Lab-Grown Burger an Important Milestone

by Alison Lueders, Great Green Editing

Last week, the New York Times reported that a hamburger made from cow muscle grown in a lab was fried up and eaten in London. The hamburger was 2 years in the making and cost $325,000.

Beef - tasty, but tough on the planet!
Beef – tasty, but tough on the planet!

“Dr. Mark Post, the Dutch researcher who created the hamburger, says that lab-made meat could provide high-quality protein for the world’s growing population, while avoiding most of the environmental and animal-welfare issues related to conventional livestock production.”

The Problem with Meat

The cost of the lab-grown meat is not the issue. A lab experiment to create a prototype, by definition, does not represent the costs involved when a product is commercialized and scaled.

But this burger DOES highlight the need to reduce the negative impacts that livestock production has on our environment. And the comparative benefits of a more plant-based diet. As someone who enjoys a burger as much as anyone, the following data curb my appetite:

  • 3 of the main greenhouse gases that power climate change are carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide. Raising animals for food creates CO2 and is the single largest source of the other 2 gases – 37% of methane and 65% of nitrous oxide.
  • the livestock industry drives deforestation, which destroys the trees and vegetation that absorb CO2. Animal agriculture take up 30% of the total land surface of the planet. Today, 70% of the Amazon rainforest is used for pastureland, and feed crops (for livestock) cover much of the rest.
  • Beef is by far the biggest offender. Chicken is a better choice. Non-meat choices are the best in terms of lowering greenhouse gas emissions, reducing water use, and avoiding pollution.
  • As population grows, meat consumption rises. We have crossed the 7 billion people threshold and are headed for 9 billion people by 2050 if current estimates hold. Rejiggering our eating habits and modifying the industrial agricultural practices that feed us now are essential to maintaining a habitable planet.

A Simple, Impactful Change

Eating less meat is a simple yet important change that everyone can start making today. You don’t need to become a vegetarian. As the organization Care2 Make a Difference says, “Driving a Prius doesn’t even approach the impact of eating less meat.” So the next time you shop for groceries, choose foods knowing that:

  •  swapping out even some meat helps. Beef, lamb, cheese, pork and farmed salmon are the worst offenders. Chicken, tuna and eggs are better choices.
  • grains, vegetables, legumes and fruits are vastly more sustainable choices.
  • adopting “Meatless Monday” (or any other day of the week) is a great idea.
  • eating less meat is usually a plus for your health, as well as the planet.

It’s a process – not an overnight change. And everyone has to eat – so choose wisely!

Innovation Is the Key

While the tasters of the lab-grown burger describe it as “a little dry”, I salute this whole effort. It demonstrates the kind of innovation needed to take our food supply in a more sustainable direction.