What is the environmental impact of cultivated meat?

Cyanobacteria is a potentially sustainable medium, but more research is needed for bioreactor design

Hanna Tuomisto’s 2011 research ​at the University of Helsinki explored the role of cyanobacteria as a source of nutrients in cultured meat production (in contrast to the more popular amino acid and glucose sources).

The initial results were positive “in terms of producing biomass per unit of land area compared to crops.” As opposed to glucose, which is produced from agriculture crops like corn or sugar cane, and requires land, cyanobacteria “has very low land use requirements,” she said.

However, with a follow up 2013 study in collaboration with the University of Bath, which examined a more “proper bio reactor design,” Tuomisto noted that lifecycle assessment (LCA) results indicated that “energy use was quite high” due to the use of one type of bioreactor.

Yet, Tuomisto is optimistic that a lower LCA is possible, citing the need for more studies to explore the impact of different types of bioreactors, cells and medium ingredients, among others.

“What our paper showed is that there is potential for cultured meat to have lower environmental impacts, especially compared to beef and maybe pork,” she said.

Tuomisto continued, “If we can use green or low-emission electricity and energy in the production that also lowers the environmental impact, but then also sourcing of the nutrients depending on where they come from, [which] affects the environmental impacts.”

Ultimately, the panel suggested that cultured meat may have lower environmental impacts than conventionally raised meat, but more studies are needed to confirm particularly around LCA for media composition, purity and grid energy.