Should companies invest in cell-cultured meat and seafood? Here’s what they need to know.

Just by continuing food production the way we have been, the planet will likely warm by 1.5 or possibly even 2 degrees. This is true even if all fossil fuel emissions ended. 

Cell-cultured meat and seafood products are emerging as another potential means of food production. The market for these innovative products has experienced sustained growth in the last few years as companies seek out new business opportunities that could reduce their environmental impact, while feeding growing populations. 

Companies are touting alternative meat and seafood products as more environmentally friendly and healthier alternatives to conventional meat. They promise that these products will improve efficiency and cut emissions from the global food system — without compromising taste or nutrition or harming the environment. Companies are also highlighting the potential for eliminating exposure to toxins such as mercury in seafood and pathogens that limit shelf life and threaten human health.

But, the evidence for these claims is limited. That’s why it’s critical for companies, which have the greatest understanding and control of the products and how they’re made, to ensure cell-cultured foods coming to the market are safe for the planet and human health and that growth happens responsibly and transparently. This includes considering the risks and other externalities that a shift in food production, consumption and supply chains can bring. 

Environmental innovation is key for meeting climate goals

Food production accounts for nearly a quarter of all global emissions. Food and ag companies are challenged with increasing food production for a growing global population, expected to reach 10 billion people by 2050, at the same time they are racing to meet ambitious climate goals.

Jenny Ahlen, Senior Director, EDF+Business

On-farm opportunities exist for companies to support farmers in reducing agricultural emissions, and thus, the companies’ supply chain footprint as well. But there remains a sizable innovation gap between ambitions and current technologies, which is why investing in environmental innovation is a critical component of any ambitious corporate climate strategy. 

Major food companies, including Tyson Foods, Nestle, Brazil’s BRF, Japan’s Mitsubishi Corp. and Thai Union Group are among companies that have invested in the cell-cultured meat industry. Today, the global cultured meat market size and share revenue is expected to reach $248 million by 2026, representing a 15.7% compound annual growth rate between 2021-2026.

Although these products may be years away from being available in supermarkets in the U.S., two-thirds of consumers surveyed say they are willing to try cell-cultured meat.

Leadership requires companies to take environmental, health and societal ramifications into account

Before cell-cultured products come to market at scale, companies and regulating bodies must ensure there are net environmental, health and societal benefits. 

The current production process for cell-cultured meat is quite energy intensive, not to mention costly. On top of that, these products have the potential to disrupt complex food production systems and cause adverse socioeconomic impacts for natural ecosystems, fishers, farmers, and  ranchers, as well as rural communities. This underscores the need for companies to avoid any adverse impacts on communities that could experience disproportionate burdens from the production of cell-cultured food.

Companies that are considering, or have already invested in cell-cultured meat and seafood products, should demonstrate leadership by adopting the following four principles for considering the full environmental, human health and societal ramifications:

  1. Ensure cell-cultured meat and seafood products are safe for human consumption.
  2. Continuously improve the overall environmental footprint of cell-cultured meat and seafood products, as compared to the foods they are intended to replace.
  3. Advocate for programs that maximize the net societal benefits of cell-cultured meat and seafood products.
  4. Enable consumers to make informed choices about cell-cultured meat and seafood products with accurate labeling and marketing.

As food and ag companies build their climate strategies, investing in innovation that delivers on the promise of being better for people and the planet must be part of the equation.

To find out how companies can ensure responsible development of cell-cultured meat and seafood, download EDF’s new Principles.