Illustration: Daphnee Côté-Hallé
“A decade or two ago, you had a bunch of vegans railing against the system, wanting everyone to adopt plant-based diets. But what you have now is meat executives increasingly identifying [their businesses] as protein companies rather than meat companies — and that is a huge precedent for change.” — Jacy Reese
Jacy Reese predicts we’ll see the end of animal farming globally by 2100.
It’s about time, says the author, vegan and social scientist at the Sentience Institute, a think tank that researches social change. The meat industry has long been bad by pretty much every measure — for our public health, for the industry’s own efficiency, on the environment and for animal rights.
Livestock produces more greenhouse gas emissions than the transportation sector; all but 1% of farmed animals living in the U.S. are raised in factory farms, and with 80% of antibiotics being fed to animals, we’re increasingly at risk of drug-resistant superbugs.
“This represents something we would never accept in other industries,” says Jacy, “but because it’s been so ingrained in us to use animals for food, it’s very hard to get away from this… [We] are only now starting to see some companies reinvent agriculture [for] the next global agriculture revolution.”
In the United States, 3% of the population is vegan and about 5% are vegetarian, yet:
- 47% of U.S. adults would support a ban on slaughterhouses
- 69% think factory farming of animals is one of the most important social issues in the world today
- 62% think protection of the environment should be given priority, even at the risk of curbing the economy
- 32% think that animals deserve the exact same rights as a person to be free from harm and exploitation
According to a survey by the Sentience Institute.
Meat me in the middle: alternatives are poised for a takeover
The next wave of protein is twofold: plant-based and clean. While plant-made alternatives are engineered to taste indistinguishable from animal meat — succeeding to the extent that they gross out many vegetarians — lab-grown alternatives are, technically, real meat that’s grown outside of an animal’s body.
The big plant-based players have already cracked the fast food market with meatless burgers — like Impossible Foods’ collaboration with Burger King and Beyond Meat’s partnership with A&W. For the billions who aren’t as burger-obsessed as North Americans, Jacy says companies like Right Treat are stepping in with options like Omnipork to please non-beef-centric palates.
“Meat is a trillion-dollar industry globally… There are these moral issues and these ineffeciency issues that are vastly neglected [and] underexplored,” Jacy says. “So you have these companies that are taking their bites out of animal agriculture, not out of each other, and it’s very unique in the startup landscape right now.”
The massive meat companies are watching, too. Tyson Foods, a company that says it has a hand in one of every five pounds of beef, chicken and pork made in America, sold its share of Beyond Meat before the company went public, saying it has its own alternative protein in the works.
While plant-based meat producers have emerged as powerhouses, scalable clean meat is also on the horizon. With it, Jacy believes, is a force that could take on the global meat industry.
The race to a scalable clean meat solution and beyond
When she’s not in school, 15-year-old Isabella Grandic is busy experimenting in her basement. Like many researchers in Silicon Valley, she has been trying to create a cheap version of the components needed to grow real meat in a lab. While the process is known, no one has cracked the formula required to roll it out en masse… yet.
“I started looking into cultured meat, specifically the serum used within cultured meat… that is one of the ingredients that causes it to be so expensive, and is one of the reasons we can’t scale it,” explains Isabella, an innovator at The Knowledge Society.
She believes genetic algorithms and artificial intelligence might help us get to the “magic potion” we need. “I really want this product to be everywhere so we can end animal farming and actually create this revolution [to] solve one of the biggest problems, which is environmental destruction and not using our resources effectively,” she says.
“Basically, they are creating bacteria that can do exactly what cows do at a more sustainable rate,” says Isabella. Once we are able to produce these clean products at scale, she predicts the next step could be to start customizing them to our nutritional needs.
“We can literally edit things on a cellular level,” Isabella explains. “We can manipulate and make sure we have the right carbohydrates, lipids and fats, and design meat in a way that tastes better and that’s healthier for [us].”
So get ready for the age of health-driven hybrid proteins, because it’s coming.
A vegan activist, a spearfisher woman and a teenage scientist walk into a glass box… Check out what went down when this trio got together in the Aquarium with journalist Liz Plank to predict “What’s next for the hamburger?”
The End of Animal Farming, by Jacy Reese
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