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06 January 2017

The meat of the matter 

Over the next 45 years, global meat production will double.

Animal agriculture already consumes a staggering 30% of the planet’s ice-free land, is responsible for 70% of its deforestation and devours a significant share of our drinkable water, edible food and combustible fossil fuel resources.

As a result, support for alternatives to animal agriculture is growing, with the meat-substitutes market expected to see an average 6.4% annual growth rate until 2020.

One of the world’s largest meat producers, Tyson Foods Inc., recently unveiled a $150 million venture capital fund to back food and agriculture startups focusing on problems related to food production, distribution, nutrition, waste and safety.

Meat substitutes making the most headway include vegetarian (plant-based) alternatives and lab-grown meat.

Plant-based substitutes have gone from niche to widely accepted. At 3.5%, growth in the plant-based food and beverage market is doubling that of the total food and beverage industry, with sales expected to reach $5 billion by 2020.

Supporters of this movement argue that new plant-based products are healthier and cheaper than their real-meat counterpart – with a much lower environmental impact.

From the proliferation of “superfoods,” to plant-based meat and cheese imitations like soy and grain based “chicken strips,” the market is expanding.

Lab-grown meat is a young industry – an experimental technology with great potential. According to an Oxford University study, it also has a significantly smaller carbon footprint than regular beef, pork and even poultry production.

Indeed, while artificial meat is still beyond your local supermarket, it has made significant progress. Although the world’s first “test-tube” burger came with a $330,000 price tag in 2013, costs have been cut to just $11.

As food science progresses and these substitutes look and taste more like the real thing, meat producers could be in for a fight – and the environment for some welcome relief.