According to a recent report by the global consultancy AT Kearney, 60% of the “meat” people will consume by 2040 will not come from slaughtered animals, but will instead either be replaced by plant-based products or will be grown in vats.

After a year that has seen public opinion towards vegetarian and vegan alternatives to meat change considerably thanks to popular and highly profitable food launches like Gregg’s much-publicised vegan sausage roll, it’s guaranteed that numerous companies known for their meat products will start to introduce more and more meat-free alternatives in the future to try to compete in this market.

Just this week in fact, KFC, famous for its finger-licking good chicken, launched its brand new meat-free “Imposter Burger”, made with a Quorn burger coated in their signature blend of herbs and spices with vegan mayo. The excitement for this new burger was so high that it sold out in just four days after seeing staggering sales figures around 500% higher than those for a new KFC burger launch.

Following on from the likes of Ikea’s meat-free meatballs and Burger King’s Impossible burger, it’s clear the demand for great-tasting meat-free alternatives has never been higher. Combine this with the fact that avoiding meat and dairy products is the single best way to reduce the environmental impact you have on the planet (according to the most comprehensive analysis to date) and it’s not difficult to envision a world in the not-too-distant future where the consumption of traditional meat-based products is a thing of the past.

Viewed by some as an unnecessary evil, the large-scale livestock industry raises billions of animals every year and turns over close to £800bn in profit, but has a huge environmental impact on the planet. Despite just providing on average 18% of a person’s daily calorie intake and 37% of a person’s protein intake, the meat and dairy industry uses 83% of our farmland, destroying thousands of acres of wild habitats in the process, and produces a shocking 60% of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions.

The report estimates that $1bn has been invested in vegan products, like the plant-based replacement burgers and eggs produced by companies such as Just Foods, Impossible Burgers, and Beyond Meat. To demonstrate the demand for meat-free alternatives, when the company Beyond Meat went public in May, it raised $240 million, and its shares have more than doubled since then.

Carsten Gerhardt, a partner at AT Kearney, had this to say about the findings: “The shift towards flexitarian, vegetarian and vegan lifestyles is undeniable, with many consumers cutting down on their meat consumption as a result of becoming more conscious towards the environment and animal welfare.”

“For passionate meat-eaters, the predicted rise of cultured meat products means that they still get to enjoy the same diet they always have, but without the same environmental and animal cost attached”.

Although yet to reach consumers, many companies are currently working on growing meat cells in laboratories in order to produce real meat without the need to raise and slaughter animals. The report predicts that such products will eventually dominate the market in the long term as they will reproduce the taste and texture of meat far more closely than plant-based products, with 35% of all meat cultured in such a way by 2040. So although the future may not be entirely meat-free, it’s a strong possibility that slaughtering animals for meat may soon become a thing of the past.

Rosie Wardle of the Jeremey Coller Foundation, a philanthropic organisation focused on sustainable food systems, had this to say:

“The shift to more sustainable patterns of protein consumption is already underway, driven by consumers, investors and entrepreneurs, and even pulling in the world’s biggest meat companies. If anything, predictions that 60% of the world’s ‘meat’ will not come from slaughtered animals in 20 years’ time may be an underestimation.”

But how do you feel about the future of the meat industry? Is it all a little too science-fiction for your tastes or will you gladly welcome the predicted coming changes? Either way, it’s clear that without an immediate shift in the way we traditionally farm food, the health of our planet is at serious risk. Fortunately for planet earth, as the popularity of Gregg’s vegan sausage roll proves, a traditional meat-free future isn’t as frightening a thought to the general public as it probably once was.

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