In-vitro meat (aka cultured meat, synthetic meat, or more comically “shmeat” and “frankenmeat”) has been proposed and is currently being researched to replace animal agriculture while still keeping meat on the table. Rather than raising an animal for slaughter, in-vitro meat is grown from muscle stem cells in a medium and thus would not be reliant on large-scale livestock animal agriculture (Fountain 2013). This innovation, although still not on the grocery shelves, has support and funding from environmentalists and animal rights groups (Travis 2014) because it would decrease animal cruelty on farms as well as the vast majority of the environmental costs of the meat industry (Tuomisto and de Mattos 2011).
First, I discuss the economics of in-vitro beef, projecting future costs in 2030 to determine the feasibility of in-vitro beef entering the market. Then I discuss the differences in environmental costs, particularly greenhouse gas emissions, between in-vitro meat and conventional meat. Finally, I project the environmental effects of in-vitro meat replacing different proportions of the conventional meat market in the global marketplace 2030.
One of limitations to in-vitro meat entering the market with large-scale production is economics and funding. In 2013, Dr. Mark Post of Maastricht University produced a five-ounce burger patty for $330,000 (Zaraska 2013), or $1,056,000 per lb ($478,993.15 per kg; Zaraska 2016). In 2015, Post told the press that the price had dropped by nearly 80%, meaning around $66,000 per five-ounce burger, or $211,200 per lb ($95,798.63 per kg; Ferdman 2015). By January 2016, an American cultured meat firm Memphis Meats produced an in-vitro meatball for $18,000 per lb ($8,164.66 per kg; Zaraska 2016). Post expects the price of a five-ounce patty to drop to $10 by 2020, or $32 per lb (14.5 $/kg; Ferdman 2015).
In order to project the cost and therefore feasibility of in-vitro meat competing with livestock meat, I graphed these data in linear space without transformation (Figure 1) and log-transformed (Figure 2,3). The best-fit line was linear in the log-transformed data, demonstrating an exponential decrease in the cost of in-vitro meat over time (R2 = 0.981). In order to better project the price of in-vitro meat by 2030 such that the cost does not drop to $0/kg, I also fit an exponential curve onto the log-transformed data (Figure 3). This line also had a good fit (R2 = 0.940). Using the equation of the exponential line, I project the cost of in-vitro meat in 2030 to be $1.436 per kg. This is a rough estimate based on limited data in small-scale operations. Nonetheless, the cost of in-vitro meat will surely be low, if not as low as $1.436 per kg.
Figure 1. Price of 1 kg of in-vitro meat per year in linear space. Figure made by author. Data from Zaraska (2013 and 2016) and Feldman (2015).
Figure 2. log(Price of 1 kg of in-vitro meat) per year in linear space. Linear trend line and equation are added with an R2 = 0.981. Figure made by author. Data from Zaraska (2013 and 2016) and Feldman (2015).
Figure 3. log(Price of 1 kg of in-vitro meat) per year in linear space. Exponential trend line and equation are added with an R2 = 0.940 such that the price is projected to stabilize rather than equal 0 by 2030. Figure made by author. Data from Zaraska (2013 and 2016) and Feldman (2015).
Under this projection, would in-vitro beef be able to economically compete with conventional livestock? Globally, beef prices have a positive linear growth in price/kg in the past 12 years, currently around 2.99 USD/kg of beef (Trading Economics 2016, Figure 4). Because these data cost money to obtain, I was not able to project the cost/kg of beef in 2030. However, based on the positive linear trend in price/kg, I expect the cost to be above $4/kg. Thus, by 2030, in-vitro beef will be able to compete with conventional beef, potentially being a cheaper alternative to conventional beef. These calculations are only done for beef as other in-vitro meats are only recently being developed.
Figure 4. The price of beef (in BRL/kg) over time with a linear trend line added. Adapted from Trading Economics (2016). For reference: 1 BRL = 0.29 USD.
Environmental Impacts of In-Vitro Meat
A 2006 Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) report breaks down the environmental and economic impacts of animal agriculture (FAO 2006). The livestock industry is responsible for 18% of anthropogenic GHG when accounting for the sum production chain – including crop agriculture for animal consumption, land use, respiration, ruminant methane emissions, and transportation (FAO 2006). Currently, the developed world consumes 232% of kg of meat per capita (95.7 kg per capita) than the global average (41.3 kg per capita) and is projected to consume 221% of kg of meat per capita (100.1 kg per capita) than the global average (45.3 kg per capita) in 2030 (FAO 2003). Thus, disproportionate consumption of in-vitro meat in the developed world can also influence environmental effects. It is important to note that meat consumption is not equitable across the world.
Tuomisto and de Mattos (2011) summarize the primary FAO (2006) results, broken down by meat type, relative to land use change, greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), and water use of the report. They then compare those impacts to projected environmental impacts of large-scale in-vitro meat production (Figure 5). According to their analyses, 1000 kg of in-vitro meat, relative to European meat, requires 26-33 GJ, 7-45% less energy input (45% less than beef, 7% less than pork) and is only more energy intensive than poultry. In-vitro meat emits 1900-2240 kg CO2-eq GHG emissions per 1000 kg, 78-96% less than that of conventional meat. In-vitro meat uses 367-521 m3 water/1000 kg (82-96% less water than conventional meat) and 190-230 m2 of land/1000 kg (99% less than that of conventional meat). Variation in the impact of in-vitro meat relates to the effects of different climates on production costs (Tuomisto and de Mattos 2011). Should in-vitro meat reach large-scale production at a competitive price, switching meat consumption from conventional to in-vitro meat would therefore mitigate GHG, water use, and land use. Previous pasture and agricultural land used for livestock feed could potentially be converted to standing forests or biofuel, potentially further mitigating GHG in the atmosphere.
Figure 5. Relative energy input, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, land use, and water use across livestock-cultivated beef, sheep, pork, and poultry, and in-vitro meat (Cultured meat). Adapted from Tuomisto and de Mattos (2011).
Using these data, we can project the impact of cultivated meat on GHG, land use, and water use in 2030 with both low and high estimates. First, I calculated low and high estimates of GHG emissions, land use, and water use of 1000 kg of conventional meat using the relative impact percentages of cultivated meat (Tuomisto and de Mattos 2011). Calculations were done using the mean impact values for in-vitro meat. For example, in calculating GHG emissions, I estimated GHG emissions for in-vitro meat to be 2070 kg CO2-eq GHG emissions per 1000 kg. I then determined that the low estimate of GHG emissions/kg of conventional meat is 9409.09 kg CO2-eq GHG emissions per 1000 kg and the high estimate is 51750 kg CO2-eq GHG emissions per 1000 kg. These results are presented in Table 1.
Table 1. Calculations of GHG, land use, and water use impact estimates.
|In-Vitro Meat (Low)||In-Vitro Meat (High)||Meat (Low)||Meat (High)|
|GHG Emissions (kg CO2-eq GHG emissions per 1000 kg)||1900||2240||9409.09||51750|
|Land Use (m2 of land/1000 kg)||190||230||21000||21000|
|Water Use (m3 water/1000 kg)||367||521||2466.67||11100|
The global population is expected to reach 8.5 billion by 2030 with Europe and North America making up 1.19 billion or 14% of the global population (UN Economic & Social Affairs 2015). By 2030, global per capita meat consumption is projected to be 45.3 kg per capita per year (therefore 385.05 billion kg in total), with industrial nations consuming 100.1 kg per capita (FAO 2003). Assuming that industrial nations are made up of Europe and North America, this translates to 119.119 billion kg of meat – 30.9% of global meat consumption.
I calculated the raw (Figure 6), raw savings of (Figure 7), and proportion saved relative to no in-vitro meat of (Figure 8) 2030 GHG emissions, land use, and water use from meat with low and high estimates relative to how much of the meat market is replaced by in-vitro meat.
Figure 6. The effects of in-vitro meat taking up 0%, 10%, 20%, 30%, 50%, and 100% of the meat market on GHG emissions (kg CO2-eq), land use (m2), and water use (m3) in 2030. Data using low and high estimates of conventional meat’s environmental impacts are presented. Figure made by author.
Figure 7. The environmental savings of in-vitro meat taking up 0%, 10%, 20%, 30%, 50%, and 100% of the meat market on GHG emissions (kg CO2-eq), land use (m2), and water use (m3) in 2030. Data using low and high estimates of conventional meat’s environmental impacts are presented. Calculations based on a given percentage of in-vitro meat in the market subtracted from 0% in-vitro meat in the market at either a low or high estimate. Figure made by author.
Figure 8. The proportion of environmental impact otherwise avoided when in-vitro meat taking up 0%, 10%, 20%, 30%, 50%, and 100% of the meat market on GHG emissions, land use, and water use in 2030. Data using low and high estimates of conventional meat’s environmental impacts are presented. Calculations based on a given percentage of in-vitro meat in the market subtracted from 0% in-vitro meat in the market at either a low or high estimate. This number is then divided by the impact of 0% meat in the market using a low and high estimate. Figure made by author.
These projected data show that even if only the industrialized world switches completely to in-vitro meat, GHG would drop 23.4% to 28.8%, 29.7% of land otherwise used for animal agriculture and feed could be used for other purposes, and 24.6%-28.8% less water would be used. Increasing the proportion of the meat market made up of in-vitro meat saves GHG emissions, land, and water.
As the meat industry is responsible for 18% of anthropogenic GHG (FAO 2006), the prospect of in-vitro meat curbing the demand for livestock agriculture, particularly in the developed world, could provide solutions to GHG emissions, land availability, and water use by 2030. Although the production costs are viewed as a limitation to the feasibility of large-scale in-vitro meat production, prices have been dropping and both academic researchers and tech start-ups have been rapidly decreasing the price of in-vitro meat. It is therefore realistic to expect in-vitro meat to be competitive with conventional meat by 2030, providing a replacement for the more environmentally costly conventional meat.
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