Conventional meat production has long been singled out as a leading contributor to climate change. Lab-grown meat is often presented as a much more ethical and sustainable alternative. Is there any truth to the claims or is it just another clever marketing trick?

What Is Lab-Grown Meat?

It’s exactly what the name suggests — meat cultivated in a laboratory. The process involves extracting stem cells from animals commonly used for food, like cows and chickens, through non-invasive procedures. These cells go into a culture media, which recreates a similar growth environment conducive to healthy replication.

Scientists separate and arrange the cells to create the type of meat being produced, like a steak or a patty. Once enough tissue fibers have grown, you get meat that closely resembles the real thing without the need to butcher an actual animal.

How Does It Taste?

That’s the important thing, right? There’s no sense calling something “meat” if it doesn’t taste like one. In 2022, food expert Michal Ansky did a blind taste test and couldn’t tell the difference between a chicken breast and its lab-grown counterpart.

Despite the similarity in texture, you may notice a slight taste difference. A study shows this is due to the variance in proteins used during cultivation. Since they have different amino acid compositions, lab-grown and traditional meat don’t taste the same.

Sustainability Features

Global meat demand is steadily increasing. Statistics show that the world consumed 364 million tons of meat in 2023, up by 71 million tons since 2010.

In its current form, conventional meat production presents significant environmental challenges. For instance, producing just a half-pound of beef can release up to 7.40 pounds of methane, polluting the atmosphere and increasing GHG emissions. On the other hand, the unique creation process of lab-grown meat follows a more eco-friendly course, making it a sustainable alternative.

Water Conservation

Meat production consumes a significant amount of water, from feeding and raising the animals to washing and cooking. For example, chicken meat has an average water footprint of 4330 liters per kilogram. Lab-grown meat requires considerably less water since there’s no rearing, thirst-quenching or animal bathing involved.

Energy Efficiency

It takes a lot of energy to produce meat the conventional way, especially considering how much fossil fuels are used in transporting livestock from farm to market. Admittedly, lab-grown meat production is energy-intensive too. However, it does not present an environmental impact from fossil-fueled transportation, since everything is grown in a controlled environment.

Land Conservation

The aggregate agricultural land used for livestock production covers around 20% of the planet. In most cases, forests and thriving ecosystems are cut down to make room for more animal farming, increasing climate change risks and potential impacts. With lab-grown meat, there’s no need to cut down trees and drive away wildlife from their natural habitats to make room for production. From the petri dish to the diner’s plate, the entire process requires minimal land usage.

Animal Welfare

More than 100 billion animals are slaughtered yearly for meat and other products. Lab-grown meat eliminates this requirement entirely, making it a more compassionate approach to producing meat.

Challenges Ahead

Despite the apparent environmental benefits, the wide-scale adoption of lab-grown meat is still a ways off. Regulatory requirements present a significant hurdle. For instance, European policymakers are still debating whether lab-grown meat can be labeled “meat.”

Scalability is another concern. Given the rising demand for meat compared to the limited number of facilities that can currently produce meat in the lab, how would people get by?

However, the biggest barrier is selling the idea to consumers. Many people still see lab-grown meat as unnatural and may be unwilling to pay a premium when the meat they’re accustomed to is more readily available and cheaper.

Nevertheless, the sustainability benefits are undeniable. It’s only a matter of time until solutions to these concerns emerge.

Will You Try Lab-Grown Meat?

Meat grown in a lab can reduce GHG emissions, conserve water, minimize land space and be a more humane production process. While there is a lot to be gained from making the switch, it’s ultimately up to the consumers.

Jane works as the Editor-in-Chief of where she covers topics including climate policy, renewable energy sustainability, the food industry & more!