The global production of food accounts for over a third of all greenhouse gas emissions, and 60% of this comes from meat production. Beef alone accounts for a quarter of emissions produced by raising and growing food. Grazing animals also require a lot of land, which is often cleared through the felling of forests, as well as vast tracts of additional land to grow their feed. In addition, livestock produce large quantities of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. On the other hand, plant-based production emits under half the amount that meat does, and it’s also a much more moral and less environmentally degrading process. To produce 1kg of wheat, for example, 2.5kg of greenhouse gases are emitted. A single kilo of beef, meanwhile, creates 70kg of emissions. If we are to meet the Paris Agreements conditions to control climate change, this pillar of global warming must be addressed.
Meat is an habitual good, according to a study by PETA. ‘This may be because meat and other animal-based foods contain opiates and other drug-like chemicals that cause people to get “hooked” and keep craving more.’ Therefore, it could be argued that telling a meat-eater to simply eat vegetables instead of meat is like telling someone who’s addicted to smoking to just stop smoking, rather than persuading them to try an e-cigarette. This is the reason that meat alternatives which act as almost perfect substitutes are so essential to change the eating patterns of commercialised society, as it acts as the e-cigarette to a meat-eating addiction.
We’ve all heard of plant-based meat companies like ‘Quorn’, but some companies are experimenting with methods of completely replicating meat in a way which makes it sustainable:
Lab-grown sea food
Due to the increase in demand for seafood and the collapse of some fish stocks due to overfishing and climate change, fisheries simply can’t keep up anymore, at least without seriously endangering many marine species. food scientists are working on a solution to this problem that could help reduce the pressure fisheries have been facing without causing more harm to our biosphere – Cell-cultured sea food
In short, Cell-cultured sea food is derived from tissues of aquatic species, yet crucially the meat which is grown has never been part of a live animal. To create it, the process starts with the harvesting of either adult or embryonic cells from a particular donor species. Scientists then try to identify which cell lines are ‘self-renewing’ in order to create an ‘immortalised cell line’. This is a cell line which regenerates on its own, meaning new cells will not have to be harvested again from donor species. These cells are then fed a ‘growth media’ containing nutrients which vary depending on what fish cell is being grown. These nutrients are typically a combination of glucose, fatty acids, vitamins, salts, amino acids, peptides, and hormones. The material itself is grown in a bioreactor, and in order to mimic the shape of a real fish scientists are experimenting with moulding the creation with the use of scaffolding.
From reports, lab-created fish tastes similar to the real thing, and with some finer tuning through further experimentation it’s possible this new form of meat will become indistinguishable with that which is stripped off live animals.
The good news is, experimentation is already very underway. Companies such as Finless Foods, BlueNalu, Wildtype, Just, and Seafuture, all specialise in developing cell–cultured seafood, and have attracted tens of millions from investors. These companies have already succeeded in developing various forms of cell-based salmon, shrimp, yellowtail, and carp that are at the taste-testing stage, and crab and lobster are also already on the way.
3D printed meat
‘Redefine Meat’ is an emerging company, founded only in 2018, which is attempting to take the food industry by storm with its innovative approach to meat production. This process involves the use of natural plant-based ingredients which are ‘crafted’ and ‘optimised’ using AI and machine learning, and brought to life through advanced manufacturing and 3D printing. Working with the best butchers and food scientists in the world, there are great prospects for this company, which this year became the first company to commercialise plant-based whole cuts.
What separates Redefined Meat’s plant-based meat with others, such as ‘Quorn’, is due to the level of customisation and specialisation which allows them to make meat that’s not just equal to normal meat, but better. ‘Having studied meat’s complex structure down to its molecular composition, we understand what drives each sensory process. In developing our own proprietary technology, we have mastered the ability to create New-Meat that gratifies on every emotional level.’
Similarly to cell-cultured sea food, as this 3D-printing method only emerged in 2018 much more experimentation is needed, and with currently only 100 team members and 47 working in research and development, Redefine Meat have a long way to go until they reach the top. The good news is that, according to this article, the company is getting some recognition. Ben Bartlett, a chef and barbecue expert, said: “I judge on taste, texture and appearance – I’ve had so many bland and dull plant products. Then suddenly this came along and I was marking them 9s and 10s.”
Price or quality?
Many would argue that the current standard of plant-based meat is a sufficient substitute to the real thing. What then is the reason addicted meat-eaters aren’t switching sides already? Even if cell-cultured sea food and 3D printed steak really take off and become perfect substitutes, the same barrier will remain – costs.
commercialised franchises in the meat industry benefit greatly from the low cost of production from established supply chains and the relatively quick and heavily mechanised process of slaughtering livestock. Hence, businesses like McDonalds are able to provide their food for such low prices to consumers and still make a profit, increasing demand for their product. On the other hand, plant-based meat producers suffer from a lack of negotiating power in supply chains due to their smaller scale, and therefore the lower quantity of raw materials they need to purchase from suppliers. Another huge cost is the research and development required to emulate the taste, texture, and sensation of real meat, costs which are likely to rise for complex and untouched methods, such as the ones aforementioned in this article.
Fortunately, not only is the quality of meat substitutes improving, but it is extremely likely that at some point it will be the cheaper and therefore more rational choice to produce and consume non-meat alternatives. Climate change is a battle against time, and we have very little time left to meet the Paris Agreement’s requirements before the point of no return. Hence, we are likely to see desperate measures put in place to reduce global emissions, and with food production accounting for about a third of global emissions, and meat production accounting for 60% of this, there’s no reason why this sector would be excluded from the chopping block. If a tax or quota on meat production is introduced, the cheaper option will no doubt be plant-based foods, allowing plant-based producers to offer lower prices to consumers and win a larger share of demand.