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The future of the meat industry

Is there a sustainable alternative to meat? (Credit: Mavifa, Source: sphere.com)

By Sian Hopkins | Comment Editor

With the release of David Attenborough’s very much anticipated documentary on Netflix this month, there is a clear message that our planet is in desperate danger of collapse. Whilst explaining the fifth mass extinctions in our world’s history, Attenborough acknowledges how humanity has altered our sustainable ecosystem into one of instability, causing the sixth mass extinction on planet Earth. One of the biggest polluters is of course the meat industry. Whilst I could write this from the emotional standpoint of an animal activist, I am going to explain the unsustainable future of our meat consumption using another Netflix documentary that I watched back in 2019, called ‘Explained: The Future of Meat.’ 

Scarily, every ten seconds humans roughly kill about 24,000 animals for food, which results in about 75 million animals being slaughtered every year. With the global population doubling in the last 50 years, meat production has quadrupled, where it has hit a breaking point of being an unsustainable resource. This of course does not stop the demand for meat, as meat is packed with protein, minerals, vitamins and iron, that because of its properties can only be found in animal tissue and blood.

Modern science allows the mass production of meat farming, using battery farming and feeding animals with antibiotics, that result in animals like chickens needing to be slaughtered after five weeks as they can no longer withstand their own weight. With these modern technologies allowing for the fast production of meat, there is little wiggle room moving forward to keep up with the rising demand for meat products. Already, meat production is expected to hit 455 million tonnes by 2050, but there is limited space on the planet to actually allow this. 

An interesting fact about this in the documentary pointed out that, if the whole world ate as much meat as the top meat eating countries, every square foot of habitable land would have to be used to feed people and still there wouldn’t be enough room. This demonstrates the slow demise of the unsustainable production of meat, whether we choose to reduce our consumption rate and save the planet now or not. 

So what then, is the future of meat? Research has shown that just because the planet faces a climate crisis, does not mean that people want to give up meat in their diet. The CEO of impossible foods, Pat Brown explains: “Meat is liked not because it comes from the animal but despite the fact it comes from an animal.”

Therefore, when creating a more sustainable alternative, it needs to possess the same nutrients and accessibility as meat. Basically the population desires a meat alternative that literally tastes, smells, feels and bleeds like meat. This is what the impossible burger has been created to do. In 2015, Impossible Foods developed a way to ‘synthesis heme iron in a lab’ which gives the burger the same texture, taste and bleed that a beef-based patty would. What this meat alternative means is you can have the same experience and serve your moral goals at the same time. This in the long run makes a better impact on the environment and the planet, introducing a sustainable alternative to harvesting animals. 

Other companies across the globe have begun to affordably make animal meat without killing the animal, growing the meat from live cells in the lab. The recipe is very simple according to Josh Tetrick, the CEO of Just Inc, ‘It’s meat.’ Developed from the tissue cell of a live animal, the nine-week process results in another sustainable meat alternative, although this process has not quite been developed fully yet. 

By investing in these sustainable meat alternatives, that use half the energy of beef production, we can vastly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. With the inevitable, unstable future for our current meat production, meat alternatives offer an almost identical taste experience, whilst giving us a sustainable future for our planet.  

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