With the projected decline of food production from land degradation due to climate change, food security is at risk according to the recent IPCC report.
If this happens, would lab-grown meat, and ‘tuned-up’ plants be the solution to the projected global food demands?
Proponents of lab-grown meat claim that producing cultured meat can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and significantly curb land and water use. They see it as a promising alternative to the high methane emissions from the agriculture sector as advocates are expressing firm commitments to the environment.
Lab-grown meat is from animal stem cells that are bioengineered in the lab for it to multiply and grow until they form new muscles tissues. It promises to replicate the natural taste and texture of meat, the article says.
Meanwhile, Bill Gates is investing in research that can double crop yield by ‘tuning’ up photosynthesis in the plant. He says this is a solution to the growing demands of food by 2050, and to combat the climate change stresses on food production as it faces weather challenges such as severe droughts, irregular rainfall, and spread of pests and crop diseases (Tuning up Photosynthesis, 2019).
Lab-grown meat’s implications
Agriculture accounts for 44 % methane emission so meat grown in the laboratory will help raise fewer animals which and can help reduce methane emissions. This can appeal to people who are concerned about agriculture’s contribution to climate change. (CNN, 2016).
However, not everyone is convinced about the environmental and health implications of lab-grown meat. For instance, Marco Springmann, senior environmental research from the University of Oxford says that meat grown in the lab has “5 times the carbon footprint of chicken, and ten times higher than plant-based meat” (CNBC, 2019).
As analysts project that the lab-grown meat industry will become a multi-billion business by 2030, start-up labs are springing up worldwide. The United States has nine cell-culturing companies at the moment and plans to release its products by the end of 2019, a CNBC article says.
Will cultured meat lower greenhouse gas emission?
Proponents of cultured meats say that it has 96% lower greenhouse gas emission, while another says it uses less land and water, according to a CNBC report.
Because lab-grown meat is still in its early stages, the actual carbon footprint on a large-scale process is difficult to assess. But claiming as an alternative to the methane-belching agriculture industry, meat laboratories will be pressed to use cleaner energy and technologies.
If large-scale production of lab-meat will produce a lot of carbon dioxide then it will be more damaging than the methane emissions of raising animals, as carbon dioxide persists for hundreds of years in the atmosphere compared to methane that only lasts for 12 years in the atmosphere.
Researchers believe tuned-up plants will double its productivity
Bill Gates’ research claims that by tuning up photosynthesis in the plant, it can double up its productivity (Tuning up photosynthesis, 2019).
We’ve first learned about photosynthesis in school. It is ‘a chemical reaction that takes place inside a plant, producing food for the plant to survive. Carbon dioxide, water and light are all needed for photosynthesis to take place’. (BBC bitesize, 2019).
According to the research program called RIPE, an acronym for Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency led by the University of Illinois, plants are not too efficient when it comes to using the sun’s energy as it only uses a fraction of the sunlight that fuels its growth meaning that crops are producing less than it’s potential, the article says (Tuning up photosynthesis, 2019).
Using computer simulation, researchers are able to pinpoint what are the changes that need to be done between the 170-step chemical process of photosynthesis, particularly how plants can speed-up turning sunlight into energy to produce more crop in rice, cassava, soybeans, cowpea, and others, the article says.
By tuning up photosynthesis, it can solve the growing demands of food. Especially that the greatest demands would come from the poorest people, living in high population areas that rely on farming to feed their families and earn a living (Tuning up photosynthesis, 2019).
Another thing that researchers are doing according to the article, is to fix the enzyme Rubisco which ‘captures carbon dioxide and turns it into sugars for the plant.’ Speeding up Rubisco will also yield higher productivity.
As these developments are still at an early stage, there’s no way of knowing how these innovations particularly the ‘tuning up’ plants and bioengineered meats will impact our health, soil, ecosystems, and other animals.
Innovations and technologies are exciting and holding promises to combat food demands and scarcity and lower greenhouse gas emissions, which are crucial in climate change adaptation and mitigation.
PHOTO CREDIT:First Cultured Hamburger by World Economic Forum – File:The Meat Revolution Mark Post.webm (7:48), CC BY 3.0, Link Leaf by Jon Sullivan – PdPhoto, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18858