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Lab-grown meat worse for the planet than beef, some experts say

Screen Shot 2021-09-13 at 3.11.39 PM

RPO e-newsletter, September 2021, photo credit: University of Oxford

Although alternative meats have been offered as a potential aid to combating climate change by reducing emissions, the opposite could be true, experts say.

With the rise in popularity of lab-grown meat, which is grown from cultured meat cells, scientists are concerned that because they take so much energy to create, these “clean meats” could release more emissions than traditionally grown beef.

The drive for alternatives to meat came after research found that farming animals was causing higher global temperatures. Now a group of Oxford researchers say that when previous studies looked at cattle emissions, they failed to account for how different types of emissions would affect the atmosphere.

For example, while methane has a much larger warming impact than carbon dioxide, methane only stays in the atmosphere for 12 years. Carbon dioxide lingers much longer.

This has led industry experts to assert that the emissions to create lab-grown meat, which is almost entirely carbon dioxide, will have a far bigger contribution to climate change than traditional meat farming.

“I don’t think that there’s a single form of vegetable or plant-based meat or lab-grown meat that we have the technology for, as far as I am aware, that is more environmentally friendly than animal agriculture,” said Mr Riley Robbins, president of Kansas Cattlemen’s Association.

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