Bruce Friedrich: How Is Eating Meat Affecting Our Planet?

Jun 7, 2019
Originally published on June 10, 2019 10:01 am

Part 4 of the TED Radio Hour episode Climate Crisis.

About Bruce Friedrich

Bruce Friedrich shows how plant and cell-based products could soon transform the way we eat ... and reduce the global meat industry's impact on the planet.

About Bruce Friedrich's TED Talk

Bruce Friedrich is the co-founder and executive director of The Good Food Institute, which works to bring clean meat and plant-based alternatives to the forefront.

Friedrich is the author of two books, including Clean Protein with Kathy Freston. He holds degrees from Georgetown Law, the London School of Economics, and Johns Hopkins University.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

GUY RAZ, HOST:

It's the TED Radio Hour from NPR. I'm Guy Raz. And on the show today, ideas about how we can stop the worst effects of global warming and save our planet. And one of the ways we might be able to do that is by changing our diets and eating a lot less meat.

BRUCE FRIEDRICH: I read a book called "Diet For A Small Planet" by Frances Moore Lappe. And Frances Moore Lappe basically makes the argument that in order to eat meat, we have to grow massive amounts of crops that we then funnel through animals.

RAZ: This is Bruce Friedrich. He's co-founder of a nonprofit called The Good Food Institute.

FRIEDRICH: The most recent statistics from the World Resources Institute indicate that it takes about nine calories fed to a chicken to get one calorie back out in the form of chicken meat. And chickens are the most efficient animal. So you're talking about nine times as much land, nine times as much water, nine times as many pesticides and herbicides on the crops.

And then you have to ship all of those crops to a feed mill. You have to operate the feed mill. You have to ship the feed to the factory farm. You have to operate the factory farm. You have to ship the animals to the slaughterhouse. You have to operate the slaughterhouse.

Once you crunch all of those numbers and all of that inefficiency, what we find is that meat production, according to the United Nations, causes about 14.5% of all human-caused climate change, globally. That's more than transportation. So the animal agriculture industry causes more climate change than all of the cars and the trains and the planes - than all forms of transportation combined.

RAZ: Here's more from Bruce Friedrich on the TED stage.

(SOUNDBITE OF TED TALK)

FRIEDRICH: I'm going to get one thing out of the way. I am not here to tell anybody what to eat. Besides, convincing the world to eat less meat hasn't worked. For 50 years, environmentalists, global health experts and animal activists have been begging the public to eat less meat. And yet, per capita meat consumption is as high as it's been in recorded history. The average North American last year ate more than 200 pounds of meat. And I didn't eat any, which means somebody out there ate 400 pounds of meat.

(LAUGHTER)

FRIEDRICH: On our current trajectory, we're going to need to be producing 70% to 100% more meat by 2050. This requires a global solution. What we need to do is we need to produce the meat that people love, but we need to produce it in a whole new way.

I've got a couple of ideas. Idea number one - let's grow meat from plants. Instead of growing plants, feeding them to animals and all of that inefficiency, let's grow those plants. Let's biomimic meat with them. Let's make plant-based meat. Idea number two - for actual animal meat, let's grow it directly from cells. Instead of growing live animals, let's grow the cells directly. It takes six weeks to grow a chicken to slaughter weight. Grow the cells directly; you can get that same growth in six days.

RAZ: All right. Let's talk through this because we know there are lots of people working on this. And, you know, we've heard of lab-grown meat. And there's different kinds of plant-based meat alternatives that are trying to mimic, you know, the sort of - the texture of meat and so on. And it's nearly there on a consumer level, but, I mean, how would it work? Like, how do you actually turn - like, create real meat or meat that is indistinguishable from animal meat from plants?

FRIEDRICH: Well, one of the central brainstorms here is that people eat meat despite how it's produced. They do not eat meat because of how it's produced. So the guy who is the chair of the ag-economics department at Purdue - a guy named Jayson Lusk - did a survey and found that more than 45% of Americans want to ban slaughterhouses. And, of course, 98% of Americans are eating meat. So that's a pretty big disconnect.

And the main point there is that people are uncomfortable with factory farms. So if people can make choices that are better for the environment, they will. So that's sort of point one. And then point two is everything in meat exists in plants. Meat is made up of lipids and aminos and minerals and water. That's it.

So it's not going to be - you know, it's difficult. It's going to take resources. It's hard. But until Ethan Brown came along with Beyond Meat and Pat Brown came along with Impossible Foods, the idea of plant-based meat was not, let's hire tissue engineers and plant biologists and meat scientists. Like, the central brainstorm of Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat is, we can give people the taste, the texture and everything else that they like about meat, but we can do it with plants. We just need to hire the right scientists.

(SOUNDBITE OF TED TALK)

FRIEDRICH: In recent years, some companies have been producing meat from plants that consumers cannot distinguish from actual animal meat. And there are now dozens of companies growing actual animal meat directly from cells. This plant-based and cell-based meat gives consumers everything that they love about meat - the taste, the texture and so on - but with no need for antibiotics and with a fraction of the adverse impact on the climate. And because these two technologies are so much more efficient at production scale, these products will be cheaper.

So one of the really exciting things about Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods is they have sort of thrown down the gauntlet of our target market for these plant-based meats is not vegetarians. It is everybody. And you eat the Beyond burger. You eat the Beyond chicken, which fooled both Mark Bittman from The New York Times and Bill Gates, a very big meat eater. Like, these products, as well as the Impossible Burger, which fooled the taste testers at Burger King, like, these are phenomenal plant-based meats. And they're plant-based meat for, really, everybody. Then the other product, which is a distinct product, the clean meat - so lab-grown meat is a misnomer. Every processed food starts in a food lab. You know, Budweiser starts in a food lab.

RAZ: Sure.

FRIEDRICH: Every packaged cereal starts in a food lab, but we don't say lab-grown Cheerios. We refer to clean meat as a nod to clean energy. So meat grown directly from cells is meat that is better for the environment in the same way that clean energy is energy that's better for the environment. And this is, again, instead of growing an entire animal, let's grow the cells directly.

RAZ: Yeah. I mean, here's the thing - right? - like, the theme of this episode is we're out of time; that the effects of climate change are here. What you're talking about, it needs to happen now. But how do we get this to happen faster? How do we expedite this process?

FRIEDRICH: Well, we need something like Manhattan-Project-level, moon-landing-level resources put into reinventing meat. We are at house on fire where climate change is concerned. So we are probably on a trajectory right now where the market will get us to plant-based meat and cell-based meat over time, but we don't really have that much time. So governments that care about these issues should be prioritizing it, making it happen as quickly as it can possibly happen.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RAZ: That's Bruce Friedrich. He's co-founder and executive director of the Good Food Institute. You can see his full talk at ted.com. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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