Will laboratory grown meat reduce environmental and political problems due to meat production?

Advances in technology make commercial “cultured” meat a real possibility-

The production of food in general has many positive and negative side effects, but many argue that meat production’s side effects weigh far on the negative side. Political battles over CAFOs, grazing, use of antibiotics, subsidies, and culture have been intractable.

Raising an animal for slaughter is much more costly to the environment than equivalent nutrition from vegetable sources. A recent study showed that in the United States the most costly meats per pound , when all costs are considered, are first lamb/mutton, and second, beef.  In terms of volume, however, beef far outstrips lamb.

Now rapid advances in growing meat outside of an animal (called “cultured meat”) is not just possible, but a real near term commercial possibility.  While there are growing numbers of people who abstain from meat, conversion of the bulk of the population to this food choice is not likely. Cultured meat might be a more popular solution to the environmental and energy use problems generated by the production of livestock.

A recent study by Oxford University and the University of Amsterdam show that cultured pork, beef and sheep meat production would need 7 to 45% less energy, generate 96% fewer greenhouse gases, and use far less land and water.

Because the production of cattle and sheep often greatly harm wildlife by occupying their habitat, consuming the food they need, and spreading disease, cultured meat might free up land and water to help restore the Earth’s tattered environment.

The introduction of cultured meat might also set off a political struggle among the many interests that benefit directly or culturally from traditional meat production. No doubt too, there will be claims it is unsafe. It is possible that might be the case.  People might not want to eat this kind of meat. Opposition would probably be strongest among the older generations.




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  1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
    Ralph Maughan

    Comment. Personally, I like meat and am loath to give it up. It is also an easy to prepare source of complete protein.

    I gave up veal a long time ago because I didn’t like how it was made… to my values, disgusting! I gave up beef a few years later because I didn’t like the political/cultural process by which humans created it. In other words the livestock industry, of which there are many parts, are bad bunch.

    I mostly eat chicken — organic when I can find it.

    “Industrial” meat is generally full of the residues of antibiotics and pesticides. With the never ending budget cutting of regulatory agencies that inspect meat (“big government”)and the many outbreaks of microbial sickness, eating it seems riskier and riskier to me.

    I don’t have ethical issues eating meat(killed animals) per se, but I would certainly agree with Winston Churchill’s remark of a long time ago that “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.” Of course, at the present there is no alternative. A pound of cultured meat costs about a million dollars to make.

    1. Elk275 Avatar

      Well Ralph,

      Get out your rifle, sleeping bag and backpack and going hunting this fall, there is nothing better than a good young elk. Over one thousand Idaho wolves love elk, too. Good luck and good hunting.

    2. IDhiker Avatar


      I liked a burger once and a while, but I did have ethical problems with eating it. Since my wife and I gave up meat five years ago, we haven’t missed it. I’ve lost weight, my cholesterol has dropped dramatically, and I’m the fittest I’ve been in years. Whether dropping meat has anything to do with it is debatable, but I’m happy with my decision. I wouldn’t have it any other way and my ethical issues are gone, too.

    3. RuralAmerica Avatar

      The idea of having the food of my future children grown in a lab, to say the least, frightens me. Living in rural America I can say I’ve seen my fair share of livestock on a daily basis. It upsets me that people are so easily persuaded to believe that the majority of livestock is harmed or abused in some way. Livestock is their way of life. Why would they harm their work or art? Farmers and Ranchers love and cherish their animals. I am not shutting out the percent that does the unintelligent activities that throws up the red flag towards agriculture. I am no means saying that starving or harming animals inhumanely should be tolerated, but I do propose that everyone, as a whole, stops pointing their fingers at hard working Americans who are just trying to earn their way in life and support their families in a way that best suits them. The future is a mysterious place. The thought of rural america disappearing off the map becomes more realistic when the thought of replacing ones lively hood with a lab grown product. People will lose their jobs. Businesses will lose profit. The cities will be rushed with men and women trying to support their families. Fertile soil will lose purpose.
      Dreams will be demolished…. Dramatic? Possibly. Possibility of actually happening? Absolute. I say we hold of on lab grown meat. Don’t mean to come off as disrespectful. Just would like to be heard.

      1. catbestland Avatar

        +”Farmers and Ranchers love and cherish their animals”+

        Tell me, RuralAmerica, when do ranchers love their animals. When they breed them at a year so they can have babies from the time they are two until their uteruses prolapse and fall out and then they are sent to slaughter? When they hogtie, drag and burn their flesh as calves? When they pack them into stock trailers so tight that if one falls it is trampled to death? Do they love them when they drag broken legged helpless creatures with forklifts to slaughter? When they send their beloved babies to endure the horrors of industrialized slaughter for money? When exactly is it that they love their animals? Because from here it looks a lot like exploitation to me. All for profit and nothing else.

        1. wolf moderate Avatar
          wolf moderate

          I think the tenured teachers, professors, the government workforce, military personnel etc… are the ones doing the exploiting. I thank the hardworking farmers and ranchers (to a point) for paying there taxes that are required so that people (Like the ones on this blog) can take out student loans and pell grants to get “educated”.

          It’s kinda funny (to me) that the ones that do the extracting and exploiting are the ones paying for the schooling of the environmentalists.

          Things are going to get ugly soon…Meh, what’s the point of explaining. Plus this is a wildlife blog.

          1. catbestland Avatar


            I suppose you thank the oil industry for all their hard work in destroying our gulf coast as well. How about thanking Dick Cheney and George W. for working so hard to send our troops to die for WMDs that weren’t there. Let’s just give a big round of applause to whaling industry for nearly driving how many species to extinction??? How about a pat on the back for those hard working gold miners in the Congo who pay children 12 cents a week and chop off their hands if they don’t pan enough gold.

            Here’s a news flash. “Ranchers exploit the land and their animals.”

          2. Dude, the bagman Avatar
            Dude, the bagman


            I don’t think the hardworking blue collar workers of America are subsidizing student loans to any great extent. Think about it man – a government guaranteed loan at roughly 8% interest that can’t be discharged in bankruptcy, and that is paid back by people with a college education. Can’t make your payment plan? No problem, we’ll stretch out the term for another decade and keep charging you interest.

            The students taking out the loans are where the money is coming from. It’s risk-free money for the banks.

        2. Nancy Avatar

          I’m afraid that the only animals that get close to a fair shake and are “loved & cherished” on ranches are 4-H projects. They are pampered and well cared for up til the time they are marched into the ring and up for sale to the highest bidder.

        3. RuralAmerica Avatar

          You speak as if you have seen all this in action? Tell me have you? Yes, they are bred back but only so you can have food on your plate. I have never once seen a fork lift or a load of cattle so ignorantly stacked as you have described. Like I said in the passage above “I am not shutting out the percent that does the unintelligent activities that throws up the red flag towards agriculture” sure there are some people who don’t understand. Just as there are people who treat other human beings poorly. Not that I am equating that to animal abuse. To digress I believe they do “love” or “cherish” there livestock. Do you not love your occupation?

  2. Catbestland Avatar

    “nothing will benefit human health and increase the chances of survival for life on earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet.” ~Albert Einstein.

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
      Ralph Maughan

      Not to argue with Einstein, but I don’t see much evolution to a vegetarian diet taking place in terms of percentage of the world population.

      There need to be alternatives, In the article above I was writing about real meat, though it is meat grown in vitro. Textured vegetable protein products simulating meat are already on the shelf.

      I liked “hamburgers” made of beans, when I discovered them at CostCo. I ate one about 3 times a week. Then, suddenly a dislike of its taste came over me in the space of time to eat just one too many, and I haven’t eaten one since.

      Nevertheless, progress can be there.

  3. Cobra Avatar

    I think I’ll be staying with wild game.We process all our own meat and I find comfort knowing how it’s been taken care of.

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
      Ralph Maughan

      Elk and Cobra,

      Yes, wild game is better. Given the huge population of the planet, the option to hunt your food is rare. We can’t be a hunting and gathering culture.

    2. Harley Avatar

      Are ya taking orders for that wild game and how far will you ship it! 😉

  4. Jeff Avatar

    I’m hoping to put another elk in the freezer. After reading the omnivore’s Dillema this summer it solidified my belief that locally harvested wild game is the most ethical and nutrious meat I can provide for my family. My girls love it and they get they really get the idea of the cycle of life and the food chain.

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
      Ralph Maughan


      Yes, one important thing that hunting for meat teaches is where meat comes from and how our survival is related to that of animals.

      I have said that if you are going to eat meat, I think it is the ethical thing to kill an animal and eat it. This can be an elk, but it can be catching and frying up a trout, shooting a duck (or killing a chicken).

      It would also been important to take the children through a CAFO and meat processing plant. It might show them our alienation from nature.

      Omnivore’s Dilemma is a good book, and depressing (to me, anyway).

      1. Cobra Avatar

        It’s also a good way to teach children respect for the animals.
        I don’t watch many hunting shows as I would rather be hunting myself, but I have seen on those shows guys taking bad shots and making bad hits and then waiting till the next morning to find their game even when it’s warm out. I just had a friend of mine kill a spike bull with his bow during an evening hunt. They finally finished packing and were home at 2:30 in the morning. It took them most of the night to get his elk out but at least they didn’t loose any of it because they waited till the next day to find it. His son had just turned 18 and was there every step of the way helping his dad pack it out in the dark.These type of hunters should be the real role models for future sportsmen.

      2. SEAK Mossback Avatar
        SEAK Mossback

        This week I saw a some interesting presentations on global fisheries at the national meeting of the American Fisheries Society in Seattle. One speaker gave a general world-wide view of fisheries and the global picture is that predatory fish have declined substantially while prey fish have increased (on a smaller scale, predatory species are actually doing well in a few areas including Alaska and other stocks are rebuilding, mostly in developed nations). His solution from a global food supply standpoint was to reduce fishing on predator species until rebuilt and meanwhile replace them with aquaculture vegetarian species (like tilapia) and chicken.

        Ray Hilborn, a U of W fisheries professor who often challenges conventional wisdom gave an interesting talk comparing capture fisheries with other food sources in all environmental impacts from energy, soil and water use, greenhouse gas and carbon footprint down to pesticide use (the only use in capture fisheries is anti-fouling bottom paint). He only compared costs through harvest — not transport to different markets, processing, etc. No surprise — beef is by far worst in about every category followed by other red meat species. Actually, milk was not too bad and chicken was about the best land-based cultured meat. However, fisheries compare very favorably, with the best being purse seine fisheries on prey fish while even long-line vessels that run farther to fish less abundant larger predator species still compared favorably with land-based cultured meat impacts. Capture fisheries in general compare very well, on about the same scale as vegetables in some respects and even better in others. He calculated that to replace the catch by trawl fisheries (that are often controversial and sometimes protested by Greenpeace) with beef grown in the tropics would require clearing 5 times as much rainforest as exists on earth. As far as the criticism about fisheries impacts on biodiversity, he showed some photos of the 5 acre commercial organic vegetable garden his wife operates on an island in Puget Sound after the soil was turned over for the year before being planted again with exotic species compared with similar acreage of Pacific Northwest rainforest like it once was, making the point that if the concern is impacts on bio-diversity and native species, land-based agriculture (amber waves of grain, etc.) certainly has a more thorough impact on bio-diversity than trawl fisheries that not only cause much less complete disturbance but occur at depth where nobody can even see the effects. Food for thought.

        I agree that hunting or gathering is isn’t a world-wide answer, but I appreciate having one less impact on my conscience. There’s plenty of resource around my community but most people are just not interested in investing the time and effort gathering food since industrially produced and processed food is reasonably cheap compared with other expenses. I consider the effort, particularly for upland foods, a bonus — a health benefit. My next door neighbor is in good shape and my age and has exactly the same opportunities. He usually spends enough time in the woods behind his house to get one deer but buys chicken from the supermarket in the spring when the mountain is booming with heavy, tasty birds and in the fall rather than crawl on his belly a few yards for mallards or a variety of sea ducks that are sometimes literally a stone’s throw from his home. I have to admit to being rather embarrassed one Saturday after crawling on the muddy tidelands and shooting a couple of ducks to glance around with my shotgun smoking to see an advancing column of women with binoculars on an organized bird-watching hike. Fortunately, they didn’t seem too perturbed and at least got to see a couple of birds up close . . . .

        1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
          Ralph Maughan


          I liked your detailed comment about “capture fisheries” and other matters.

          I didn’t know there was much potential left in ocean fisheries. I am not well acquainted, and most of the news reports are about fisheries are of them collapsing . . . the familiar bias of the News to report bad things.

      3. Jeff Avatar

        Having grown up in Kansas not a whole lot in Omnivore’s Dilemma was new to me, but he did a nice job of weaving it all together, especially the connection between field corn and the petro chemical industry. I’ve been to Garden City, KS—it is foul, same with Greeley, CO. The term CAFO is something that I am now seeing more and more of—especially as California tightens its regs and those businesses relocate to ID and other minimally regualated states.—my daughters did take a while to understand that I wasn’t going to shoot every elk that we saw while out and about in Jackson Hole. They now get that we need an elk a year and there is a time a place to go hunting.

  5. skyrim Avatar

    Soylent Green……
    That’s all we need.

    Well, that and a good single malt Scotch to wash it down with. ^..^

    1. Immer Treue Avatar
      Immer Treue


      Though I find single malts a bit on the expensive side for my pocket book, and so many of them really taste the same (Glenfiddich, The Glenlivet,Mcallan) I have found one that is both profound and robust, Laphroaig.

      1. skyrim Avatar

        Loyal to the Glenlivet, but I may give your brand a try one day. Thanks

        1. David Avatar

          I’m partial to the Balvenie Doublewood myself. If you like them strong, Aberlour makes a vat strength single malt called Abunadh that is hands down my favorite. But at 70$ a bottle, I only drink my father’s!!!

          1. skyrim Avatar

            And who could blame you? Does Dear Old Dad need another drinking companion? ^..^


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Ralph Maughan