Compassionate, healthy and environmentally friendly meat
While a large number of people would be keen to give up meat (due to animal welfare, health or environmental reasons), giving up their traditional taste preferences and diets habituated over multiple decades is often seen as too daunting a challenge.
What if it would be possible to offer a consumer a meat product:
- That is identical or close enough in taste & consistency
- Is produced without harming a single animal
- Is considerably healthier, and helps reduce risks of key chronic diseases including cancer, heart diseases and diabetes amongst others
- Helps protect our environment at every level (lowers your carbon, water, land and pollution footprints)
We are talking here of 2 of the most interesting potential breakthroughs in food technology:
- Lab grown meat
- Vegetarian / vegan meat products.
When it comes to both lab grown & vegetarian meats, the most important question is how similar can the product taste to the original – to actually help consumers switch to a more ethical, healthy and green diet without sacrificing tastes which they have grown to love. There are already mock meats that are very close in taste & consistency to real meat, but not all of the products are yet at a level where they are undifferentiable from real meat.
Fortunately, this is merely a matter of technology evolution & maturity. All new technologies initally start off with a sub-optimal product, which improve significantly once the technology matures. This evolution of technology can be seen in the picture comparisons below.
Mobile phones have transformed from large clunky devices capable of phone calls and simple SMS's, to today's compact smart phones that operate as mini-computers in just under 15 years.
Camera's used to be large clunky devices, requiring expensive film and processing to create pictures. In under 20 years, these have transformed into small digital devices that are available on most phones, that allow photos to be clicked and shared at no cost.
Video games have progressed from basic computer programs like Pac-man (released in 1992), to motion sensor based gaming devices that follow your movements seamlessly.
Pilots in the 1940's undertook significant risks as they fought in basic fighter planes using guns and dropped bombs for ammunition. Today, planes have given way to non-piloted computerised drones capable of delivering crude missiles with deadly precision.
The storage capacity of floppy disks started off at 720 Kilobytes in the early 1980's and by the time they were being phased out, their capacity was at 1.44 Megabytes. Today's micro SD cards used in phones, have a memory going upto 32 GB. Micro SD's offer 23,000 times the storage of a floppy disk, while being over 20 times smaller in size.
Lab grown meat
Lab grown meat is at still at relatively early stages of development – though the first lab grown burger was offered for tasting to a chosen audience in August 2013. While the product got strong positive reviews in terms of similarity to livestock meat (especially given that this was the first prototype ever tasted, and the product will continue to improve), it remains extremely expensive (the first burger cost a total of $3,30,000 to produce). However, as the technology stabilises and mass production can take over, the costs are expected to fall dramatically.
Scientists estimate that lab grown meats could hit supermarket shelves at affordable prices within the next 10 years. Lab grown meat promises to be one of the most far reaching scientific breakthroughs for the human race over the last century.
Vegetarian / Vegan Meat
While lab grown meat is just being stabilised and could potentially hit markets over the coming years, there is already a proliferation of a wide variety of vegetarian / vegan meat products spreading rapidly across global markets. There are already a large number of vegetarian meats which are already that close to the original products that consumers would not be able to make out the difference in a blind fold test. However, not all vegetarian meats would fit that bill.
The fact that a large number of vegetarian meats would not be considered similar to meat for most meat eaters, is not a problem with either the concept, product or technology. It is just part of what is the normal technology lifecycle of any new product. As the product or technology continues to develop and grow (see below), greater resources available to the producers enables better research to consistently improve the product.
We strongly believe that given a chance and enough initial capital for the early stages of growth, there is no reason why we cannot develop meat products that are ethical (not animal based), healthy and environmentally friendly.
Potential impact of the new technologies
Potential of Innovative Foods
This single technology change (being able to produce high quality lab grown or vegetarian meat) has the potential to:
- Save billions of animals pain, suffering and death
- Significantly improve our health & quality of life, and save tax payers billions in health care costs
- Help solve our worst environmental problems today
- Without having consumers give up the tastes of any of the food items that they enjoyed
Some of the leading minds in the world today have understood the remarkable positive benefits of this new technology, and have started to invest behind ‘innovative foods or improved meat technologies’.
Who is investing in innovative food technology
- Sergey Brin (co-founder of Google), who has funded the Netherlands project behind the first lab grown hamburger released in August 2013
- Biz Stone & Evan Williams (founders of Twitter) have invested in Beyond Meat (a company focused on mock meats)
- Bill Gates (founder of Microsoft) has invested in a start up called Hampton Creek Foods, that is developing plant based meat alternatives
- Peter Thiel (co-founder of PayPal) has given a grant to a company called Modern Meadow that uses tissue engineering to create meat and leather from animal stem cells
Where is the government?
What is extremely disappointing is the absolute lack of any governmental support (in the forms of grants, subsidies or research funding) to what should be the most promising technology advancement to some of the most critical problems being faced today.
- Why should billions in subsidies & grants be spent on research to cure illnesses such as cancer, heart attacks and diabetes, and no money spent on food technology that could help prevent all these diseases in the first place and save billions in health care cost?
- Why are billions of dollars of government support available to renewable energy & renewable transport options, and no money spent on innovative foods? This is despite it being widely known that the livestock industry is a larger contributor to all our worst environmental problems, than the transport, industrial or energy sectors.
For both lab grown meat & plant based meats to grain the critical mass where product research & improvement explodes until an identical product is finally attained, it requires funding support for the initial stages of research. For issues as important as global warming, land & water shortages, hunger and public health – why are government globally turning an eye away from an obvious solution to all of these problems.
We hope that as public awareness on the problems caused by the livestock sector increase, governments and multi-lateral agencies will be forced by popular demand to come out and help provide support and the required funding to help the highly promising ethical meat sector (either lab grown or plant based) reach its final destiny.
A world without hunger, water, land or global warming challenges. A world where most of us are significantly healthier, more active and free from diseases. And a world where no animal suffers. It truly is a technology worth fighting for.