Artificial Meat? Food for Thought for 2050

Artificial meat grown in vats may be needed if the 9 billion people expected to be alive in 2050 are to be adequately fed without destroying the earth, some of the world’s leading scientists report today.

But a major academic assessment of future global food supplies — led by John Beddington, the UK government chief scientist — suggests that even with new technologies such as genetic modification and nanotechnology, hundreds of millions of people may still go hungry owing to a combination of climate change, water shortages and increasing food consumption.

In a set of 21 papers published by the Royal Society, the scientists from many disciplines and countries say that little more land is available for food production, but add that the challenge of increasing global food supplies by as much as 70% in the next 40 years is not insurmountable.

Although more than one in seven people do not have enough protein and energy in their diet today, many of the papers are optimistic.

Water and waste

A team of scientists at Rothamsted, the UK’s largest agricultural research centre, suggests that extra carbon dioxide in the air from global warming, along with better fertilisers and chemicals to protect arable crops, could hugely increase yields and reduce water consumption.

“Plant breeders will probably be able to increase yields considerably in the CO2 enriched environments of the future… There is a large gap between achievable yields and those delivered… but if this is closed then there is good prospect that crop production will increase by about 50% or more by 2050 without extra land,” says the paper by Dr. Keith Jaggard et al.

Several studies suggest farmers will be up against environmental limits by 2050, as industry and consumers compete for water. One group of US scientists suggests that feeding the 3 billion extra people could require twice as much water by then. This, says Professor Kenneth Strzepek of the University of Colorado, could mean an 18% reduction in worldwide water availability for food growing by 2050.

“The combined effect of these increasing demands can be dramatic in key hotspots [like] northern Africa, India, China and parts of Europe and the western US,” he says.

“Many low-tech ways are considered to effectively increase yields, such as reducing the 30-40% food waste that occurs both in rich and poor countries.”

Many low-tech ways are considered to effectively increase yields, such as reducing the 30-40% food waste that occurs both in rich and poor countries. If developing countries had better storage facilities and supermarkets and consumers in rich countries bought only what they needed, there would be far more food available.

But novel ways to increase food production will also be needed, say the scientists. Conventional animal breeding should be able to meet much of the anticipated doubling of demand for dairy and meat products in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, but this may not be enough.

Techno-fixation

Instead, says Dr. Philip Thornton, a scientist with the International Livestock Research Institute in Nairobi, two “wild cards” could transform global meat and milk production. “One is artificial meat, which is made in a giant vat, and the other is nanotechnology, which is expected to become more important as a vehicle for delivering medication to livestock.”

Others identify unexpected hindrances to producing more food. One of the gloomiest assessments comes from a team of British and South African economists who say that a vast effort must be made in agricultural research to create a new green revolution, but that seven multinational corporations, led by Monsanto, now dominate the global technology field.

“A vast effort must be made in agricultural research to create a new green revolution, but seven multinational corporations, led by Monsanto, now dominate the global technology field.”

“These companies are accumulating intellectual property to an extent that the public and international institutions are disadvantaged. This represents a threat to the global commons in agricultural technology on which the green revolution has depended,” says the paper by Professor Jenifer Piesse at King’s College, London.

“It is probably not possible to generate sufficient food output or incomes in much of sub-Saharan Africa to feed the population at all adequately… For least developed countries there are prospects of productivity growth but those with very little capacity will be disadvantaged.”

Other papers suggest a radical rethink of global food production is needed to reduce its dependence on oil. Up to 70% of the energy needed to grow and supply food at present is fossil-fuel based which in turn contributes to climate change.

“The need for action is urgent given the time required for investment in research to deliver new technologies to those that need them and for political and social change to take place,” says the paper by Beddington.

“Major advances can be achieved with the concerted application of current technologies and the importance of investing in research sooner rather than later to enable the food system to cope with challenges in the coming decades,” says the paper led by the population biologist Charles Godfray of Oxford University.

The 21 papers, published Monday in a special open access edition of the philosophical transactions of the royalsociety.org, are part of a UK government Foresight study on the future of the global food industry. The final report will be published later this year in advance of the UN climate talks in Cancun, Mexico.

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This article was originally published on guardian.co.uk at 00:05 BST on Monday 16 August 2010. It was last modified at 14:05 BST on Monday 16 August 2010

All Rights Reserved.

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Author

John Vidal

John Vidal

Environment Editor The Guardian

John Vidal is the Guardian’s environment editor. He joined the paper in 1995 after working for Agence France Presse, North Wales Newspapers and the Cumberland News. He is the author of McLibel: Burger Culture on Trial (1998) and has contributed chapters to books on topics such as the Gulf war, new Europe and development.

Join the Discussion

  • http://twitter.com/connerjason Jason

    Lab made meat offers many potential upsides… This could also be used to produce animal tissues that are highly sought from endangered species (ie. Shark fin, whale meat, tiger, etc.)

    • http://www.ourworld.unu.edu/ Carol S

      Who needs a lab to make fake meat? In vegetarian restaurants and grocery stores they’ve already got the faux thing down, except they do it with vegetable protein. If you are ever in Beijing check out Xu Xiang Zhai, right near the Lama temple. You can eat everything from faux-fish to faux Peking Duck. And it is delicious!

      ________________________________________

      • TerryTwisty

        I’m with Carol on this one.

      • Carol

        Unless every human being is willing to become vegan, we need lab.meat technology to flourish and quickly. From what I understand, this kind of meat is not ‘fake’ and is not made from TVP or gluten; it would save a huge amount of animal suffering and would save us as a species from possible oblivion (whether or not the latter would be a good thing is debateable). We cannot continue to pollute this planet and survive – lab meat is the answer to one major environmental hazard, but would the meat and dairy industries allow this?

        • http://www.ourworld.unu.edu/ Carol S

          Hmmm, Carol I think your first words are a key that’s often ignored in the bright green, technology will save us argument: Willingness…. (Though you’re right, I’m sorry, I should not have referred to this tech as “fake” as it is not, as you point out.) What if instead of spending all that research money on replicating meat, we spent it instead on raising awareness of the fact that most people in affluent countries are eating far more animal protein than they biologically need to? I am not a pure vegetarian, let alone vegan, but I certainly have come to appreciate and enjoy vegetable protein (and no, I’m not talking simply about the energy-intensive TVP or processed soy burger type, though I do confess a love of fresh tofu) and I really wish more of my fellow humans would open their minds and give the heave-ho to antiquated views about “needing meat”. But again, you’re right in that many, many more people need to find the some courage and face up to the fact that their apathy allows the meat and dairy industries liberties (plus the BIG bucks and the power to go with it) that are coming round to bite the whole planet (animals, humans, ecosystems). Quite a stunning fact when you realize it’s done all in the name of “I needs me a good burger”. Ugghh.

          ________________________________________

  • Snowman

    In 2050, artificial meat should be necessarily in japan. I mean mainly artificial fish meat to be able to reprace sushi material. If anybody create such high quality altanatives, the Japanese or Chinese could barely abandon real fishes. But a problem would still remain: how could we secure the materials of artificial meat?

    • Carol

      Lab meat (or in-vitro meat) is not artificial meat; it is not a vegan/vegetarian meat. In vitro meat would be grown from animal muscle cells with a protein applied to grow the cells, indefinitely (a bit like the yoghurt culture process); once the initial cells had been taken, additional animals would not be needed. This would eliminate the pollution and huge waste of resources involved in raising and slaughtering animals for food. In-vitro meat would mean an end to the cruelty of animals used by the meat and dairy industries. It would be an affordable, sustainable and healthier food that could feed the world. In-vitro meat is still being perfected and is relatively expensive, but many think it could eventually feed the world cheaply and sustainably. Who knows, anything has to be better than the horrendous and filthy meat trade.

  • Automonopia

    im also with carol

  • http://www.Wegelandia.pl Wegelandia

    It makes me sick to read, that without “meat” people will go hungry. Just bullshit! How about us, veggies then? Instead of making artificial meat out of rubbish, use the recources on educating people about the necessisty to go VEG(etari)AN!
    No other solution needed!

  • Izzy

    It isn’t a mystery that we’ll need artificial meats in the future 2050 according to recent issues with the Earth we have. Though, we need to concern about how we create meats, and it is gonna be hard. Look at the issue we have at farms with cows with disease. And we’ll not like the grean meats!! then, our assignment is how to creat artificial meats which tastes nicer than wild one.

    Izzy Kanagawa Uni.

    • http://www.ourworld.unu.edu/ Carol S

      Thanks Izzy. Just curious why you agree that it must be artificial meat that we create? Why don’t we focus our research on plant proteins?

      ________________________________________

  • Saori Fujisawa

    ‘Death by Starvation Come Close to Us’

    According to the new research, 9,000,000,000 people will occupy this planet in 2050! In order to survive, we will become dependent on artificial meat. “Artificial” means human work that in many respects is unnatural. Artificial meat is made in tanks.

    However, other research suggests another opinion. Even if gene recombination and nanotechnology are successfully developed, we might not obtain the enough food. In addition, it is projected that a lot of people will die, because of climate change and a serious water shortage. Furthermore, agricultural land-use doesn’t expand, but the world population is increasing rapidly. Now, one in seven people cannot take protein of necessary quantity.

    Scientists research new manure. If we use this new manure, we can reduce water for agriculture. Recently, Water War breaks out in the world. Companies oppose against with individual over water. Companies need water for business, and individuals need water for life. If we use water as we like, we need water twice quantity. The best method to reduce excessive food is purchasing food we can eat. We have to consider about nature and food. Otherwise, the end result will be starvation and the death of many people.

    Saori Fujisawa

    Department of English,
    Kanagawa University

  • anthony fenton

    Hello Wegelandia,

    Thank you for your post. Now, I’m not sure if I understand the point you are trying to make. If I do understand you correctly, it is that you are advocating a “life-style” change, if not “paradigm shift”, for the whole modern world. Is that correct? So, let me ask you a few reflective questions. Can you expand a bit on how it is that 9,000,000,000 people in 2050—at a time when we are facing increased changes in climatic patterns–will be able to have enough protein to survive? What about “social customs”: do you think it is realistic to expect whole societies to dramatically alter their lifestyles in such a short span of time?

    What about those peoples who live in parts of the world whereat they cannot grow foods; moreover, the lack the infrastructure to be the recipients of shipments of foods? Do you think it is realistic to expect modernizing nations—like China—to suddenly settle for second best when us developed nations have been “living high off the hog for so long”?

    Just so you know, I do not eat meat; however, I don’t think that gives me the right to go about dictating a lifestyle change to others in whimsical fashion. I’d encourage you to think a little more deeply and to offer some “constructive suggestions” for change.

    All the best,
    Anthony Fenton

    • http://www.ourworld.unu.edu/ Carol S

      Hi Anthony. Thank you for your excellent questions. If ever you’d care to expand this comment into an essay/article, please get in touch…

  • Philip Carter

    This will be necessary way before 2050 and should get highest priority for development. Meat is a start, but all foods and plant fibers can be produced in the same manner. Eggs, dairy, veggies fruit, cotton, wood, wool, ivory [and transplant organs]. This is lees, not more of a a techno-fantasy than computers, smartphones, internet, nuclear energy, jet travel, etc., a mere 100 years since gas lighting and horse and buggy. Without early development we may not survive the food and water based wars and murders which will come, or the starvation. Imagine cities with out produce supply trucked in. With replicated food, local and even individual production is likely, from plentiful raw materials, and without using fuel for transport. I very much agree with Anthony Fenton. If we could imagine convincing a whole generation not to eat meat, but to eat the grain that grows the meat [not even 1% can be persuaded, and of those only a fraction would persist], there would still be inadequate land and water. But then what of the next generation??? Won’t happen. A real solution is needed. This could be it. It is the only possibility foreseeable, to prevent disaster. Not even to mention the suffering of livestock, which is a very important issue to me. [PETA's million dollar reward offer for the first commercial product is largely a symbolic gesture of support. They should actually help fund research as should many groups concerned withe the World. ]
    Philip Carter

  • h.makoto

    This article is written about “food crisis”. There are a lot of
    researches on food, but almost everything is optimistic.
    First, we have problems to solve on water and waste. Water is
    indispensable for all lives. People think about relations between
    industry and water, there are some researches that we face
    environmental limits by 2050. According to Professor Kenneth Strzepek
    of the University of Colorado, we may lose much water to live by 2050.
    Second, we must suggest “Techno-fixation”. One researcher says, low
    technology is more important to save the earth environment. However,
    another idea that we have to development new technology, it is the
    right way to solve this problem. The way to solve is “Techno-
    fixation”. We shoud know about “artificial meat” and
    “nanotechnology”. Artificial meat has more nutrition than natural
    meat. We can make “special” meat by using nanotechnology.
    In the future, we will certainly face “food crisis”. However, we
    don’t have to discourage. Now, a lot of researches are developing in
    many fields. Therefore, we must spend more money, times, and effort.
    It seems very difficult, but we can start knowing present condition of
    environment, study about technology to save earth at once. Surely, it
    is powerless way, but it is the best way we will be able to do it.

    H.makoto

  • Tadashi Takahashi

    Hello everyone.
    I chose “Artificial meat? Food for thought for 2050.”

    Subject: Crisis of Food

    The world population is rapidly increasing now and it’s expected that
    9 billion people will be alive in 2050. Many scientists say that human
    beings will surely face a food crisis in years to come. One US
    scientist suggests that feeding the 3billion extra people could
    require twice as much as water by then and, this means an 18%
    reduction in worldwide water availability for food growing by 2050.
    And the other scientist suggests that up to 70% of the energy needed
    to grow and supply food at present is fossil-fuel based which in turn
    contributes to climate change. Therefore hundreds of millions of
    people may be starved to death owing to a combination of climate
    change, water shortages and increasing food consumption.
    To solve these problems, there are two solutions now. One is
    artificial meat, which is made in a giant vat. And the other is
    nanotechnology, which is important as a vehicle for delivering
    medication to livestock.
    I think that people in advanced country should consume what they just
    need and support economically people in developing country. If we
    cooperate with each other, human beings will be alive in the coming
    decades.

    1026218 Tadashi Takahashi

  • Guest

    Why don’t we just reduce the human population by half? This will solve most of our problems with food, pollution, etc. I think we need to start thinking in this direction as well.

  • ArnoldHooi

    Hey guys, nice sharing. Anyway, every step taken possesses both pros and cons. Hope that one day people will realize the core roots of all these problems and take actions for all. Cheers~

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/BZECIEB73URWEFRKUVQJZWN6UM Michael P

    lab produced meat is the last step in the hijacking of our food supply. It will be patented, genetically modified and guaranteed to be unlike anything we have been eating and evolving with for millions of years.

    We already do not regulate genetically modified organisms with any true intent on ensuring their safety or nutritional completeness… the same will happen with Franken-meat.

    Choice is important, labeling should be required for all of these genetically altered products. This not only promotes choice, it allows us to have  the ability to see waht, if any, damage these foods are causing. We currently have no way of telling if genetically modified foods are causing problems for us because they are hidden.

    The biotech companies are trying to force feed us their untested & unregulated products by avoiding labeling these foods through the FDA’s claim they are “substantially equivalent” to conventional crops, but different enough to be patented profit-making NOVEL products (including many with 2 EPA registered insecticides being expressed in EVERY part of the food crop).

     The Europeans want labeling, but Monsanto, Syngenta & others spur the US government to request trade sanctions be imposed against EU nations prohibiting the sale of gene altered foods without labeling… the companies know most people will refuse to buy them if they are labeled, so there is no profit in that.

    Syngenta is based in Switzerland but has a prominent role in the USA, turning our farmland into the largest unregulated & unsafe scientific experiment involving food for human consumption… conducted by blindly & indiscriminately feeding these untested altered foods to adults & children regardless of the state of their health or possible effects on human physiology. But in Switzerland growing gene altered crops is specifically prohibited.

    There is science behind this prohibition… or, more correctly put, the lack of scientific investigation and the lack of proof of safety of these novel organisms… not only to the animals (including humans) on the planet that consume them, but the consequences of toxic contamination of the environment, pesticide resistance, nutritional changes, novel substances produced in the plants due to modification, genetic drift destroying organic agriculture, fraudulent lawsuits against farmers for patent infringement & the complete hijacking of our food supply from seed to table as the biotech companies have bought nearly all of the seed companies in the USA.

    It is all doom and gloom… there is absolutely NO REASONABLE USE for genetic modification of crops or animals other than the enrichment of biotech executives & shareholders.

    We currently produce enough food to feed over 9 billion people in spite of vast amounts of farmland under-utilized, mis-used & undeveloped. Genetic engineering is not needed to feed a growing world population.

    Another pack of  lies being used to promote GE crops is nutritional. “Golden Rice” is one such biotech public relations hoax. They claim modifying rice to contain larger amounts of vitamin A will reduce vision problems and blindness in children whose staple is rice. The solution is to assist these peoples eat a varied diet. Trying to genetically alterrice, thereby making indigenous farmers dependent on biotech supplies of seed along with their additional cost is not the solution.

    Additionally, genetic alterations to a food crop willdecrease nutrition as crops are forced to do more with the limited resources available in third world mono-cultured soils. Biotech companies are duping governments to pay for the introduction of this “technology” into all the world’s agriculture and be paid up front for their seeds, paid a technology fee for each acre planted and contracted agreements not to save seed for replanting.

    This is not about helping starving or malnourished people or children… it is about making money from growing food EVERY TIME FOOD IS GROWN and monopolizing the seed market just like the oil companies dominate & control oil prices.

    While based on science, it is clear the science is not yet complete. But biotech venture capitalists are pushing for the quick knockout of any regulations for this worst-of-all-possibilities for our food so that they can have a continuous source of revenue regardless of the consequences for the human race.

    The best that gene altered crops have been able to offer is herbicide resistance, which does increase yields by allowing herbicide to be sprayed directly on crops & farmland to control weeds… the trade-off? Genetically altered foods for which there are NO blinded & controlled independent human or animal feeding trials and extensive herbicide contamination of our food crops & the farmland they are grown on, resistance build up in weed pests and runoff into our environment.

    What needs to be done is PROPER AND THOROUGH REGULATION… to include long term INDEPENDENT studies on nutritional & other changes to crops & animals (as well as studies on animals fed gene altered feed)…

    This is not an anti-science psotition but a call for the complete accumulation of scientific evidence & implementation of the precautionary principle before releasing these altered foods on our men, women & children. 

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/BZECIEB73URWEFRKUVQJZWN6UM Michael P

    lab produced meat is the last step in the hijacking of our food supply. It will be patented, genetically modified and guaranteed to be unlike anything we have been eating and evolving with for millions of years.
     
    We already do not regulate genetically modified organisms with any true intent on ensuring their safety or nutritional completeness… the same will happen with Franken-meat.
     
    Choice is important, labeling should be required for all of these genetically altered products. This not only promotes choice, it allows us to have  the ability to see waht, if any, damage these foods are causing. We currently have no way of telling if genetically modified foods are causing problems for us because they are hidden.
     
    The biotech companies are trying to force feed us their untested & unregulated products by avoiding labeling these foods through the FDA’s claim they are “substantially equivalent” to conventional crops, but different enough to be patented profit-making NOVEL products (including many with 2 EPA registered insecticides being expressed in EVERY part of the food crop).
     
     The Europeans want labeling, but Monsanto, Syngenta & others spur the US government to request trade sanctions be imposed against EU nations prohibiting the sale of gene altered foods without labeling… the companies know most people will refuse to buy them if they are labeled, so there is no profit in that.
     
    Syngenta is based in Switzerland but has a prominent role in the USA, turning our farmland into the largest unregulated & unsafe scientific experiment involving food for human consumption… conducted by blindly & indiscriminately feeding these untested altered foods to adults & children regardless of the state of their health or possible effects on human physiology. But in Switzerland growing gene altered crops is specifically prohibited.
     
    There is science behind this prohibition… or, more correctly put, the lack of scientific investigation and the lack of proof of safety of these novel organisms… not only to the animals (including humans) on the planet that consume them, but the consequences of toxic contamination of the environment, pesticide resistance, nutritional changes, novel substances produced in the plants due to modification, genetic drift destroying organic agriculture, fraudulent lawsuits against farmers for patent infringement & the complete hijacking of our food supply from seed to table as the biotech companies have bought nearly all of the seed companies in the USA.
     
    It is all doom and gloom… there is absolutely NO REASONABLE USE for genetic modification of crops or animals other than the enrichment of biotech executives & shareholders.
     
    We currently produce enough food to feed over 9 billion people in spite of vast amounts of farmland under-utilized, mis-used & undeveloped. Genetic engineering is not needed to feed a growing world population.
     
    Another pack of  lies being used to promote GE crops is nutritional. “Golden Rice” is one such biotech public relations hoax. They claim modifying rice to contain larger amounts of vitamin A will reduce vision problems and blindness in children whose staple is rice. The solution is to assist these peoples eat a varied diet. Trying to genetically alterrice, thereby making indigenous farmers dependent on biotech supplies of seed along with their additional cost is not the solution.
     
    Additionally, genetic alterations to a food crop willdecrease nutrition as crops are forced to do more with the limited resources available in third world mono-cultured soils. Biotech companies are duping governments to pay for the introduction of this “technology” into all the world’s agriculture and be paid up front for their seeds, paid a technology fee for each acre planted and contracted agreements not to save seed for replanting.
     
    This is not about helping starving or malnourished people or children… it is about making money from growing food EVERY TIME FOOD IS GROWN and monopolizing the seed market just like the oil companies dominate & control oil prices.
     
    While based on science, it is clear the science is not yet complete. But biotech venture capitalists are pushing for the quick knockout of any regulations for this worst-of-all-possibilities for our food so that they can have a continuous source of revenue regardless of the consequences for the human race.
     
    The best that gene altered crops have been able to offer is herbicide resistance, which does increase yields by allowing herbicide to be sprayed directly on crops & farmland to control weeds… the trade-off? Genetically altered foods for which there are NO blinded & controlled independent human or animal feeding trials and extensive herbicide contamination of our food crops & the farmland they are grown on, resistance build up in weed pests and runoff into our environment.
     
    What needs to be done is PROPER AND THOROUGH REGULATION… to include long term INDEPENDENT studies on nutritional & other changes to crops & animals (as well as studies on animals fed gene altered feed)…
     
    This is not an anti-science psotition but a call for the complete accumulation of scientific evidence & implementation of the precautionary principle before releasing these altered foods on our men, women & children.