Cell-based meat could cause up to 92% less global warming, 93% less air pollution and use up to 95% less land and 78% less water compared to conventional beef production, according to a pair of new studies by CE Delft.
There has been a lot of talk over the years about how cell-based meat could revolutionize the way food is produced. These studies are the closest thing so far to showing what could happen, in terms of sustainability and cost. They seem to validate what many in the cell-based space have said, as well as quantify just how much producing meat through growing cells — rather than slaughtering animals — can benefit the planet.
The meat industry has an enormous footprint. According to a 2018 analysis by Bloomberg, pasture land makes up more than a third of the land in the contiguous 48 states. Between pastures and cropland for feed, 41% of the land goes toward just cows. A total of 14.5% of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions in the world come from livestock, according to the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization.
With a large footprint like this, it is easy to improve even a small amount — though some of the large improvements projected by the study seem a bit exaggerated. In a blog post, the Good Food Institute points out that some of the efficiency numbers are based on using conventional energy to operate the plants. If renewable energy is adopted, sustainability can improve a great deal more.
While sustainability is gaining more traction with consumers, it isn’t the only thing that matters. In order for there to be wide adoption of cell-based meat, its price needs to be comparable to meat that comes from animals. While the study’s cost estimate of $2.57 per pound of cell-based meat by 2030 assumes the existence of full-scale facilities that can produce 10,000 metric tons of cultivated meat per year, the numbers are believable. After all, Israel-based Future Meat Technologies announced earlier this year it can make a cell-based chicken breast for about $7.50.