Europeans are consuming meat at “unsustainable levels” and should be encouraged by European Union (EU) policymakers to take up lab-grown meat in order to tackle climate change, researchers have warned.
London-based think tank Chatham House urged the EU to ramp up production of meat created from animal cells to meet continued demand without damaging the environment.
The bloc must decide how meat alternatives could be regulated and whether public funds could be invested to support what is still a niche market in the food industry, it said.
"Plant-based 'meat' and cultured meat are not futuristic prospects," said Antony Froggatt and Laura Wellesley, co-authors of the Chatham House research paper.
“The EU has been a hotbed of innovation in plant-based 'meat' and cultured meat. If it wants to reap the rewards of that innovation, policymakers need to respond now to the challenges and opportunities that this new industry presents.”
The average European and American must reduce their intake of red meat by 90%, while globally people would need to eat 75% less red meat, in order to meet global climate targets.
A public consultation carried out by the European Commission last year showed that over 80% of Europeans were willing to consider the impact of their food purchases on the environment and three out of four Europeans would consider changing their diets.
Plant-based meat and lab-grown meat, referred to as meat analogues, differ from meat alternatives such as tofu, Quorn and wheat-based processed "meat" because they are aimed at meat eaters.
An early test of lab-grown meat mimicked the taste and texture of meat, such as providing the "bloody" taste some meat eaters look for.
Meat analogues have attracted the attention of American businessman Bill Gates, Virgin founder Richard Branson and actor Leonardo DiCaprio.
Plant-based meat is already on offer at two major UK restaurant chains.
Researchers admitted that there may be some way to go before meat grown in labs becomes viable for the mass market.
“The technological process involved in producing a steak in vitro, for example, requires culturing a more complex tissue… and considerable progress is needed to achieve a steak or similar whole-cut of meat that achieves the colour, flavour and nutritional profile of meat harvested from an animal," they said.
"To do so in a manner that is economically viable is even more challenging."