Problems With Current Meat Production

Meat production as it stands is incredibly taxing on the environment. 30 percent of the total land area of the world is used in pasture land and in the production of food for animals on a feedlot system. This compares to 32 percent global forest land area, and 9 percent global urban land area (Seinfeld, 2006). This land area harms biodiversity in the same manner outlined in the “Problems with Agriculture” section of this plan. Overall, meat production is responsible for 70 percent of global agricultural land, so a majority of the crops grown today are grown specifically for the production of meat (Fiala, 2008). Also, land area devoted to the production of feed for animals is not as capable of harboring and sustaining a high level of biodiversity as a forest or meadow that could occupy the same land (Tuomisto, 2011). The production of meat also produces a substantial amount of greenhouse gasses. In total, meat production alone accounts for 15 percent to 24 percent of the global greenhouse gasses emitted by humans, which is greater than the global transportation sector. These figures include the CO2 produced from the running of equipment and the facilities as well as the CH4 produced from manure decomposition, which is 20 times as potent as carbon dioxide in greenhouse potential (Baumert, 2005). This makes meat production a significant suspect of climate change, which harms biodiversity by changing the dynamic of the habitat through a change in climate. Beyond the environmental cost of meat production, the economic cost is also a concern. Without taking into account the rising beef consumption, a conservative estimate of the total economic cost per year is 140 billion USD. This takes into account the externality cost of CO2 produced and the methane equivalence (cost of green house gasses that is not reflected within market transactions) as well as land degradation (Fiala, 2010). In addition, meat consumption in countries classified as middle and high income countries accounts for 92 percent of the total meat consumption (Foley, 2011). Also, as a result of increased population and increased affluence, the global meat consumption is rising. This directly causes an increase in the amount of meat produced and, by extension, the harm done by meat production.

Alternatives to Current Meat Production

In order to combat the effects of current meat production on biodiversity, there are a few methods that should be considered. These include methane capture, meat reduction policies, and cultured meat. Each of these has its own advantages and disadvantages that necessitates the hybridization of all  of them to create an effective plan

Cultured Meat

Cultured meat is consumable meat produced in a non-biological setting, such as a laboratory. This method of meat production does not require the existence of an animal and is therefore far more efficient in many respects. As highlighted in the problems with current meat production, animals are inefficient sources of meat. Much of the energy they consume is used in metabolism and cellular respiration. These losses of energy are significantly reduced in a cultured meat system. For every kilogram of lab-grown meat produced, regardless of type, approximately 1.4 kilograms of carbon emissions is produced, less than all other kinds of meat as they are currently produced (Tuomisto, 2011).

Meat Type Carbon Equivalence per kg Produced
Beef 15 kg - 32 kg
Pork 3.8 kg
Chicken 4.5 kg - 5.4 kg
Cultured Meat 1.4 kg
Table 1: carbon equivalences associated with various meat types.

In effect, a conversion to a complete cultured meat production process will result in a  74 percent to 96 percent green house gas reduction of the current meat production process (Tuomisto, 2011). A reduction in greenhouse gas emissions will directly reduce the rate of climate change, thus resulting in a decrease in biodiversity loss.

The total land area required to produce cultured meat is also substantially less than that require for traditional meat production as there is no need for large areas of crops for the purpose of feed or large pastures for the purpose of grazing. As a result, the total area of repurposed land will be devoted to sustaining biodiversity, or, if left alone, will allow diverse ecosystems to develop where there were none. In addition, because this land area is composed mainly of crops for feedlot meat production, the same benefits outlined in the advantages of perennial agriculture apply here, except this case is more extreme as it is not a conversion of one crop to a less detrimental one, but rather an elimination of the need to cultivate that land. In total, the land utilized for meat production alone accounts for 26 percent of the global land area. This is 75 percent of all of the agricultural land in the world (Fiala, 2008). Lab-grown meat production uses only the plot of land necessary for a factory, which negligible compared to the 834,600,000 acres of land used for current meat production methods.

Economically, the externality savings of converting to lab grown meat amounts to a global savings of 130,000,000,000 USD annually. This includes the savings of carbon emissions and the land opportunity cost gained from newly non-utilized land. Again, this is a conservative estimate as it does not include a possible increase of meat consumption worldwide; however, it also does not factor in operation costs or the cost of implementing such a radical change to the current food production method (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations). The current production cost of cultured meat is on the order of thousands of dollars per pound, which is significantly greater than economically suitable for wide scale production and marketing. This is mainly due to a variety of production barriers that must be over come. This includes nutrient transport within the meat (a function analogous to blood vessels) and 3D lattice to allow vertical growth of the meat (a function analogous to bone structures)

Implementation Of Lab Grown Meat

As mentioned before, more research and development must be done before lab-grown meat can be efficiently mass-produced. There are no definitive projected dates for the completion of a cost-effective meat production process. Some estimates put it within 5 years while others project its completion in at most 10 years. This discrepancy is due to the current lack of funding for research and a limited number of dedicated research activities for this project. The price of research of this solution and the initial start-up cost of building facilities to produce the meat would have to be absorbed by governments or other organizations with an interest in the benefits of lab grown meat. The overall cost has not yet been accurately evaluated. This initial step is crucial to developing a concrete implementation plan. However, an overhaul of the meat production system will likely be costly; hence, the preferred implementation within the upper and upper-middle income countries.

Another cause for concern over the feasibility of this product is public acceptance. There is no official evaluation of the overall public acceptance of this lab-grown meat. In the case of widespread acceptance, there would exist one less barrier to mass production of this product. In the case of an initial public rejection, an advertisement campaign would be launched. Then, lab-grown meat would have to be produced at a cost that would save meat producers money. Removing subsidies on traditional meat would give lab-grown meat a competitive edge in the market. If lab grown meat can be made a better economic option for industry, then companies will be more likely to adopt it as a product and market it to consumers. This would be the most favorable implementation strategy for cultured meat as the public acceptance cost would be paid for by companies looking to benefit economically from the products. Once again, these benefits must be achieved through research and adjusting current product incentives. Overall, this solution is expected to be implemented long-term.

Methane Capture

The greenhouse gases produced by meat production contain a high percentage of methane, a gas 20 times as potent as carbon dioxide as a green house gas. (Baumert, 2005). Methane is produced in a variety of ways. During digestion, microbial activity within the stomach of an animal ferments consumed food and produces methane as a by-product. This methane is released through respiration or eructation. Animals that have a ruminant stomach structure are responsible for the majority of this methane produced. These include cattle, sheep, and goats. Another source of this methane is the decomposition of manure in anaerobic conditions such as slurry in lagoons or large piles. Without air, the microbes within the manure actively produce methane which is then released into the atmosphere. (Beach, 2008)

Methane capture can reduce the output of methane from meat production substantially and provide a farm with electricity. Unfortunately, the cost of running the equipment is greater than the gained energy cost offset. This gives methane capture an economic deficiency. This method would, therefore, have to include further incentives to attain greater integration among lower income agricultural establishments. (Fiala, 2008)

Meat-Reduction Policies

The fastest method of reducing the effects of meat production is the implementation of meat-reduction policies. For instance, establishing a tax on meat products would provide an incentive for people to consume less meat, and could be effective at reducing the meat consumed by the world if implemented within the 30 selected countries. As such a policy has no precedent, it is difficult to determine the public rejection or an effective manner of enforcement.


This part of the agriculture plan can be effective if introduced in the top 30 meat consuming upper and upper-middle income countries. Nations classified as low and lower-middle income by The World Bank are excluded from this part of the plan as they only contribute to 14 percent of global meat consumption.

Table 2: Top 30 Meat Consuming Upper and Upper-Middle Income Countries
Country Meat Consumption in Metric Tons Per Year
United States of America37,901,389
Russian Federation8,640,969
United Kingdom5,227,226
Iran (Islamic Republic of)2,379,769
Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of)2,095,379
Saudi Arabia1,333,532
Czech Republic878,338
Table 4: meat consumption (in tons) associated with a variety of countries.

Total meat consumption of these 30 nations is 209,315,407 metric tons. Total meat consumption of the world is 263,883,080 metric tons. (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) The top 30 nations are responsible for 79 percent of the total world meat consumption. These are the countries that should be targeted as they will contribute the most to reduction of the effects of meat production and have the greatest financial ability to do so as well.

Overall Plan

As with many solutions, the best solution for the meat production industry may be a hybrid of all of the individual solutions outlined in this plan. Meat reduction policies can be implemented much sooner than cultured meat, and therefore these serve as the primary action in an attempt to initially reduce meat consumption. Using methane capture and manure management to reduce methane released can also aid in reducing the effects of meat production on biodiversity. As the population grows, these solutions will have to become increasingly strict until an acceptable replacement of the current meat production system can be implemented globally. Ideally, cultured meat could fill this need in the future given the mentioned requirements.