Seven billion people is a daunting number, especially when it comes to the question of food. The figures regarding the number of people who die each day due to starvation are staggering; and the proportion of land used to produce food for the global population continues to grow, adding further stress to animal populations who are already living on the fringes of their pre-anthropocene range.
Enter Mark Post, a scientist at the University of Maastricht in the Netherlands who believes he has taken the first steps towards ameliorating the world’s hunger woes by growing animal meat fibres in culture for the first time. Post and his research team have suggested that, given what they have been able to accomplish, the creation of the world’s first lab-grown hamburger is just around the corner.
Now, before you go shaking your head at the idea of test tube T-bone, consider that the global demand for meat is expected to rise from 218 million tonnes at the end of the 90’s to 376 million tonnes by 2030, according to the World Health Organization. Furthermore, the meat industry contributes nearly one fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions. Cultured meat, on the other hand, uses 30 to 60% less energy, produces up to 95% less greenhouse gas emissions, and uses 98% less land according to one analysis in the Environmental Science and Technology journal.
On paper, lab-grown meat seems like a no brainer; but, could it really take over a share of the meat market? Preliminary taste tests have been less than promising. By all accounts, the samples are colorless, tasteless, and, let’s face it, a little creepy. Cultured meat has a long way to go before it finds its way from the petri dish to the dinner table and, in the mean time, land continues to be cleared and fossil fuels continue to be burned to provide people with the meat they demand.
As terrific as research like this is, it pays to be realistic when time is running out. The meat industry of today is inefficient and unsustainable and the solutions to the problems it poses don’t lie modifying the product as much as in changing the process. Green fuels and improved ranching processes will be the key if improvement is to happen at all; but, as consumers, it is crucial that industry not be relied on to take action.
The simplest solution to any problem is usually the right one; and, in this case, that means curbing demand for meat at the individual level. Reducing demand leads to downsized production and, ultimately, to a less sever carbon footprint. With that in mind, take one day each week and go vegetarian. If you already don’t eat much meat, eat a little less. Small changes make a big difference, not only to the environment, but also to your weekly food budget.