Over the course of the next few decades, the world population will surge from seven billion to nine billion people. Coupled with the skyrocketing development of countries such as China and India, this population growth will place new burdens on the world’s food supply, especially the production of meat. Currently, meat production consumes about 20% of the world’s energy, 70% of potable water, 30% of arable land, and is responsible for between 15 and 24% of greenhouse gas emissions. At these rates, the world cannot sustain an increased burden on its natural resources due to heightened demand for meat.
Genetic engineering and cloning are already being implemented to help ease some of the burdens on the world food supply. “In 2005, 52% of corn, 87% of soybeans, and 79% of cotton planted in the United States [were] genetically engineered . . . .” Genetically-engineered (GE) plants enable farmers to produce more resilient crops, allowing them to prevent economic damage to yearly harvests and waste. Creating fast-growing animals and inherently insect-resistant plants can alleviate strains on the environment and the global food supply. These techniques still face the same limitations of traditional farming, such as land and resource consumption. However, some genetic modifications produce faster growth, such as the AquAdvantage salmon, thereby reducing the cost of raising the animals and lessening their environmental impact.
This Comment argues that growing demand for protein, especially from meat, will drive a search for alternatives to conventional meat production. A developing technology, in vitro meat, could help ease many of the environmental burdens of worldwide meat production. In vitro meat research seeks to develop a method to grow meat in a lab environment. Some researchers estimate that in vitro meat production systems could reduce use of land and water resources for raising meat by up to 80% and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from raising livestock by as much as 90%.