The economics of it just won’t work – and it’ll be terrible for the environment: Australia’s leading expert on cell-based meat speaks…

A fresh study on the environmental impacts of lab-grown meat has led an internationally recognised expert on the future of cell-based protein, Professor Paul Wood, AO, to confirm the economics of producing lab-grown meat at scale “just won’t work” and will be less sustainable than traditional red meat production systems.

The new study from the University of California, Davis, argues the global warming potential of cell-based meat production could be up to 25 times greater than the average for retail beef.

“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,” Prof Wood said.

“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,” he said.

The Monash University professor, who has led major research teams in Australia and the US, has just had his own peer-reviewed paper on the future of cell-based meat published in the world-renowned journal Animal Frontiers: Cellular agriculture: current gaps between facts and claims regarding cell-based meat.

The paper discusses the millions of dollars being invested in cellular agriculture, including cell-based meat and precision fermentation, and notes the 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,” Prof Wood said.

“They will also not match a fine steak, they are producing commodity products like burgers, meatballs and sausages. Put simply, it just won’t be sustainable in terms of energy consumption and the idea that it will transform the meat industry is ridiculous,” he said.

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

Prof Wood is among several Australian scientists to have had their work published in a special edition of Animal Frontiers – the official journal of four professional animal science societies including the American Society of Animal Science, the Canadian Society of Animal Science, the European Federation of Animal Science, and the American Meat Science Association.

Dr Rod Polkinghorne, OAM, a leading innovator in the global red meat industry, and Professor Neil Mann, a human nutrition expert with more than 30 years of clinical trial expertise, have also had their work published in the journal.

The Animal Frontiers papers formed the basis for discussion at a Dublin-based event held last year, the International Summit on the Societal Role of Meat, and for a Sydney-based event in March, The Good Meat Summit, hosted by AMPC and MLA.

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