Meat Crisis

Animal Waste Management

Nine billion animals are raised for food in the EU each year, and animal farming harms the environment in many ways, including: excessive manure; fertiliser and pesticide application; air, soil and water pollution; and wildlife habitat destruction.

A recent letter arrived on the desks of EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, Council President Donald Tusk, and Parliament President Antonio Tajani, highlighting concerns from over 500 experts that the risks to future food security posed by nature destruction are just as dangerous as those posed by climate change. The study showed that our agriculture system is a huge part of the problem that continues to exist today.

The report's findings show that crop and grazing lands now cover more than one third of the Earth's land surface, with recent clearing of native habitats, including forests, grasslands and wetlands, being concentrated in some of the most species-rich ecosystems on the planet. The findings show that rapid expansion and unsustainable management of croplands and grazing lands is a direct cause of land degradation which causes huge damage to nature and the services people rely on nature for, such as food security, water purification, energy provision.

The researchers warn that increasing demand for food and biofuels is likely to lead to continued increases in nutrient and chemical inputs and a shift towards industrialised livestock production systems, with pesticide and fertiliser use expected to double by 2050.

The letter, signed by the European Enviornmental Bureau (EEB), states:

It is imperative for the European Union to step up and change its policies to accelerate a transition towards healthy and sustainable diets that are higher in plant-based foods and include considerably less and better produced meat, dairy and eggs. The EU institutions should carry out a comprehensive assessment of the health and environmental impacts of the industrial animal farming sector and formulate clear policy recommendations. These should be EU priorities, translated into all the relevant EU policies in order to protect our climate and environment, people's health, farmers' livelihoods, and farm animal welfare, both in Europe and worldwide.

How To Tackle The Meat Crisis?

There are a number of strategies possible to tackle the meat crisis (Théwis and Galiù, 2012):

  1. The livestock sector itself can devise strategies to curb GHG and ammonia emissions, the so-called mitigation strategies,
  2. Cutting on meat consumption,
  3. Developing alternate methods for producing meat (e.g. cultured meat), and
  4. Develop alternate protein sources.

Mitigation Strategies

To curb emissions, it is particular important to adhere to the 2015 Paris Agreement of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The Agreement aims to hold the rise in global average temperatures by 2100 to "well below 2 0C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 0C above pre-industrial levels' (Richards et al., 2015). Being aware that livestock is a major contribution to GHG emissions, a number of mitigation strategies have been proposed (Boer et al., 2011; Change, 2015; Gerber et al., 2013; Herrero et al., 2016; Ndegwa et al., 2008; Pautian et al., 2006; Smith et al., 2008; Verge et al., 2007). Emissions can be reduced by techniques and practices that improve production efficiencies:

  1. Better quality feed,
  2. Feed balancing to lower enteric and manure emissions,
  3. Improved breeding and animal health,
  4. Manure management practices ensuring the recovery,
  5. Recycling of nutrients and energy contained in manure, and
  6. Improvements in energy use efficiency along supply chains and grassland carbon sequestration (Gerber et al., 2013).

However, Hedenus et al., (2014) showed that those mitigation measures are not enough and that reduced ruminant meat and dairy consumption will be indispendable for reaching the 2 0C target. Ruminant meats (beef and lamb) have emissions per gram of protein are about 250 times those of legumes, and also much higher than those of poultry and swine (Tilman and Clark, 2014). To shift away from ruminants (e.g. cattle and sheep) to monogastrics (swine and poultry) has been suggested as solutions (Gerber et al., 2013; McAlpine et al., 2009). Also putting a tax on in particular ruminant meat has been proposed (Revell, 2015)

Eating Less Meat

In order to reduce global agricultural GHG emissions, reduce land clearing and resultant species extinctions, it seems obvious that reducing meat consumption would be the most sensible solution (Davis et al., 2016; Hedenus et al., 2014; Schosler et al., 2012; Tilman and Clark, 2014; Wollenberg et al., 2016).

Cultured Meat

In vitro culturing of meat has been proposed as one of the alternative for livestock meat production (Post, 2012). On August 5, 2013, a hamburger prototype made from cultured, or in vitro, meat was tasted at a well-publicized event in London (Post, 2014). The meat used for preparation of this hamburger was not grown in an animal, but rather from bovine skeletal muscle stem cells in Dr Mark Post's laboratory as Maastricht university in the Netherlands. The process entails the generation of bio-artificial muscles from satellite cells. Such cells generated should mimic meat in visual appearance, smell, texture, and of course, taste. Loose myosatellite cells can be cultured on a substrate, and mature muscle cells can be harvested after differentiation and processing them into various meat products.

The effective culture of skeletal muscle seems to be possible with current technology generating an acceptable mimic of meat tissue. Main issues to consider with this process are: scalability of the production process, quality control of mammalian cell/tissue cultures. Maintaining sterility in the culture, prevention of contamination or disease and the controlled breeding of stem cell donor animal. A great deal of research is still needed to establish a sustainable in vitro meat culturing system on an industrial scale (Fayaz Bhat and Fayaz, 2011). Using a life cycle assessment, the environmental impacts of cultured meat production is substantially lower than those of conventionally produced European meat, cultured meat involves approximately 7-45% lower energy, 78-96% lower GHG emissions, 99% lower land use, and 82-96% lower water use depending on the product compared (Tuomisto and Texeira de Mattos, 2011). This evaluation was confirmed by Mattick et al. (2015), who also found that in vitro biomass cultivation could require smaller quantities of agricultural inputs and land than livestock, although uncertainty ranges are large.

Alternative Protein Sources

Dietary change, in areas with affluent diet, is one of the options to reach environmental goals. One group of researchers reviewed 14 peer-reviewed journal articles assessing the GHG emissions and land use demand of in total 49 dietary scenarios (Hallstrom et al., 2015). This strategy is able to reduce GHG emissions and land use demand up to 50% compared to the current diet. Reason to study more in detail which dietary changes are possible.

The research for alternative and more sustainable protein sources and recently a whole book was published on sustainable protein sources, among those in particular many plant protein sources (Nadathur et al., 2016). We will only discuss upcoming sources of protein which are canola/rapeseed, mycoprotein, heterotropic algae and of course insects (Table 1).

Table 1
Changes in meat (carcass weight) consumption (kg/person/year) in the world and by country groups (Alexandratos and Bruinsma, 2012)
Source Protein
Muscle proteins (myofibrillar, sarcoplasmic, stroma proteins)
Blood proteins (haemoglobin, plasma protein)
Connective tissue proteins (collagen, elastin)
Milk proteins (whey proteins, caseins, lactoferrin)
Egg proteins (egg albumin, yolk)
Cereals proteins (gluten, zein, barley, oats, rice proteins)
Proteins from legumes and pulses (protein isolates from peas, soybeans, lupines, lentils)
Proteins from oilseeds (protein isolates from rapeseed, canola, cottonseed, peanut, chia seed, flaxseed)
Proteins from tubers (potato protein)
Proteins from leaves (alfalfa leaf protein concentrate)
Proteins from green and blue-green seaweed (spirulina, anabaena, nostoc, ulva, entemorpha)
Fungal proteins (mycoproteins)


Rapeseed, or the canola plant, belongs to the Brassicaceae family. This crop is food grade oil-producing plant that has become a major oilseed in the las 40 years (Wanasundara et al., 2016). Canola meal at present is primarily used as an animal feed. The product is a competitive animal feed source owing to its high protein value and has an amino acid profile very competitive with other plant proteins currently on the market. The food protein source has a high bioavailability and digestibility (Campbell et al., 2016). Suitable production techniques are needed to fir within the regulatory frameworks required for novel protein sources (Wanasundara et al., 2016). One of the biggest challenges determining the success of canola protein as a food ingredient is being able to bring a product to the market at a competitive price.


To find an optimum strain for microbial proteins, approximately 3,000 fungi were screened, and Fusarium venenatum was selected as the best (Ritchie et al., 2017). The cell walls of the hyphae (cells) are the source of dietary fibre (chitin and glucan), and the cell membranes are the source of polyunsaturated fat and the cytoplasm is the source of high-quality protein (Malav et al., 2015). The fungus has a favourable fatty acid profile and is cholesterol free with a fibre content that is comparable to other vegetarian protein sources. By continuous fermentation of this fungal species, a product is obtained that has a fibrous texture analogous to that of meat, which can be flavoured and further textured to resemble meat. Mycoprotein is produced and commercialized by Marlow Foods in the UK, and sold under the brand name Quorn (Ritchie et al., 2017). These product server a narrow, premium, vegetarian market, and only significant price reductions will expand the market. Biotechnological innovations may be able to half the price.


Algae include microalgae and seaweeds. They have increasingly important applications as both food ingredients and animal feed (Packer et al., 2016). There are some 350,000 species of algae but only a few species are currently domesticated. The unexploited potential for use as food or in feeds in therefore large.

Microalgae are unicellular. They can achieve high areal yields and can be grown on non-arable land. Because of the unique lipid composition and the high protein content, they are considered a next generation bio-based/ food feedstock (Eppink et al., 2017). The closed-system growth process allows for a consistent and clean production. Microalgae grown on sugarcane feedstock can produce a highly sustainable source of protein (Klamcynska and Mooney, 2016). To develop a sustainable and economically feasible process all (fragile) biomass components should be used. Therefore, an integrated continuous biorefinery technology concept for microalgae processing is needed.

Macroalgae (seaweed and kelp in English) are multicellular. Since macroalgae can be grown in water (oceans and lakes), they will not complete with land based crops, and thus will not be in competition with human foods. Their composition is highly variable, depending on the species, time of collection and habitat, and on external conditions such as water temperature, light intensity and nutrient concentration in water. Seaweeds tend to accumulate heavy metals (arsenic), iodine, and other minerals, and feeding such seaweeds could deteriorate animal and human health (Packer et al., 2016). Regular monitoring of minerals in seaweeds would prevent toxic and other undesirable situations. There are about 10,000 species of seaweeds, but only ingredients since 1960s, when Norway started producing seaweed meal from kelp (Makkar et al., 2016). Seaweeds include brown algae (Phaeophyceae), red algae (Rhodophyceae) and green algae (Chlorophyceae).