Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates Also Investing in Artificial Meat
August 7, 2013 11:34 AM
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He wants to use plant-based agriculture
Lab-grown meat may not sound as appealing as the real thing, but tech giants like
Google's Sergey Brin
have done it in an effort to find viable ways of feeding the world's population, and Microsoft is looking to do something similar.
According to a new report from
The Washington Post
, Microsoft co-founder and chairman Bill Gates wants to back plant-based animal product replacements. The idea is to use plant-based agriculture, which uses fewer resources than the production of meat.
Gates has already kick started this idea by investing in Hampton Farms, which is a food startup that makes plant protein-based substitutes for eggs.
The reason Gates wants to make plant-based versions of meat is because raising livestock traditionally has a vast impact on the environment. Beef farming has been criticized for increasing methane emissions, since cows are ruminants fermenting food during digestion and producing carbon gases as a waste byproduct. In fact, five percent of
carbon dioxide emissions and forty percent of methane emissions
come from beef farming.
Traditional farming also requires a lot of land and water, and with the human population constantly growing; the traditional way just won't feed 9 billion people. Hence, lab-grown meat will serve as a substitute for the real deal.
Google co-founder Sergey Brin has already made a $332,000 investment in lab-grown meat, which has been developed and tested. The end result was a hamburger with 20,000 muscle fibers cultured from the stem cells of living cows. The big issue is that the stem cells need fetal bovine serum in order to complete the process, and the serum costs $250 per liter -- requiring as many as three cow fetuses for the liter.
Those who've tried the artificial meat have described it as close to the real thing and "cake-like."
The project was led by researchers at the
, The Netherland's biggest international college.
"When you see how these cows are treated, it's certainly something I'm not comfortable with," said Brin. "[While the synthetic alternative] is really just proof of concept right now, we're trying to create the first cultured beef hamburger. From there I'm optimistic that we can really scale by leaps and bounds."
The Washington Post
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RE: Sounds great to me
8/7/2013 2:01:28 PM
so beef farming isn't sustainable to feed 10 billion people? Ok, probably so. Food yields per acre are the highest that they have ever been for just about every type of farming, and isn't likely to improve much going forward.
This development (assuming it makes it to commercial scale) will take that level a LOT higher. Here's the most important question about it that everyone seems to be missing: is that a good thing? Everyone assumes that it is, but picture this: If five to ten facilities
in the world
are producing protein for consumption (note, I did not say beef because this is NOT beef) and just ONE is eliminated through natural or man-made disaster, what does that do to the global food supply?
Beef farming will continue to exist in spite of this development because there will always be people who want the real thing. Its the same reason that I can sell finish-weight cows to local customers now at a premium over supermarket beef.
I do take issue with the "free up land for more productive developments" bit. I don't know if there's a study to reference for hard numbers, but in my experience farms that get sold are NOT used for agricultural purposes. Usually they are subdivided and turn into suburbia. Hardly a "productive" use of space.
Easily the largest threat to farming isn't technology. Its cost: someone wanting to get into farming usually can't afford it. A quick search indicates that the median price of farmland in Kansas (not where I live, I'm in VA) to be about $3k/acre. A
farm of about 100 acres @ $300k, plus equipment (50-200k, depending on what you're growing), plus buying a herd (or seed, fertilizer, etc), and you're pushing nearly $500k in capital expense. On a farm that size, you might make $50k/year gross (my number, based on this year's cattle sales). subtract recurring expenses (fuel, fertilizer, etc) and that number gets very small, very fast. Larger farms have a lower debt:income ratio, which is part of the reason corporate farms have become increasingly common.
source for land price:
Ironically, this technology might be just in time to stop a massive agricultural train-wreck compounded by the cost issue. Currently, the average age of a farmer in the United States is in the mid-50s. Who is going to replace them if nobody (except corporations) can afford it?
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