Why Developed Countries Are Moving Food Production Away from Farms to Labs

While developing countries are advocating for, diversifying to and investing in Agriculture for food security and job creation, developed countries are moving food production from farms to laboratories. “Laboratory!” Someone in Africa would scream. Yes, laboratory, thanks to food biotechnology, a field African countries haven’t gotten a grip on yet. In short, biotechnology is not getting enough support from the continent.

Developed countries are the highest emitter of Greenhouse gases, gases responsible for global warming, and are taking steps to reduce the emission of these gasses to the atmosphere. To do so they must cut down activities that produce greenhouse gases by turning to relying on a novel type of agriculture – Cellular Agriculture.

Agricultural Industry and Methane Gas Emission

Traditional Agriculture industry is a major contributor to global emissions. Source: IPCC (2014); based on global emissions from 2010.

Agriculture, Forestry, and Other Land Use (24%) ranked only behind Electricity and Heat Production (25%) in 2010 global greenhouse gas emissions according to US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s website.

The animal agriculture industry is the primary source of methane (CH4) gas emissions. Agriculture and livestock combining contributes 35% of total methane emission. Domestic livestock such as cattle, buffalo, sheep, and goats produce large amounts of methane as part of their normal digestive process. Methane is also produced when animal manure is stored or managed in lagoons or holding tanks.

Methane’s lifetime in the atmosphere is much shorter than carbon dioxide (CO2), but CH4 is more efficient at trapping radiation than CO2. Pound for pound, the comparative impact of CH4 is more than 25 times greater than CO2 over a 100-year period.

According to the World Bank report, agriculture is a major source of methane emission. In its report in 2008, three countries that have maximum methane emission due to agriculture include Solomon Island with 96.80%, Uruguay 92.80% and Namibia 92.00%.

Reducing Greenhouse Gas in Agriculture

Advanced countries are investing in Cellular agriculture, a field that capitalizes on breakthroughs in tissue-engineering, material sciences, bioengineering, and synthetic biology to design new ways of producing existing agricultural products like milk, meat, egg, coffee, silk leather, fragrance etc. from cells and microorganisms.

This may sound new to you or give you a ‘woowish’ feeling but the concept was conceived many years ago. Winston Churchill even predicted the advent of a mainstream cellular agriculture paradigm of meat production in his 1931 essay, Fifty Years Hence.

“Fifty years hence…we shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing, by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium.”

A study by researchers at Oxford and the University of Amsterdam found that lab-made meat was “potentially much more efficient and environmentally friendly”, generating only 4% greenhouse gas emissions. This is in contrast to cattle farming, which according to FAO is responsible for 18% of greenhouse gases.

Read: Bio-Hacking: We Can Now Have Milk Without Cows and Eggs Without Chickens

Several cellular agriculture start-ups have been created applying cellular agriculture to make a number of agricultural products and consumables. They include meat producers: SuperMeat, Future Meat Technologies, and Meat the Future (all Israeli); Memphis Meats (United States) and Shojinmeat (a Japanese biohacker community), and also San Francisco-based startups Muufri which produces milk from yeast instead of cows and Clara Foods which produces is making egg whites from yeast instead of eggs.

China is Interested in Lab-Made Meat

China this week signed a $300 million trade agreement with Israel — a home 3 of the 8 companies in the world working to produce a scalable version of lab-made meat.

Lab-made meat—the kind being produced fiber-by-fiber in laboratories, is also called cultured meat, synthetic meat, cell-cultured meat, clean meat, vat meat, lab-grown meat and in vitro meat.

In a recent article by a state-run China Science and Technology Daily the discussing encouraged the embracing of lab-made meat for reasons that included food safety, food security, and environmental reasons.

“Imagine the future…you have two identical products; one is that you have to slaughter the cattle to get. ‘The other’ is exactly the same, and cheaper, no greenhouse gas emissions, no animal slaughter, which one would you choose?”

The article asked.

2014_emissions_by countries
China is the world largest emitter of CO2 greenhouse gas. Source: Boden, T.A., Marland, G., and Andres, R.J. (2017). National CO2 Emissions from Fossil-Fuel Burning, Cement Manufacture, and Gas Flaring: 1751-2014, Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, U.S. Department of Energy, doi 10.3334/CDIAC/00001_V2017.

The Chinese government recently the UK, France, and India in taking steps to decrease the number of petroleum-powered cars sold in the country and this deal signed by India and Israel will give Chinese companies the opportunity to partner with the Israeli Lab-made meat companies to tackle issues relating to greenhouse gases emissions which some think is a signal that China is serious about tapering the amount of greenhouse gases it emits.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s