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Australian expert says lab-grown meat industry will be ‘terrible for the environment’

Headshot of Adam Poulsen
Adam PoulsenCountryman
A new study has cast doubt on the economic viability of lab-grown meat. Pictured: Meat produced in a laboratory from chicken cells by US startup Memphis Meats.
Camera IconA new study has cast doubt on the economic viability of lab-grown meat. Pictured: Meat produced in a laboratory from chicken cells by US startup Memphis Meats. Credit: Terry Chea/AP

One of Australia’s leading experts on cell-based protein has claimed the fledgling lab-grown meat industry is a fad that will be “terrible for the environment” and “won’t work” economically.

It comes after a new study from the University of California — Davis concluded the global warming potential of cell-based meat production could be up to 25 times greater than the average for retail beef.

Monash University Professor Paul Wood.
Camera IconMonash University Professor Paul Wood. Credit: Supplied/LinkedIn

Monash University Professor Paul Wood said the study confirmed the economics of producing lab-grown meat at scale “just won’t work” and will be less sustainable than traditional red meat production systems.

“It might not be quite 25 times worse for the environment, but there are now multiple studies which have concluded that producing cell-based protein in a lab will be far more energy-intensive when it’s produced at scale,” Professor Wood said.

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“In addition to these concerns, there is a distinct lack of nutritional data from the cell-based protein industry — and that’s not good.

“There are a lot of big claims, but no data whatsoever to back them up.”

Professor Wood is an internationally recognised expert on the future of cell-based protein and has led major research teams in Australia and the US.

While millions of dollars are being invested in cellular agriculture — including cell-based meat and precision fermentation — Professor Wood’s research has flagged significant technical, ethical, regulatory and commercial challenges around the products becoming commercially available or viable.

“The labs and factories required to produce cell-based protein at scale will have enormous energy requirements and their annual running costs will be huge, so seeing them compete with traditional livestock production environmentally or with price parity is very unlikely,” he said.

“They will also not match a fine steak; they are producing commodity products like burgers, meatballs and sausages.

“It just won’t be sustainable in terms of energy consumption and the idea that it will transform the meat industry is ridiculous.

“These are just some of the reasons investors and potential investors in the industry are walking away.”

Professor Wood’s research was recently published in scientific journal Animal Frontiers.

Animal Frontiers is the official journal of the American Society of Animal Science, the Canadian Society of Animal Science, the European Federation of Animal Science, and the American Meat Science Association.

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