Accounting for more emissions than the entire transportation sector, industrial meat production is a critical driver of climate destabilization. It’s also a leading cause of deforestation, ecosystem degradation and freshwater pollution.
In the 21st century, global per capita consumption of meat and other animal products is projected to rise as population size, affluence and urbanization increase. This trend, left unchanged, portends many grim consequences, including a loss of biodiversity, resource availability, food security and human health. Such a shift will also further entrench the cruelties that are inflicted upon billions of animals.
Given the urgent stakes, it’s clear that rapidly curbing the consumption of industrially-produced meat is one of the great existential and moral imperatives of our time. But trends are charting in the opposite direction and show no signs of reversing in a timeframe that would allow us to avoid the most disastrous scenarios. How, then, can this massive challenge be practically confronted?
For many, the most obvious solution would involve the conscious transition of large shares of the global population to a vegetarian, vegan or less meat-intensive diet. However, while vegetarianism/veganism is on the rise in many developed economies, people who abstain from eating meat and other animal products represent a very small share of the total global population. Further, there is no precedent to suggest that such an extraordinary behavioral transformation is likely, particularly given the complex cultural and economic implications.
Alternatively, many call for the deindustrialization of meat production and the mainstreaming of more sustainable, less resource-intensive practices. While the advantages of such methods are demonstrable and must be taken seriously, their prospects for addressing the fundamental problem are sobering when viewed against the enormous scale and growth of global demand for meat.
A third, newer approach involves fundamentally changing the means by which meat is produced and delivered to consumers. In other words, rather than eliminating meat consumption on a planetary scale, we must decouple meat production from the many threats described above. “Clean meat” is one of many terms–along with cultured meat and cellular agriculture—that has come to describe processes by which samples of animal cells can be replicated in a culture to produce real meat products, indistinguishable or superior to those currently found in grocery stores in terms of taste, price and nutritional value. This is essentially meat without animals.
A scaled-up clean meat industry would have profound positive implications for climate, human health and animal welfare. While many technical, economic, cultural and even psychological hurdles must be overcome for clean meat to succeed, a growing number of startups with serious financial backing have emerged globally. And a handful of them now call New York City home.
The potential for this industry to expand in NYC will be explored during Urban Green’s May 1 discussion, Urban Cellular Agriculture: The Meaty Truth, which will be hosted at Project Farmhouse in Manhattan. Panelists will include leading advocates for clean meat who are based in the region, as well as representatives from a local startup and from the City of New York’s Economic Development Corporation.