Tag Archive #environment #cellular_agriculture #futures #strategy

Would you eat artificial meat?

What’s the challenge?

We are expecting more than 2.4 billion extra people on the planet by the year 2050. With huge growth in the middle classes globally, demand for meat is also estimated to double by 2050. Food production will have to increase by between 70 and 100 percent.

How on earth will we meet this new demand for food from hungry mouths, without continuing to use water and land unsustainably? In particular, cows take a lot of land, feed and water to grow. They are also big producers of greenhouse gasses like methane and nitrous oxide which are much worse for climate change than carbon dioxide.

In New Zealand alone, collectively dairy, beef and sheep generate more than 97 per cent of all agricultural greenhouse gas emissions in New Zealand and almost half of the total green-house emissions for the country.

Will eating bugs help save our planet?

The answer to the question is: doing so already is! Around 2 billion people eat bugs around the world – that’s a lot of bugs being chowed down! And it’s much more environmentally friendly – taking only 1.5L of water to produce a kilo of cricket protein versus the 20L for beef.
Many bugs have more protein than beef and lamb and use a fraction of the water to produce.

So why aren’t we eating more of them?

For those of us living in the so-called ‘West’, it’s primarily a question of cultural traditions and taste preferences. But given how much of our food is pre-packaged, might we be missing a trick here? I mean, we don’t actually see the eggs and flour that go into a pre-made lasagne and, bugs are no less healthy for us!
If so, it seems we’ll need a lot more marketing – maybe along the same lines as the recent plastic bag campaign, to change attitudes and get us to be a bit more open about ways we get our protein.

What other solutions might there be?

Ok, I get it. Bugs are a bit icky and nothing I say is going to convince you that munching on crickets is a good idea any time soon. So what other solutions are there?
Perhaps technology will help us here. It seems there’s a bit of a revolution afoot in how we produce and preserve food.

There are also some really cool initiatives underway to reduce waste. For example the Kakadu plum (a native fruit of Australia), packed with anti-microbials, can double shelf life of frozen lasagne from 6 months to 18 months. This could transform the food business!

Then there’s so-called cellular agriculture (e.g. artificial meat and milk). Why is this new approach to creating food so amazing? Here are some of the killer stats according to Oxford University research:
o Uses up to to 45% less energy;
o 96% fewer greenhouse gas emissions; and
o 96% less water.

And there seems to be a sudden surge of interest in this new tech coming out of places like Silicon Valley.  Cellular agriculture includes things like manufacturing milk and meat using plants and cells from animals (rather than actually killing animals).

Isn’t all this ‘artificial meat’ stuff a pipe dream?

The good news is that the price of cellular agriculture seems to be coming down exponentially. The first artificial meat burger by pioneer of cellular agriculture is Dutch scientist Mark Post: $325,000 USD per burger patty back in 2013. Just 4 years later it was $11.60 USD. That’s a 30,000 reduction in 4 years!

So no, this isn’t a pipe dream – the primary barrier is peoples’ taste and sense of fear about something new. We also need to ensure that manufacturers of these new products are transparent to avoid massive public backlashes like we had with genetically modified food.

The economics of this and the environmental benefits are all aligned. The only real things holding us back are vested interests and public understanding of what’s possible.

For example, we’ve already seen the Deputy Prime Minister in NZ publicly chastise Air New Zealand for serving up artificial meat burgers to its customers, saying they should stick to traditionally grown meat and lamb.

Given the terrible toll those things have taken on our environment and the fact that people across the world will soon be producing meat and milk for a fraction of the price, is this really the advice we should be taking?

What can you do?

If you want to make a difference and improve our environmental sustainability, I reckon there are a couple of things you can do personally. Firstly, publicly support the idea of moving away from traditional agricultural models. You can do that by sharing this post with your friends and family.

Secondly, even if (like me) becoming a vegetarian is a bit of a stretch, become a flexitarian in the meantime. I get it – you don’t want to be a party pooper at your next BBQ, so don’t feel you have to make a big deal about it. Just stop buying red meat at the supermarket yourself.

What has surprise me in becoming a flexitarian is that my tastes gradually changed. I no longer crave red meat. I still eat chicken occasionally and, if I’m out or at a friend’s place and there’s not much choice, I still eat red meat. But my wife and I no longer buy and eat it ourselves.

With these simple changes, not only will you be helping the planet, but you’ll be reducing your own risks of colon cancer and whole lot of other diseases associated with eating lots of red meat. In NZ and Australia, our rates of these diseases are world leading (not the kind of world-leading we want)

What do you think?