Growing Food In the Lab

A total of 34% of greenhouse gases emitted in 2015 was linked to food according to a report by the European Commission and the UN’s Food and Agriculture Office. Additional work by Xiaoming Xu from the University of Illinois determined that animal-based foods make up 57% of total agricultural greenhouse gases1. Of agricultural greenhouse gases, beef and cow’s milk comprise 34%, leading to an overall contribution of 12% of all greenhouse gas emissions. This is on par with total greenhouse gas emitted from cars, trains, ships and planes combined which is approximately 16%.

Components that make beef and cow’s milk farming carbon intensive includes the requirement of pastures, resulting in deforestation, and methane emission from the animals themselves. Additionally, a proportion of plant-based farming is required to upkeep animal-based farming with 33 plant calories needed to raise 1 calorie of beef2. Altogether, the data suggests reduction of cattle for food purposes can significantly reduce our carbon emissions. However, there are logistical and cultural challenges associated with this that will make a complete stop on animal products almost impossible to achieve. 

In vitro food production presents a promising alternative to farm-based foods. Product ranges for this market includes lab grown meats, milk, and plant-based proteins. The cultured meat industry alone is projected to grow to a $25 billion market by 2030. This is an indication that the consumer market is interested in the industry and could point to positive and long-lasting environmental impacts upon greater implementation. Currently, the global market is comprised of less than 100 start-ups but has already attracted over $500 million in investments, in the last year, from large companies including Tyson, Nutreco, Temasek, and Softbank. 

Despite the promise of lab grown foods, there are still considerable barriers associated to making these alternatives environmentally sustainable and cruelty free. Cellular agriculture requires animal-based serums like fetal bovine serum for important growth factors and hormones and despite the decrease in land requirements, cell culture is still an energy and resource intensive procedure. More work is required to make the workflows more scalable and to accurately track and subsequently decrease carbon footprint. Additionally, optimization of these products are still required to ensure they meet consumer preferences which will be important in determining if these companies can gain traction in the market. 

The lab grown food industry is a burgeoning field with great promise for its potential in helping us hit the net zero carbon emissions downstream. However more work is required to determine environmental impact and determine protocols that will minimize negative environmental impact. Canada’s SR&ED tax program presents an opportunity for companies within the field to recoup costs associated with any of the aforementioned research projects. For more information in how you can leverage SR&ED for your company, feel free to reach out to us at in This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


1“Global greenhouse gas emissions from animal-based foods are twice those of plant-based foods”, by Xu et al., 2021

2”Treating beef like coal would make a big dent in greenhouse-gas emissions”, The Economist 

Food science photo created by DCStudio -