Clean Meat Won't Significantly Reduce the Number of Animals Now Being Killed
Proponents of cellular meat are telling the public, the press, and animal advocates that cultured of cellular meat will eliminate or at least radically reduce the killing of animals in agriculture, and that within decades, conventional animal agriculture will even have been rendered "obsolete." But the truth is more complicated. While industry experts now estimate that, twenty years from now, flesh from living animals may constitute as little as 40% of the total protein market, the overall number of animals slaughtered will be only slightly less than, or even about the same as, the number of animals being killed today. That is what the research shows.
The reason so many vegans and animal advocates are being snookered into believing that synthesized flesh is the Holy Grail of animal justice is thanks to misleading headlines like the following one in the Guardian: "Most 'meat' in 2040 will not come from dead animals, says report: Consultants say 60% will be grown in vats or plant-based products that taste like meat." Technically, the Guardian's headline was correct: a consulting group named AT Kearney did recently release a report predicting that, in 20 years, most protein products will either be synthesized flesh or plant-based meat alternatives, rather than meat from animals raised and killed on farms. But what the article fails to mention is that the overall number of animals killed will be mostly unchanged.
How can that be?
It's simple: the global meat market is expected to double in the next 20 years. That means that even if half or more of all "conventional" meat products are replaced by vegan and cellular ones, the number of animals being slaughtered would remain close to what it now is (an unprecedented 50,000,000,000 land mammals and avians, and one to three trillion sea animals per year). At best, in other words, the combined cellular meat and vegan markets will hold the current horrible rate of violence steady, by curtailing further increases. But that is all.
After the AT Kearney report was released to the media in June 2019, we contacted Carsten Gerhardt, one of the authors of the report and a senior Kearney partner, and asked him whether our interpretation of the report's projection was correct--that the "disruption" of the meat market they predict will not substantially reduce the record number of animals now being killed. Gerhardt confirmed what we thought, saying in an email: "Yes, the number of animals killed will only decrease a little due to the overall increase [in the meat market] according to our research."
Here, however, a further caution is in order. The findings by Kearney, like those of other industry groups investigating the future "protein" market, are based on market projections and informed guesswork. That means that we have no certain way of knowing whether the share of the market taken up by alternatives to conventional meat will in fact turn out to be 70%, 60%, 50%, 40%, or even less. Which means that, absent a more robust strategy in animal advocacy, 20 years from now it is entirely possible that the overall number of animals slaughtered each year will be more than it is today.
For a more detailed discussion of the market forces driving this shell game, see other pages on the site, particularly our discussion of why clean mean isn't intended to replace meat from animals raised in "factory farms."