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Adam Smith Inst - Grow meat in labs to avoid growing crises

New report from the Adam Smith Institute suggests lab grown meat could transform our world, tackling climate change and the looming antibiotic resistance crisis

  • Meat consumption has rocketed as GDP has grown across the world 
  • Meat demands on land are intensive, with beef taking a whole hectare to feed one person against nineteen people fed per hectare of rice produced
  • Cost of a lab grown burger has dropped from £250,000 to around £8 in the past 5 years
  • Lab grown meat can cut greenhouse emissions by 78-96% and use 99% less land
  • UK could solve housing crisis, re-wild the country and help fight climate change by adopting the technology

Agriculture is on the cusp of an historic change that could see billions access meat at affordable prices, while reducing carbon emissions and freeing up land for housing. According to a new report by the Adam Smith Institute, the coming availability of lab grown meat could mean a cut in agricultural greenhouse gas emissions of 78-96% while using 99% less land.

Implications for the fight against climate change could be immense, the report argues, with some 14.5% of human caused greenhouse gases and 60% of biodiversity loss attributed to current intensive farming practices.  

As GDP has risen, so has the demand for meat. During the 1960s meat consumption in East Asia stood at just 8.7kg per person, thirty year later that figure was 37.7kg – an increase of over 330%. This increased demand has meant huge land given over to meat production. While 19 people can be fed from just a single hectare of rice, only one can person can fed per hectare dedicated to cattle.

With demand for meat and milk expected to increase globally 70% by the year 2050 lab grown meat generated by cleaner energy could allow more people to access high quality meat at a sustainably lower environmental cost. 

While growing meat in a lab has been difficult to master, and costly to engineer, the price has been falling. Just five years ago the cost of a burger made with meat grown in a lab stood at $215,000, but now the price tag has dropped to just £8. 

While commercially competitive prices are still some way off, there is room for meat from exotic and endangered species. Meats grown from animals like the komodo dragon or the giant panda might help prove the concept, increase public awareness, drive down long-term costs and provide funds for future production. All the while, importantly for animal rights and conservation groups, not harming any wild or farmed animals in the process. 

Lab grown meat has the potential to solve the looming antibiotic resistance crisis. With farming using up to 70% of antibiotics critical to medical use in humans, the cases of resistance are on the rise, driven by intensive farming practices. In Northern China a study found 88% of E. coli samples showed resistance to the 8 forms of antibiotics commonly found in polluted waters. Cultured meats don’t use antibiotics to speed up muscle growth and the report explains that the move from livestock to lab cultures could save millions of lives.  

Government must shy away from lobbying attempts like those seen in the USA to lock out competition by changing the legal definition of meat to exclude meats produced in labs or factories. EU Law restricts plant-based foods, such as Almond or Oat milk, from being sold using terms such as milk, butter and cheese.

Instead report authors Dr Madsen Pirie and Jamie Hollywood argue that the country needs to recognize new technological developments like cultured meat “are in the process of radically transforming the world economy”. They suggest that government should learn from financial services “sandbox” regulations to encourage experimenting businesses to locate, develop and lead the world from the UK. 

Madsen Pirie, President of the Adam Smith Institute, said:

"The UK should recognize that cultured meats are a game-changer. For 12,000 years humans have reared animals for meat. In future they will not need to. This will release millions of acres of pasture land for other uses. It will resolve all of the ethical issues involved in the rearing and slaughter of animals. It will give the world access to a low cost, high protein diet, and the UK could become a world leader in this multi-billion-pound new industry.”

Jamie Hollywood, co-author of the report, said:

" The direction of technological innovation can be the key to averting many of the major ecological problems currently facing humanity. The herald of cultured meat will lessen the impact of antibiotic resistance, as well as potentially reducing the carbon footprint and levels of pollution caused by the current methods of meat production “

“The policy direction of the government should be to encourage emerging technologies; technologies which seek to provide mass benefit to society. This should be done by removing barriers to their development and introduction. Many innovations which have been impeded by inefficient and short-sighted legislation and state procedure could alleviate problems such as starvation, malnourishment, and climate change.” 

Notes to editors:

For further comments or to arrange an interview, contact Matt Kilcoyne, Head of Communications, at matt@adamsmith.org | 07584 778207.

The report “Don’t have a cow man: the prospects for lab grown meat” can be accessed here.

The Adam Smith Institute is a free market, libertarian think tank based in London. It advocates classically liberal public policies to create a richer, freer world.

Original article link: https://www.adamsmith.org/news/grow-meat-in-labs-to-avoid-growing-crises

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