The transition from meat to cellular agriculture: what are the possible impacts on health if by 2040 if 50% of all protein in the region is from lab meat and alternative meat?
by Sohail Inayatullah and Ivana Milojevic
This article is an excerpt from Inayatullah and Milojevi? (2022). The End of the Cow and other Emerging issues. Metafuture and CFAR.
While it has been over 80 years since the world philosopher, P.R. Sarkar suggested that in the future, scientific innovation would produce synthetic food in the form of tablets to help solve the food problems of the world, it appears that day is coming near (Sarkar, 1988: 36).
• Cellular agriculture and other no-kill alternatives to farmed meat is likely to be a dramatic disruptor to the global food supply chain
• Proponents argue that a shift from conventional meat (the industrial meat industry) to alternative products (cellular agriculture and alternative meat) is a powerful climate change mitigation strategy
• Given the dependence of many nations in the West Pacific on traditional agriculture – the industrial sector and smallholders – numerous harmful first and second-order implications are possible.
• The region could also be a global leader in cellular agriculture if it invests in science and technology. First and second-order impacts could lead to dramatic new food and other downstream technologies.
Cultured/clean/cell-based meat, now broadly referred to as cellular agriculture, began over two decades ago through NASA funded work (Stephens, 2019). The Dutch Government was instrumental in funding what was then called research into in-vitro meat. Civil society efforts that popularized this approach came in 2008 from PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) who offered $1m for the first group to sell in-vitro chicken that could not be distinguished from live-stock chicken. Price parity, a critical factor in moving from niche to mass, and poverty alleviation, is likely within ten years. “If renewable energy is used in its production, growing meat directly from cells is likely to compete on costs and have a lower environmental footprint compared to conventional meat production in under 10 years, according to a new pair of studies analysing the life cycle and techno-economics of commercial-scale cultivated meat production” (Huling, R., 2021).
Innovation in food, a desire to reduce greenhouse gases i.e., climate change mitigation, the rise of the vegan movement, the fear of zoonosis, and institutional funding have all contributed to in-vitro meat going from an impossible emerging issue to a trend. The current wave of cellular agriculture is led by Silicon Valley startups focused on meat alternatives and 3D printed foods. The next wave is likely to be led by the West Pacific Region, as for example with Singapore’s approval of cultured meat products (Mischel, 2021). The market for alternative meat (plant-based) is expected to continue to rise in the region, as health fears from traditional meat products rise. Wealth continues to rise as well (Inayatullah and Na, 2018). The Government of the PRC recently invested 300 million in an Israeli- based cellular agriculture laboratory (Neo, 2020). Internally, Sun Baoguo, President of the Beijing Technology and Business University argues that: “Cell-based meat analysis are a keyway to guaranteeing China’s future meat supply and gaining a leading position when it comes to this production technology will also have an important strategic importance for the country.”(Neo, 2020).
The drivers of food security, the rise of the vegan movement (meat alternatives, animal welfare)- climate change adaptation, COVID-19 and the fear of zoonosis, new profits, geo-politics (rising tension in the region) – all suggest that cellular agriculture could go from a niche industry to a dominant wealth producer. Moreover, while many regions need to make paradigm change to adopt the novel, the West Pacific does not as alternative meats already exist in the region’s traditions and ecological beliefs.
Depending on the farming sector, the implications generally for traditional farmers and the farming industry are likely to be devastating. Agricultural reliance through the region is varied with Japan at 1% and Australia at 3% and China at 10%. Even though this is low, political parties around agriculture have tremendous lobbying strength especially with food security and safety more and more of an issue.
We summarize how this might play out in the following scenarios.
No change – Just Hype. In this future, cellular agriculture slowly disappears as it is seen as hype and fake meat, or alternative meat remains niche. Safety concerns become real issues or are overplayed by vested interests in the traditional meat sector. Their recent interest because of COVID-19 disappears. As the region gets richer, traditional Western lifestyle diseases spread.
Marginal Change – Joining the Food Chain. In this future, cellular agriculture and alternative meat become niche players in the Asia-Pacific economy. Consumers see the new meats as inferior products (because of real or political motivated negative health reports) and thus market penetration stalls. Nations invest in the science and technology, citizens groups push these solutions to climate change, and young people become more and more vegan active.
Adaptive Change – Cellular Agriculture is the new Gold. In this future, the new technologies and food choices become dominant by 2040. Consumers shift their food preferences, high-paying jobs are created, nations see the benefits to health, zero-net emission pledges are fulfilled, and spin-offs from science and technology food startups became a serious source of wealth and health. Well-being becomes the regional measurement of success. Lifespans continue to increase. Breakthroughs (from AI and genomics) lead to cellular agriculture becoming the new gold. The traditional meat sector is ravaged by climate change concerns becomes a stranded asset.
Radical Change – Real Home Cooking. In this future, new products emerge from the food revolution including 3D printed cellular agriculture. The home as in the Middle Ages becomes the source of work and food production. Production and consumption are both local and global. We create the internet of food: food as software.
Deconstruction and Reconstruction:
Using the futures method, Causal Layered Analysis (Inayatullah and Milojevi?, 2015), we summarize this possible shift. In this approach, there are four levels of analysis. The litany is the most immediate, superficial, accepted reality. The system causes the litany and includes societal, political, technological, and demographic factors. The worldview level is the deep perspective that defines the era, the identity. The last level, the myth and metaphor is the unconscious view of reality.
CLA ON FOOD FUTURES TODAY 2040
Litany: Meat challenged by climate change and new demographics. Shift in protein. Concerns for climate change. Silicon Valley leads the charge.
System: Food is industrial, managed by large global food corporations with local farmer markets. Negative health implications from livestock meat. Food insecurity. A new food eco-scape – in vitro and alternative meats lead the disruption. There is a reduction in negative health implications of traditional meat. Healthier population. More affordable protein. Enhanced food security and food justice.
Worldview: Agricultural and Industrial Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Myth-metaphor: Meat today, meat tomorrow, meat forever! I create my own healthy food!
In the analysis above, we see a shift from the current meat-centered worldview with the narrative that the consumption of meat defines what it means to be human. In the transformed 2040 narrative, individuals have power over their food futures and indeed, create what they like. There is a shift from the agricultural and industrial era to the fourth industrial revolution (localized, 3D-printed, climate change sensitive, health-based, and the use of AI). At the systemic level, the shift in protein leads to more food justice, and food innovation. There is a new food ecology with many more choices. The dramatically different world Sarkar spoke of is nearly here.
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