What is the future of meat?

Sazzad Ahmed

According to a new UN DESA report the current world population of 7.3 billion is expected to reach 8.5 billion by 2030, 9.7 billion in 2050 and 11.2 billion in 2100. China and India remain the two largest countries in the world, each with more than 1 billion people, representing 19 and 18 percent of the world’s population, respectively. But by 2022, the population of India is expected to surpass that of China.

Currently, among the ten largest countries in the world, one is in Africa (Nigeria), five are in Asia (Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, and Pakistan), two are in Latin America (Brazil and Mexico), one is in Northern America (USA), and one is in Europe (Russian Federation). Of these, Nigeria’s population, currently the seventh largest in the world, is growing the most rapidly. Consequently, the population of Nigeria is projected to surpass that of the United States by about 2050, at which point it would become the third largest country in the world. By 2050, six countries are expected to exceed 300 million: China, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, Pakistan, and the USA.

Worldwide, enough food is produced to feed everyone, yet this food and the technologies to produce it do not always reach those in need. As a result of food deficits, nearly 1 000 million people do not get enough to eat and over 400 million are chronically malnourished. Every year 11 million children under the age of five die from hunger or hunger-related diseases (Lean, Hinrichsen and Markham, 1990).

In recent decades there has been impressive growth in food production, which has been attributed to the development of improved, disease-resistant varieties of staple crops; the increased use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides; and the expansion of irrigated cropland. Nevertheless, per caput food production actually declined in 51 developing countries while rising in only 43 between 1979-1981 and 1986-1987. Among the African countries, 25 experienced a drop in per caput cereal production. In Latin America, production was also disappointing: 17 countries suffered a decline (UNFPA, 1990). In Asia, food production has managed to keep slightly ahead of population growth largely because of new breeds of Asian rice and the use of tremendous amounts of agricultural chemicals. However, in some areas losses from poor land management have erased the benefits which had been gained (Repetto et al., 1989). Consequently, developing countries’ food imports are rising dramatically to compensate for local deficits.

Raising animals for food requires massive amounts of land, food, energy, and water and causes immense animal suffering.

Globally, animal agriculture is responsible for more greenhouse gases than all the world’s transportation systems combined. According to the United Nations, a global shift toward a vegan diet is necessary to combat the worst effects of climate change.

It takes an enormous amount of water to grow crops for animals to eat, clean filthy factory farms, and give animals water to drink. A single cow used for milk can drink up to 50 gallons of water per day—or twice that amount in hot weather—and it takes 683 gallons of water to produce just 1 gallon of milk. It takes more than 2,400 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of beef, while producing 1 pound of tofu only requires 244 gallons of water. By going vegan, one person can save approximately 219,000 gallons of water a year.

Animals raised for food in the U.S. produce many times more excrement than does the entire human population of the country. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), animals on U.S. factory farms produce about 500 million tons of manure each year. With no animal sewage processing plants, it is most often stored in waste “lagoons” (which can be seen in aerial views of factory farms) or it gets sprayed over fields.

Runoff from factory farms and livestock grazing is one of the leading causes of pollution in our rivers and lakes. The EPA notes that bacteria and viruses can be carried by the runoff and that groundwater can be contaminated.

Factory farms frequently dodge water pollution limits by spraying liquid manure into the air, creating mists that are carried away by the wind. People who live nearby are forced to inhale the toxins and pathogens from the sprayed manure. A report by the California State Senate noted, “Studies have shown that [animal waste] lagoons emit toxic airborne chemicals that can cause inflammatory, immune, irritation and neurochemical problems in humans.”

For people who have chosen not to eat meat or animal products for ethical reasons, one of the biggest arguments against the practice is that the animals that are harvested for their bodies are often treated incredibly poorly by their owners. We’ve all seen the horrific images taken (often secretly) from within mega-farms where an animal’s quality of life is secondary to the efficiency with which they can be turned into profit. But what if we could have meat without animal casualties?

A pretty incredible new movement is underway to develop lab-grown meat products that are produced without the need for animals to be slaughtered. It’s called cellular agriculture, and a new report from NPR discusses the fact that not only is the technology advancing at a breakneck pace, but that lab-grown meats are already being consumed by humans.

Clean meat, which is also referred to as “cultured meat,” is a groundbreaking technology that is poised to revolutionize the global food system.

Rather than obtaining meat from animals raised on environmentally destructive factory farms and slaughtered in filthy slaughterhouses, clean meat is produced by taking a small sample of animal cells and replicating them in a culture outside of the animal. The resulting product is 100 percent real meat, but without the antibiotics, E. coli, salmonella, or waste contamination – all of which come standard in conventional meat production.

Dr. Mark Post of Maastricht University proved meat could be created this way when he debuted the first clean meat hamburger in London in 2013–at a cost of roughly $330,000.

To put the developments of the past few years into perspective, the San Francisco startup Memphis Meats is now producing clean meat for $40 per gram, which is less than one – fiftieth of the cost from just a few years ago. And Dr. Post’s company, Mosa Meats, plans to sell its clean meat hamburgers for $10 a patty by 2020.

The end goal is to produce clean meat that is cheaper than even the least expensive conventionally produced chicken. Leading experts believe that is achievable within 10 years given adequate support for clean meat research and development.

Meat produced this way is often called “clean meat” because the product is cleaner—it does not come with all the bacterial contamination that is inherent in the vast majority of meat in the United States—and because the production of clean meat is significantly more environmentally friendly, much like clean energy.