According to the United Nations, meat consumption is now widely recognised as a significant contributor to climate change and pollution. In addition, there is growing concern that up to 24 million people across the Asia Pacific region are at risk of becoming acutely food insecure as a result of unsustainable farming practices; a problem which has been further exacerbated by the Covid-19 Pandemic.
Unicef published a report in January this year which highlights the importance of tackling both the existing gaps in food security, whilst also addressing the impact of the pandemic which, as yet, is not fully understood. Furthermore, the threat posed to the environment by livestock farming, which is responsible for producing around 15 per cent of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions, and overuse of antibiotics in farm animals, is considerable and increasingly pressing.
The development of cultured or ‘lab-grown’ meat is being touted as a win for environmentalists and those who are working to improve food security in the Asia-Pacific region. But what is lab-grown meat and does it really have the potential to help mitigate climate change and improve the outcomes of millions of people?
What is lab-grown meat?
Rather than producing meat by slaughtering animals, cultured or lab-grown meat is flesh which has been grown outside an animal’s body. Lab-grown meat is real meat which starts out as a sample or biopsy extracted from a living animal. This sample is then reproduced into masses of cells to make cultured meat.
Lab-grown meat can be made from a wide range of animal livestock including chickens, cows, ducks and rabbits. Seafood is also suitable for production of lab-grown meat, but cultured meat and seafood haven’t yet reached the mass-market. However, ‘chicken bites’ were recently approved by Singapore’s government, meaning that it’s probably not too long until lab-grown meat will be available to consumers.
It’s important to note that cultured meat is different to the plant-based meats which are becoming increasingly popular around the world. Consumers have embraced plant-based alternatives to meat with open arms, and so lab-based meat producers will be hoping that we develop a taste for cultured meat, although this may take a little longer to happen.
Lab-grown meat and the environment
As already mentioned, livestock farming is responsible for producing approximately 15% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions which result from methane emissions from manure management, energy consumption and the production of animal feed. Adding to this is the loss of forests which have been cut down to create grazing land, along with nitrogen and phosphorus which are released into waterways during livestock production.
The production of lab-grown meat requires more resources in comparison to meat substitutes which are made from plant and microbial-based proteins. Therefore, this means that cultured meat would need to offer additional benefits to attract consumers if they are going to have to pay a higher prices for it. As a result, cultured meat technology will have to rise to the challenge of creating products which are closer in taste and texture to animal meat than any of the plant-based alternatives currently available already do. The range of plant-based meat products is constantly improving andit is already difficult to differentiate some from real meat. This means that the technology used to create lab-grown meat has a number of problems to solve before production can be up-scaled in a cost-efficient and sustainable way.
Although lab-grown meat has the potential to offer a sustainable, environmentally friendly alternative to traditional livestock farming, there are major concerns surrounding the potential impact that cultured meat could have on the agricultural sector itself. If the production of lab-grown meat takes off, small-scale livestock farmers in developing countries are likely to be at risk of losing their livelihoods, causing irreparable damage to communities across the Asia-Pacific region.
Food insecurity and the challenges in recruiting a workforce
The challenges of finding solutions to improve the diets of mothers and children across the Asia-Pacific region are significant. Consumption of high-energy foods isn’t sufficient to sustain health, as this type of diet lacks the important nutrients available in a diverse diet. As a result, promoting a healthy diet and putting in place policies designed to enable the poor and vulnerable to afford nutritious food, is vital for the future productivity of the region.
Unicef’s report: ‘Asia and the Pacific: Regional Overview of Food Security and Nutrition,’ issued in January 2021, recommends ‘an integrated systems approach which brings together food, water and sanitation, health, social protection and education systems to address the underlying and contributing factors of diets sustainably.’
Safeguarding employment, and new areas of recruitment
At present, it’s hard to see how lab-grown food could help to safeguard jobs in the livestock industry, whilst providing those in poor communities with healthy, nutrition-rich foods. However, although the development of lab-grown meat production technology continues to develop, efforts are also required to improve the efficiency and sustainability of current livestock and agriculture production to safeguard against problems.
Peak Recruitment – leading recruitment specialists in the Asia-Pacific region
To tackle the problems of sustainability and food insecurity, the Asia-Pacific region’s food and agriculture industries require the skills of talented individuals. At Peak Recruitment we specialise in recruitment in Food & Beverage, Animal Agriculture and Crop Agribusiness. We work with individuals and businesses throughout the region from our base in Bangkok, Thailand. If you would like to find out more, get in touch at: firstname.lastname@example.org