Feeding the world is an increasingly difficult task as populations grow.
As the world now faces a global
protein shortage – meat is also on
the chopping block.
To address the ethical and economic call for new protein sources, ‘lab grown’ artificial meats are being developed and a new wave of plant-based options are sprouting up in stores across the country.
But while the idea of creating meat artificially is no longer a thing of the future, what still needs to be determined is the amount of resources, such as water, land and energy that will be required to make artificial meats viable for mass consumption.
“It’s not enough to just say we need to shift to more sustainable methods of protein production – we need to look at the implementation of such changes to understand how we do that so we don’t inadvertently have a negative impact,” Dr McAvoy said.
“Consider how much land and water may be needed to grow pea or soy protein for example, or how we will deal with the waste produced.
“We need to assess the resource impact and also look at how this compares to producing meat traditionally using livestock."
In partnership with Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA), Dr McAvoy and Dr Smith are looking at the emerging types of meats such as artificial meat production and modelling how it compares to traditional beef production.
Dr Smith said the research was exploring the viability for producing protein, whether they be traditional meat, artificial meat or traditional vegetarian options like chickpea-based burgers.
“But the research hasn’t really been done to assess the consequences, environmental or socio-economic, of a shift from one meat production system to another," he said.
The researchers are working closely with their industry partners to ensure the outcomes are practical and useful for both business and academia moving forward.
“There’s this disconnect between business and research – we don’t often speak each other’s language,” Dr McAvoy said.
“So we are trying to become a conduit between business and research – my background in industry prior to moving into research has enabled me to understand and address business needs when we undertake partnerships in research projects.”
Assessing these changes will help inform wider Australian policy and industry processes moving forward.
“MLA continues to seek out new opportunities and understanding from changing consumer trends," said Michael Lee, Manager, High Value Food Frontiers.
"This also includes new technology platforms and value chain that are likely to be used in the coming years from plant proteins and cell-cultured meat production systems.
"UQ have been working on modelling these different systems against our traditional beef system on a number of criteria, including sustainability metrics."