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DiCaprio addresses the UN at the signing of the Paris Agreement for Climate Change in 2016. Photo: Jemal Countess/Getty Images

Actor and environmentalist Leonardo DiCaprio is investing in a pair of cultivated meat startups and joining their advisory boards, Axios can report first.

Why it matters: Cultivated meat — which is grown from animal cells — is still in early stages and has garnered criticism from some greens, but DiCaprio's involvement provides a boost from one of the world's most prominent climate activists.

Driving the news: DiCaprio will be investing undisclosed sums in the Dutch startup Mosa Meat, which made the world's first cell-based hamburger, and Israel's Aleph Farms, which produced the first cell-based steak.

  • "One of the most impactful ways to combat the climate crisis is to transform our food system," DiCaprio said in a statement. "Mosa Meat and Aleph Farms offer new ways to satisfy the world’s demand for beef, while solving some of the most pressing issues of current industrial beef production."

By the numbers: According to a 2013 report by the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), meat and dairy account for 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

  • Beef — the meat that both Mosa and Aleph are aiming to cultivate from cells — has by far the biggest greenhouse gas footprint of any food type, in part because cattle produce significant amounts of the highly warming gas methane when they digest feed.
  • Cultivated beef — which involves growing only the parts that consumers will eat, rather than an entire cow — doesn't have that problem. Though, at its current stage of development, it requires significant amounts of energy.

What they're saying: DiCaprio's investment "confirms our road map for ushering in a new age of meat production that helps combat climate change and preserve our precious planet," says Didier Toubia, Aleph's CEO and co-founder.

The other side: Some environmentalists argue that the push for cultivated meat is an "over-engineered solution to a problem that we can solve by changing our diets" to more plant-based foods, as author Jenny Kleeman wrote in The Guardian last year.

  • Yes, but: Even as the toll of climate change has grown and existing plant-based meat alternatives like the Beyond Burger have become more popular, there's little evidence that the world is changing how it eats.
  • The FAO projects that global meat consumption will rise by more than 1% this year, while Mosa Meat CEO Maarten Bosch notes that "meat consumption is expected to rise between 40%–70% by 2050 with dire consequences for the planet."

The bottom line: DiCaprio's imprimatur could help convince skeptical environmentalists that, as Bosch puts it, "the sustainable choice will be an easy one," which may be more effective than trying to convince a meat-loving public to give up their burgers.

Go deeper

Oct 15, 2021 - Axios Tampa Bay

Last meal with Rachel Bennett

Photo illustration: Axios Visuals. Photo: Rachel Bennett

Rachel Bennett is a meat and potatoes kind of person. But like, REALLY good meat and potatoes.

The executive chef at The Library in St. Pete, a 2019 James Beard award semifinalist and finalist on "Guy's Grocery Games" was born and raised in Tampa and got her start in Hillsborough Community College's culinary program.

2 hours ago - World

Scoop: Jake Sullivan discussed Saudi-Israel normalization with MBS

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA/Bloomberg and Michael Brochstein/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan raised normalization with Israel during his recent meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, three U.S. and Arab sources tell Axios.

Why it matters: Saudi Arabia would be the biggest regional player to sign onto the "Abraham Accords" peace agreement with Israel, and such a major breakthrough would likely convince other Arab and Muslim countries to follow suit.

Tech's leaky world

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Tech companies are learning what everyone in Washington already knows: Leaks of confidential info are inevitable, and "plumbing" operations to close them rarely work.

Why it matters: Most tech firms talk up the power of transparency but prefer to keep details of their operations secret from competitors and the public. Researchers, regulators and the media are increasingly relying on information provided by dissident employees and whistleblowers to see inside companies' workings.