Meet the Meat that will Save the World
This isn’t a story you want to hear — like the time you learned Santa wasn’t real, or that time you found out how your mom and dad made you. But it’s a truth that you need to know.
Out of all the freshwater used in the world, 70% goes to agriculture…think about that. Even if we all stopped taking showers and washing our cars, the world would be a much smellier place, but our water consumption would still be at an unsustainable net negative.
Food production takes up 47% of U.S. land. Of that, 70% is used to grow feed for cattle. Fruits, vegetables, nuts — amount to ~1% (mentioned by Gidon Eshel in “Before the Flood”).
The innovation has to happen in agriculture, and more specifically, in producing beef.
The Meat and Potatoes of the Problem
Three big environmental issues with meat production:
1. Lots of Water
2. Lots of Land
3. Lots of Greenhouse Gas Emissions
We talked about the first two issues above, now let’s look at the driving force behind climate change — CO2 emissions.
Clearly, the agricultural culprits are cattle. “Of all the reasons for tropical deforestation, the foremost is beef,” said Gidon Eshel, “And beef is one of the most inefficient uses of resources on the planet.”
What’s the Beef with Beef?
10–12% of TOTAL U.S. emissions is due to beef. That’s almost half the emissions produced by all the cars on the road!
How is this possible? While cows eat as much as they can, they continuously burp like someone who drank Willy Wonka’s Fizzy Lifting Drink (RIP Gene Wilder). Their burps produce methane (CH4), which happens to spur climate change more than CO2 does. Every molecule of methane is equivalent to 23 molecules of CO2 and nearly all the methane in the atmosphere comes from livestock.
An average person emits more greenhouse gasses from eating meat than driving, but for some reason, we talk about cars instead of burgers when discussing climate change.
What Impact Can We Make?
From 1971 to 2010, while the global population grew 81 percent, worldwide meat production approximately tripled. The meat industry outpaced population growth because people have increased their meat consumption. Simple as that. And cleantech captain Bill Gates sees more meat on the horizon:
But, this forecasted future isn’t set in stone. Unlike something such as traveling by airplane, there exists a beneficent practical alternative. We can make small consumer shifts that would make a massive impact on this production growth.
We’re starting to see a trend away from eating meat as people become aware of all the environmental and health effects. Twenty-five percent of US consumers known as ‘flexitarians’ decreased their meat intake from 2014 to 2015.
Freeing up land currently used for meat production and restoring it to grasslands and forests would naturally capture carbon in the atmosphere. That would further alleviate climate change.
Additionally, dietary meat reduction would reduce the rate of coronary heart disease, diabetes, stroke and some cancers.
If it Looks Like a Burger, Smells Like a Burger, & Tastes Like a Burger…
It might be a burger. But not necessarily so.
“Fifty years hence, we shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium.” — Winston Churchill, 1931
Quite a visionary that good Sir Churchill was. Here’s what’s happening to meet that vision…
Impossible Foods has created a burger that tastes exactly like the real thing but is made entirely of plant proteins. This burger that even bleeds took $182m in venture capital to make. It’s currently available in San Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles.
Beyond Meat has gone one step further after making a similar burger composed of plants and created a chicken substitute. Is it any good? A New York Times food critic couldn’t tell the difference between the real stuff and Beyond Meat’s. Tyson Foods just launched a venture capital fund and its first investment was in Beyond Meat.
Memphis Meats and New Harvest have created real meat, not made from plants, but real beef in laboratories. From one cow’s muscle cell, one trillion cells can be grown.
This “clean meat” would produce 96% fewer greenhouse gasses, require 90% less water, and reduce the land required by 99%. Jackpot. More good…
A study found a connection between heme iron and an increased risk of breast and colon cancer. Lab-grown beef can be made free of this harmful dietary item. The lab growers can also get rid of all or most of the saturated fat and potentially replace it with healthier omega-3 fatty acids.
If we can reduce our impact on the environment by eating new meat replacements that taste the same, shouldn’t we?
Act on Climate
As mentioned by Dr. Eshel, cutting the amount of beef you eat in half or by a quarter can make a significant impact. Changing your diet is one of the easiest ways to limit your impact. And even simply replacing beef with chicken will reduce your emissions by 10x.
If everyone in the U.S. gave up meat and cheese for just one day a week, it would equate to taking 7.6 million cars off the roads per year.
If you’re not in the moo’d to change your diet, you can help accelerate clean meat production:
Donate to New Harvest — The 501©(3) research institute accelerating breakthroughs in cellular agriculture. See how they grow meat in a lab.