By Jared Yantzi, Livestock Research Innovation Corporation
Is the phrase “raised without antibiotics” transitioning towards “raised without animals”? It certainly may be with the significant research and growth currently underway in the development of cell-cultured meat.
As a young livestock farmer studying Food & Agriculture Business at the University of Guelph, I believe the invention of lab-grown meat is a disruptor to our industry that we must be aware of and prepared to fight against.
Cargill, a large North American meat processor, and billionaires Richard Branson and Bill Gates have recently made multi-million dollar investments into the Silicon Valley start-up company Memphis Meats, a producer of cultured meat products. Investments of this size are paving the way for mass scale production of cultured meat.
And Memphis Meats is not alone; they are one of many cultured meat companies trying to strike gold in the future of food. In fact, Pat Brown, the CEO of Impossible Foods, stated on CBC’s The National that the development of cultured meat will “completely replace animals as a food production technology by 2035.”
With growing opposition from our society to raising livestock for meat consumption due to animal welfare and environmental implications, cultured meat has the potential to entice consumers. Latest testing reports indicate that cultured meat is becoming very similar to the taste and texture of red meat. Furthermore, there are nutritional and health benefits as a result of the absence of cholesterol and lack of fat.
The combination of these factors make it plausible to believe that the infrequent red meat purchaser could entirely transition to buying cultured meat once the price between the two products is comparable. With the extensive amount of research and development underway for cultured meat, we may not be too far away from this happening. It is expected that cultured meat will be in our major grocery retail chains in the next five years.
The transition towards innovative products is not new for the food industry. The cultured meat development is not dissimilar to the history of butter and margarine in North America. In the 1940s, it was a novel idea to envision mass consumption of margarine. Yet by the 1960s, it was consumed more than butter, and it sustained that popularity until recent years.
Will we see the same progression to popular acceptance for cultured meat? The livestock industry needs to be prepared for that possibility.
The magnitude of the danger facing the livestock sector lies with the potential number of consumers that will make the conversion to eating cultured meat. From an economic perspective, any factor that drives down demand for a product will initially decrease the product’s price. For livestock farmers, the lower price they receive for their animals will make it less appealing to continue raising animals and the quantity supplied for meat production will decrease. This will lead to an increase in meat prices at the grocery store, potentially to a level in the future where it is more expensive than cultured meat.
An important note to make is that it won’t just be the livestock farmers that will feel the effects of consumers buying cultured meat. Everyone involved in the livestock industry will be negatively affected at some capacity. This includes veterinarians, butchers, feed nutritionists, truck drivers, etc.
So what needs to be done to make sure that the impact of cultured meat on the livestock sector and all those that work in it is minimized?
Applicable and effective research into the livestock industry will be key. The continuation of research focusing on feed conversion efficiencies, greenhouse gas emissions, and animal welfare will be essential to lowering production costs while maximizing production and meeting societal expectations.
Our society has plenty of false perceptions about livestock production that everyone involved in the industry must work to refute.
We need to know why some consumers are inclined to make the transition to buying cultured meat. We need to conduct consumer studies to see how many people will purchase cultured meat so we understand the potential market share that cultured meat will displace.
The livestock industry has experienced many innovations and technological advancements that have been a benefit for farmers. For example, automatic feeders and smartphone apps have increased productivity and efficiency. However, this invention has the potential to disrupt our entire industry. Will this force changes in the production, processing, and nutritional content of real meat? We can’t ignore cultured meat; we need a plan of action to fight it.