Bill Gates: Environmental Benefits of Cultured Meat “Sketchy at Best” – The Experts Respond

bill gates
© Masaru Kamikura – https://flic.kr/p/hZH18 – Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

MIT Technology Review published last week their annual Ten Breakthrough Technologies edition, this time curated by Bill Gates in a piece titled, “Bill Gates: How we’ll invent the future.” In his list of technologies he believes will shape the future, Gates includes the “cow-free burger” and discusses how “lab-grown meat improves our quality of life.”

In his introduction to the edition, Gates says of cultured meat: “Growing animal protein in a lab isn’t about feeding more people. There’s enough livestock to feed the world already, even as demand for meat goes up. Next-generation protein isn’t about creating more—it’s about making meat better. It lets us provide for a growing and wealthier world without contributing to deforestation or emitting methane. It also allows us to enjoy hamburgers without killing any animals.” He then states that “… lab-grown meat improves our quality of life.”

In the article itself, Gates goes on to say that, on one hand, the “problem is that people aren’t likely to stop eating meat anytime soon. Which means lab-grown and plant-based alternatives might be the best way to limit the destruction” – however, he then says that on the other hand, the “drawback of lab-grown meat is that the environmental benefits are still sketchy at best—a recent World Economic Forum report says the emissions from lab-grown meat would be only around 7% less than emissions from beef production.”

Is Gates correct? Does lab-grown meat really offer few environmental benefits when compared to animal agriculture? We at vegconomist asked a couple of clean meat specialists for their expert opinions…

Some experts beg to differ

Paul Shapiro author of the Washington Post bestseller “Clean Meat: How Growing Meat Without Animals Will Revolutionize Dinner and the World”, said to vegconomist; “I do suspect that calling the eco-benefits of clean meat “sketchy at best” is just not true. The evidence is very strong that culturing animal cells is better for the planet than raising and slaughtering whole animals.”

Shapiro quotes his recent Medium article , Creating Clarity in the Cultured Meat Climate Confusion – “The reality is that while it’s still too early to predict what cultured meat production may look like at scale, and while nothing is certain, under nearly all scenarios it’ll better for the climate than how we currently produce meat.”

Benjamina Bollag, CEO and founder of cellular agriculture firm Higher Steaks, responded as follows: “The carbon footprint and environmental benefit of cell-based meat will be subject to continuing innovation to create circular energy loops in which energy and resource loss is limited from the system. For example, water recycling, intelligent use of land, use of waste products to fuel production of materials required for cell-based meat production. The truth is that additional work is needed to confirm or refute the research that has been carried out in the area so far.”

“As a cell-based meat company, we understand that there are clear and obvious benefits to producing cell based meat e.g. decreased use of land, decreased risk of disease transmission through strained factory farming slaughter house practices.” (e.g. 22 hogs are killed per minute at JBS SA).

“We believe that while additional work needs to be carried out both to refine the figures for the environmental benefits of cell-based meat and to innovate to maximise the energy and re-use of waste efficiency of cell-based meat, for the many other clear reasons that cell-based meat has a positive impact on our treatment of animals and world health – it is certainly worthy of our effort.”

The debate continues…

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