China Bites Into Lab-Grown Meat Movement To Ease Eco-Concerns

China struck a $300 million deal with Israel to import lab-grown meats in an effort to cut meat consumption in the country in half, as well as address some of its biggest environmental issues.


Nov. 19 2020, Updated 9:39 p.m. ET

No matter what your diet is like, the production of food has a massive impact on the environment. Farms, for example, emitted six billion tons of greenhouse gases in 2011, or about 13 percent of total global emissions, making the agricultural sector the world’s second largest emitter after the energy sector. And when it comes to rising temperatures, meat is the biggest offender: Half of agricultural emissions come from the production of meat, and those with meat-heavy diets have the highest carbon footprint with 3.3 tons of greenhouse gas emissions. 

Some studies have shown that giving up meat would cause a bigger effect on climate change than giving up your car, and another recent study found that a global transition toward low-meat diets could reduce the costs of climate change mitigation by as much as 50 percent by 2050. 

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Of course, a lot of people enjoy eating meat, and view it as a necessary protein in their daily lives. Dietary choices are personal, and while plenty of people are eating less meat, or being more conscious about where their meat comes from, a lot of people aren't interested in ditching it entirely. Luckily, researchers are already working on ways to get people ethical, sustainable meat without harming the planet.

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One intriguing solution is to do away with the environmentally damaging process of raising livestock, and growing the meat in the lab, instead. 

In the U.S., this futuristic food solution has gained some traction. Companies like Memphis Meats, Beyond Meat and Finless Foods have gained wide attention for their petri-dish "clean meats," grown from the stem cells of real animals. But it turns out Israel is the real hotspot for this innovative industry – the country has entered into a $300-million deal to supply China with lab-grown meat. 

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China is the number one emitter of greenhouse gases on the planet. Globally, their agriculture sector is also the biggest emitter of any country, and the population's growing appetite for meat is only making matter worse. But in an effort to address some of its biggest environmental issues, the country is taking drastic measures to cut carbon emissions, including trying to cut down on meat: Last year, the Chinese government drew up a plan to cut meat consumption in half, which was applauded by environmentalists around the world.

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Presumably, the deal with Israel is part of that plan. The Israel Innovation Authority and the Israel Export Institute were involved in brokering the deal with China, which involves three companies: SuperMeat, Future Meat Technologies, and Meat the Future. 

As of now, China imports around $13.5 billion worth of meat every year, making the $300 million deal with Israel seem like a drop in the bucket. But this may just be the beginning – lab-grown meat is cheaper and safer than traditional meat, giving governments and citizens an incentive to invest in it and buy it. 

“This could put [lab-made] meat onto the radar of Chinese officials who have the capacity to steer billions of dollars into this technology,” head of the Good Food Initiative, Bruce Friedrich, told Quartz.

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