The narrative posited by cultured meat proponents is that animal agriculture requires large amounts of land and water and produces high levels of greenhouse gases (GHG). The environmental impacts of a product, such as a beef hamburger, is then compared to the anticipatory ones for producing a cultured hamburger patty through tissue engineering-based cellular agriculture. While it is true that conventional meat production has a large environmental footprint, the problem with this dichotomous framing is that it overlooks the rest of the story.
As the scale and impacts of climate change become increasingly alarming, meat is a popular target for action. Advocates urge the public to eat less meat to save the environment. Some activists have called for taxing meat to reduce consumption of it. A key claim underlying these arguments holds that globally, meat production generates more greenhouse gases than the entire transportation sector. However, this claim is demonstrably wrong, as I will show. And its persistence has led to false assumptions about the linkage between meat and climate change.
New findings suggest that more intensive agriculture might be the “least bad” option for feeding the world while saving its species—provided use of such “land-efficient” systems prevents further conversion of wilderness to farmland.
Livestock experts Anne Mottet and Henning Steinfeld, of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), warn of the pitfalls of simplification when looking at greenhouse gas emissions from livestock. Greenhouse gas emissions from livestock and transport are often compared, but in a flawed way.
Augustine Ayantunde, the ILRI regional representative in West Africa, presented investment opportunities to enhance the productivity of Burkina Faso’s livestock sector, based on decades of ILRI and partner research in the West African Sahel.
Calls for us all to switch entirely to plant-based foods ignore one of the most powerful tools we have to mitigate these ills: grazing and browsing animals.
Once again, the debate on sustainable diets and in particular on (not) eating animal-derived products is resurfacing in the media, as illustrated most recently by an article in The Guardian. The paper reported on a study by J. Poore and T. Nemecek entitled ‘Reducing food’s environmental impacts through producers and consumers’, published in the latest edition of Science magazine.