessment looks at the efficiencies and benefits of cultivated meat.
The LCA looked at cultivated meat from more than 15 companies, comparing the outlook of cultivated meat production in 2030 to that of conventional animal meat. The research was funded by GAIA, The Good Food Institute, a donor-backed 501(c)3 nonprofit, and CE Delft. The findings are published in The International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment.
“Cultivated meat (CM) is attracting increased attention as an environmentally sustainable and animal-friendly alternative to conventional meat,” reads the abstract. “As the technology matures, more data are becoming available and uncertainties decline.”
According to the researchers, the ex-ante LCA looked at cradle-to-gate production of 1kg of meat. Source data include lab-scale primary data from five cultivated meat producers, full-scale primary data from processes in comparable manufacturing fields, data from computational models, and data from published literature.
“Although animal products contribute around 18 percent of calories and 37 percent of protein to the average global diet, the impacts on the environment are disproportionately large compared to non-animal products in diets (Poore and Nemecek 2018),” note the researchers.
The researchers note that conventional animal products’ impact on climate change is significant, making up between 16.5 percent and 19.4 percent of total anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, twice as large as plant-based sources and “by far the highest contributor within food system emissions.”
Conventional animal products use approximately 83 percent of global agricultural land, including pastures and cropland for feed, as well as 41 percent of green and blue water use.
The findings suggest cultivated meat is nearly three times more efficient at turning crops into meat than even the “most efficient” livestock, making agriculture land use significantly lower. It also found nitrogen emissions to be lower because of cultivated meat production efficiency and lack of manure.
The report also points to the need for renewable energy in producing cultivated meat as the process is “energy-intensive”.
“Using renewable energy, the carbon footprint is lower than beef and pork and comparable to the ambitious benchmark of chicken,” reads the report. “Greenhouse gas profiles are different, being mostly CO2 for CM and more CH4 and N2O for conventional meats. Climate hotspots are energy used for maintaining temperature in reactors and for biotechnological production of culture medium ingredients.”
The researchers say cultivated meat producers should work to optimize energy efficiency, including sourcing renewable energy, and leverage supply chain collaborations to ensure sustainable feedstocks. The LCA also calls on governments to consider the renewable energy demands of the emergent cultivated meat industry, and, it encourages consumers to look at cultivated meat not as an extra menu option, but a substitute for higher-impact meat products.
Cultivated meat has the potential to have a lower environmental impact than ambitious conventional meat benchmarks, for most environmental indicators, most clearly agricultural land use, air pollution, and nitrogen-related emissions, the researchers say. “While CM production and its upstream supply chain are energy-intensive, using renewable energy can ensure that it is a sustainable alternative to all conventional meats.”