On Monday, the first synthetic meat hamburger was eaten in London to underwhelmed taste testers, but overjoyed environmentalists. The introduction of a completely artificial meat substitute could have an enormous impact on global food supplies, carbon emissions and the farming industry in general – not to mention karma points for not killing animals.
Googling “artificial meat”
The historic taste testing earned a great deal of extra publicity because of one of its investors, Google co-founder Sergey Brin, who personally invested approximately $325,000 into the project. According to Brin, he was interested in the project because of its implications for protecting animals, saying “When you see how these cows are treated, it’s certainly something I’m not comfortable with.”
But the most important part of the grand unveiling of the artificial meat is the attention it has drawn to unsustainable farming practices and mass meat production. Some stats from the Guardian to consider:
- 30% of the Earth’s useable surface is covered by pasture land for animals, compared with just 4% of the surface used directly to feed humans
- The total biomass of livestock is twice that of the people on the planet
- Livestock accounts for 5% of carbon dioxide emissions and 40% of methane emissions
- Human population is expected to be 9.5 billion by 2060, with the market for meat doubling from what it is today by then
- Artificial meat like the test-tube hamburger could reduce the need for land and water by 90% and overall energy use by up to 70%
When it’s boiled down like that, the environmental impact of farming becomes obvious. Even if the farm doesn’t produce meat directly, it is likely producing the food that meat will eat, so it’s obvious that action needs to be taken to curb the climate impact of the farming industry.
How did it taste?
Unfortunately, despite the amount of funding that went into it, the cultured beef burger didn’t get rave taste reviews. Some called it ‘crunchy’, others said it tasted like ‘an animal protein cake‘ (which it basically is), with the overall consensus being that it was dry and very close to meat, but decidedly not meat. Though it won’t keep the research team from continuing its efforts to mass produce a sustainable meat source, and one that’s much tastier.
Sustainable farming practices
The truth is that the cultured meat industry isn’t ready to take off just yet, so there is still a lot to be done by the farming industry to lessen its environmental impact while it can. According to Discovery, the top 10 sustainable farming practices are:
- Using alternative energy
- Growing to sell locally
- Management of water
- Physical removal of weeds
- Managed grazing
- Soil fertility
- Attracting beneficial animals
- Integrated pest management
- Crop diversity
- Crop rotation
How synthetic meat will affect meat eaters
Shopping for cultured meat patties in the grocery store isn’t anywhere in the near future, and not just because it’s far too expensive to produce right now. There will also be a cultural shift required in order for people to take it seriously and trust that it wouldn’t affect their health in the same way that many fear GMO crops do.
Would you be willing to give up a juicy burger for a crunchy animal protein patty if it meant it would save the planet?