In Brief

Is the future of meat animal-free?

Report claims majority of meat people eat by 2040 will not come from slaughtered livestock

More than half the “meat” consumed around the world in 2040 will not come from slaughtered animals, amid growing unease at the environmental and ethical impact of the global food industry, a major report has predicted.

Based on interviews with industry experts, global consultancy firm AT Kearney estimates that in 20 years around 60% of all meat will either be cultured alternatives grown in vats or plant-based products that look and taste like meat.

It predicts that 35% of meat will be cultured, created “through exponential cell growth in bioreactors” and not involving animal slaughter. A further 25% will be vegan replacements made from plant-based products, as part of a “serious disruption” of the meat industry, it says.

“You’re more likely to be throwing a lab-grown steak on the grill than one taken from a living, breathing cow,” concludes sustainability website Treehugger.

The Independent says “the transition will be the result of a growing awareness of the environmental consequences of conventional meat farming methods and the rising demand for vegan alternatives”. The report also highlights “the concerns people have about the welfare of animals under industrial farming”, says The Guardian.

The conventional meat industry raises billions of animals and turns over £785bn every year.

However, meat production is also highly inefficient. For example, it takes around 3kg of grain to produce 1kg of poultry meat. Because of this “meat production comes with huge environmental impacts, scientists have warned, among which are greenhouse emissions that drive climate change, the pollution of rivers and oceans and the destruction of wild habitats for farmland”, says the Daily Mail.

The authors of the report said: “The large-scale livestock industry is viewed by many as an unnecessary evil. With the advantages of novel vegan meat replacements and cultured meat over conventionally produced meat, it is only a matter of time before they capture a substantial market share.”

AT Kearney estimates around $1bn has already been invested developing vegan products such as replacement beef burgers and scrambled eggs, “including by companies that dominate the conventional meat market”, says the Guardian.

As well as environmental concerns and worries about animal welfare, the switch to non-livestock alternatives will also carry an added health benefit for consumers, found AT Kearney.

While almost most half the world’s crops are fed to animals, only 15% of the plant calories end up being eaten by humans as meat. By contrast, the report says, cultured meat and vegan meat replacements retain about three-quarters of their input calories.

The report also cites surveys of consumers in China, India and the US that suggest potential customer wariness towards cultured meat will not provide a hurdle for its widespread adoption.

“For passionate meat-eaters, the predicted rise of cultured meat products means that they still get to enjoy the same diet they always have, but without the same environmental and animal cost attached,” says Carsten Gerhardt, a partner at AT Kearney.

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