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Food innovations: the coming disruption of the meat industry

Compared to most other industries there has not been a lot of innovation in the food industry, but that will change soon. The number of human beings keeps on growing, and the expectation is that there may be 9.7 billion people on this planet by 2050. If that’s the case food production will not be able to keep up with demand without major innovations. At the same time food production has a big impact on climate change as well, so innovations are inevitable if we want to survive as a species. 

One interesting innovation that I have been paying a lot of attention to, is how meat can be produced in a more sustainable way. I started looking at this a few months ago after watching a couple of documentaries on the food industry, especially on how meat is produced and on how animals are treated. The way animals are grown and slaughtered was beyond my worst imagination. Not only that, but because of these practices food is just not safe anymore. I decided to reduce my meat intake considerably and I only tried to buy ‘high end’ meat. I also started looking at meat alternatives.

Currently there are 2 kinds of meat alternatives: clean meat and plant-based meat. Plant-based meat has been around for a number of years, but there have been huge innovations in the last few years. Companies like Impossible Foods have created meat-like products with a taste and texture that is almost exactly the same as real meat. Clean meat is a more recent innovation. Companies like Memphis Meats have come up with ways to grow meat from animal cells, without the need to breed, feed and slaughter real animals. These products are not on the market yet, but they will be over the next years.

I believe both approaches are fantastic innovations. Breeding animals for food is extremely inefficient because you feed an animal plant based foods to grow itself and then slaughter it for some of its meat. The most efficient animal to produce meat is the chicken, but even there you will need to feed it 9 calories for every calorie of meat that you will get. If you think about it, that’s completely crazy. 

Getting people to switch to meatless meat may seem hard, but I think it should not be a big problem. The biggest hurdle is to try it out for the first time. Once you have tasted it (I haven’t yet, so I am purely theorizing here) you will realize there is no difference. People buy food based on price, taste and convenience. If the taste factor is taken care of and if the meat will be available anywhere, price will be the differentiating factor.

Right now price is still a problem, and that’s likely why only high-end restaurants serve Impossible Foods’ products. But that will change: meatless meat uses exponentially fewer resources, so once the production scales it will be cheaper than normal meat. 

Decentralized manufacturing will add to this. You don’t have to raise cattle and feed it in location A, then transport it to a slaughterhouse in location B, and then bring it to the start of the distribution chain in location C. You can manufacture it in location C and save on all these transportation costs as well. Of course this only works once you get to scale, but I believe this could go relatively fast.

As a side note, once humanity will start inhabiting other planets, this kind of meat production will likely be the only way to get meat to places outside of earth. Timing is right, because I am a strong believer in the fact that in 10 years we will start inhabiting our first other planet already (Mars)

People now eat meat despite how it’s made. Mainly because most people have no idea how meat is produced and how bad it is for the environment. But also because there are no alternatives. Artificial meat will be produced in a much more transparant way, people will be able to see where their food comes from. This will make food safer and healthier. 

The impact on the world will be huge once these products are readily available. Meat production is a major contributor to climate change, estimates show that livestock production is responsible for 18% of all greenhouse gasses. Next to that livestock production accounts for 70% (!) of all agricultural land use and occupies 30% of all land use on our planet. Without this a lot more land is available for other purposes. 

If you’re interested in this topic you should listen to a podcast by Andreessen Horowitz about this subject. I listened to the podcast driving to work this morning and it inspired me to write this article. I embedded the podcast below. It’s not very technical, so even if you don’t know anything about the subject it’s easy to follow. 

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