Back in 2019, Fonterra invested in US-based Motif FoodWorks. (See the Newsroom article: Fonterra dips hoof in alternative animal products by Eloise Gibson).
Motif FoodWorks makes milk using cultured proteins, that is, via a lab, not via dairy cows. And this is where the future of dairy—and meat—gets interesting. While Fonterra won’t disclose how much they invested, and are reluctant to talk about why they’re investing in a product that could potentially put dairy farmers out of business, the alternative proteins industry is becoming a serious competitor. And not just for dairy:

The whole of the cow milk industry, for example, will begin to collapse once PF [precision fermentation] technologies replace the proteins in a bottle of milk–just 3.3% of its content. Product after product that we extract from animals will be replaced by superior, cheaper, cleaner, and tastier alternatives, triggering a death spiral of increasing prices, decreasing demand, and reversing economies of scale for the livestock and seafood industries.             – RethinkX

One of the key recommendations from IPCC to rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, is to change our diets, particularly away from animal protein, primarily meat and dairy. This because growing animal protein produces a staggering volume of greenhouse gasses—48% of New Zealand’s emissions come from this sector.

Greenhouse gasses by sector. LULUFC is the acronym for Land Use, Land-Use Change and Forestry. (Image: Ministry for the Environment)

Not everyone is prepared to give up meat and dairy of course, something of which the food industry is well aware. This has led to a rapid growth (no pun intended) in the cellular versus animal agriculture industry. Motif is one of dozens of these fast-growing disruptive technologies that aim to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions and enable intensively farmed land to be returned to natural ecosystems, which also means cleaner waterways. At its simplest level, this is how it works:

The advantages of cellular versus animal agriculture. Click on the image to be taken to the website to find out more: (image: “How Cultivated Meat Is Made” reused under the CC BY 4.0 license).

There’s a more in-depth discussion of cellular and acellular processes on the Office of the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor website: cellular agriculture.

RethinkX‘s paper, ‘Rethinking Climate Change’ examines the speed of disruptive technologies in the energy, food, and transport sectors (from page 30):

The food disruption will be driven by the economics of precision fermentation (PF) and cellular agriculture (CA), which will compete with animal products of all kinds. Our previous research found that PF will make protein production 5 times cheaper by 2030 and 10 times cheaper by 2035 than existing animal proteins. The precision with which proteins and other complex organic molecules will be produced also means that foods made with them will be higher quality, safer, more consistent, and available in a far wider variety than the animal derived products they replace. The impact of this disruption on industrial animal farming will be profound.

The economic competitiveness of foods made with PF technology will be overwhelming. As the most inefficient and economically vulnerable part of the industrial food system, cow products will be the first to feel the full force of the food disruption. New PF foods will be up to 100 times more land efficient, 10-25 times more feedstock efficient, 20 times more time efficient, and 10 times more water efficient. They will also produce far less waste. By 2030, the number of cows in the United States will have fallen by 50% and the cattle farming industry will be all but bankrupt. All other commercial livestock industries worldwide will quickly follow the same fate, as will commercial fisheries and aquaculture.

This staggering transformation will present an entirely unprecedented opportunity for conservation, rewilding, and reforestation.

If you think people won’t buy much less eat meat, milk, cheese, yoghurt or any other protein products grown in a vat, remember that beer is made the same way.
China is getting on board with the technology and their consumers are keen to give it a go. This has huge implications for our export market. And globally, millions of dollars are being invested in the technology. Even Fonterra seems to think investing in it is a good idea.
We’ve seen how disruptive technologies have rapidly changed our lifestyles in the past. The Industrial Revolution, mass production, and the Internet are just a few examples that have completely upended every aspect of society. A revolution in food production would do the same. RethinkX have included this helpful reminder of how disruptive technologies evolve (Box 4). Below the image is also a short video on the topic.
“We already see indications that incumbent industries in the energy, transportation, and food sector have entered their disruption death spirals because they have begun to lose their social license. For example, many governments have now committed to phasing out fossil fuel use in the energy and transportation sectors, and shareholders are demanding change as the value of firms like ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP, and Shell has begun to erode.” – RethinkX

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