This week: a food Christmas special with coffee, chickens and a fake food future. Sandra Peter (Sydney Business Insights) and Kai Riemer (Digital Disruption Research Group) meet once a week to put their own spin on news that is impacting the future of business in The Future, This Week.
01:33 – Can your morning coffee be saved from disaster?
13:13 – The history of Chicken of Tomorrow
27:45 – The Fake Food Future – milk, meat and bacon
The stories this week:
Other stories we bring up:
Our theme music was composed and played by Linsey Pollak.
Thank you to Bell Kit Part – Jingle Bells which is featured in this podcast.
Send us your news ideas to email@example.com.
Disclaimer: We'd like to advise that the following program may contain real news, occasional philosophy and ideas that may offend some listeners.
Intro: This is The Future, This Week. On Sydney Business Insights. I'm Sandra Peter and I'm Kai Riemer. Every week we get together and look at the news of the week. We discuss technology, the future of business, the weird and the wonderful, and things that change the world. Okay let's start. Let's start!
Kai: Today on The Future, This Week: a food Christmas special with coffee, chickens and a fake food future.
Sandra: I'm Sandra Peter, I'm the Director of Sydney Business Insights.
Kai: I'm Kai Riemer, professor at the Business School and leader of the Digital Disruption Research Group. So Sandra, it is this time of year.
Sandra: Christmas is just around the corner.
Kai: Whether you are celebrating Hanukkah, Christmas, or otherwise enjoying the holidays, this will be our last podcast for the season. And we have a special for you.
Sandra: We thought since it is close to the holidays, there is something that's on everybody's minds or at least on mine and Kai's...
Sandra: Food Kai, food.
Kai: Food, food. Even better.
Sandra: Food presents.
Kai: Food presents. We do a special on food. We have discussed the future of food a number of times during this year. And so we thought we'd pick a couple of stories that have been quite popular. A little bit unusual, and rebroadcast them. But we also have one new story. So we will bring back the chickens of tomorrow and the fake food future.
Sandra: But steeped in our morning traditions. Kai and I always have a cup of coffee together before we start this, and have a chat about what we're going to discuss on the show. We thought that today we'll bring you a coffee story.
Kai: And there is a problem. There's a problem with coffee. There's a problem that puts at risk the future of coffee.
Sandra: Our story comes from Medium, and it's titled "The hidden struggle to save the coffee industry from disaster". And it is actually quite serious.
Kai: And the problem has a name. The coffee growers in South America call it 'la roya', the red rust. Which is a fungus.
Sandra: That has inflicted over a billion dollars’ worth of damage the last time it hit in Latin America. Leading not only to economic ruin for many farmers whose entire livelihood depends on coffee. but also actually helping trigger the migrant crisis of which we see the facts even now, of people whose entire livelihoods have been destroyed who are looking for a better life. So the question is how did this leaf rust disease that is decimating coffee plantations get the upper hand?
Kai: So la roya, as it's called, is not a new phenomenon but it turns out that this fungus over time has become resistant to a lot of the herbicides that are being used to spray. And that the warm moist weather that South America sees more often in recent years is making it worse to the extent that more and more trees cannot be saved and that the livelihood of many farmers is at risk. And indeed, many have given up. So this puts at risk coffee as we know it. And we're talking here about coffee arabica of course.
Sandra: So many around the world we have basically two types of coffee. Robusta and arabica. Robusta, as the name says it, is pretty much a hardy, vigorous plant that is a very low maintenance tree that stands up to any pests and diseases but produces a very harsh type of coffee. And mostly that's used for instant coffees or for the dollar coffees that you might get at a gas station.
Kai: It's sometimes mixed with arabica and then used in sort of mass-produced coffee, but not what you would find in a decent coffee shop.
Sandra: But what we have every morning, and what many of us enjoy in our espressos or our lattes or our cappuccino venti frappuccinos are arabica, and that is more than half the production of coffee worldwide. And this plant is actually very tricky and very finicky and what we found out in these articles was something that we had no idea. The fact that this particular plant that produces the smooth interesting flavour profiles that we like to taste, comes from a very, very small number of coffee beans that came from Ethiopia a very, very long time ago.
Kai: So the article says that as a result, arabica only uses a fraction of the species total genome. It lacks the genetic vigour it needs to adapt to climate shocks such as droughts, heat, flooding and leaf rust. So the article charts for us the history of how all of this came about.
Sandra: Turns out coffee, which became a very valuable trading commodity for the Ottoman Turks back in the 16th century and then up to the 17th century - and we're reminded of the coffee house movements in Europe that stand on the back of this trade - extremely valuable commodity that they went to great lengths to prevent from leaving their territories. So coffee trees and coffee beans were protected, and people went to great lengths to make sure that no one else had access to them. And it turns out that - as the story goes - back in the 17th century an Indian pilgrim managed to smuggle seven arabica beans, that's seven beans, out of Yemen by taping them to his stomach.
Kai: At the same time the Dutch somehow seemed to have managed to sneak out one whole tree. But those plants that originate from this one tree from the Dutch and those seven beans provide the entire genetic basis of all of the arabica trees currently in use worldwide. And herein lies the problem.
Sandra: Making use of such a low diversity for all of the trees that we have now in existence around the world also makes for a very low resistance to pests, diseases or ability to adapt.
Kai: Now, the problem with leaf rust has been recognize about 15 16 years ago, but it is a wicked one to solve and it is partly aggravated by a by-product of the way in which coffee is grown. Unlike many other crops that are being grown in Western countries, such as rice or peanuts or others, there is very little funding that goes into research and innovation around coffee to the extent that it's been called an orphan crop. For example, there's only 40 breeders globally that engage in breeding coffee plants. And at the time when the problem was first recognised there wasn't really any research being done because coffee was only grown in poor countries, then exported and purchased by the West and sold in Western countries of course. But as a result, not much research was available and had to be built over the past few years.
Sandra: So since 2011, when the really big industry players - roasters, distributors, importers - alongside researchers, venture capitalists, farmers got together at Texas University and established the world coffee research organization, a large non-profit.
Kai: Which has since established a research program to instil more genetic variety into the arabica crop.
Sandra: So the idea is to use cutting edge DNA sequencing technology, map genomes and then figure out how you can speed up breeding efforts to create trees that are likely to produce interesting mates and then result in a greater breadth of genetic diversity that maybe can save the arabica crops around the world.
Kai: Now how do you go about this? So the researchers at the time were faced with an interesting problem. Most of the arabica plants that exist in the wild are still located in Ethiopia. A country which wasn't keen to give any Western researcher access to just harvest trees in the wild to then commercialise. And so how do you go about doing this? Now lucky enough, it turns out that in Costa Rica there is what is in the article euphemistically called a gene bank of arabica trees. Now this gene bank basically consists of a field of wild growing trees which originated from a small period in the 1960s where people were allowed to export trees from Ethiopia. And are now the basis on which this research is being carried out. And so in the last three years scientists have through genome mapping and careful selection of genes that would improve the genetic makeup of the arabica plant, created 50 new hybrids that are now being propagated and tested in terms of their adaptability to different climates, their taste, their robustness, to hopefully by 2025 have a new species of coffee ready for roll out to the world.
Sandra: So whilst we do have very interesting new technologies to rely on for creating these kinds of crops, there's still a very long process from when they are created to when they are actually adopted. Not only do you have to overcome the barriers to farmers adopting now these newly created arabica trees set to arrive around 2025, but then again you have to wait for these trees to grow until you can harvest them. So the solution is still not going to be here for another good ten years. And here is where an interesting business solution comes into play. And the article mentions Intelligentsia, which is a North Carolina based coffee roaster which goes a step further. Whilst we're all familiar with things like fair trade practices which have been present in coffee growing and coffee trading communities for a very long time, as they have been for cocoa and rice and all sorts of other products, a new practice called by direct trade is starting to emerge which is a niche buying strategy. Whereby farmers and roasters create these long-term relationships that would see farmers weather these kinds of seasons like the 2012 rust blight. Even though farmers might lose 60 percent of their crops, they're engaged in a long-term relationship with the roasters which allows them to recover. And this arrangement is clearly a lot more expensive for the roasters. But it does typically give the people who grow the coffee much better pricing and a lot more security than something like fair trade alone.
Kai: So, while there are solutions on the horizon to avert the impending coffee crisis, what is interesting to me is how little innovation and awareness for this problem has existed in the past decades really. Which goes to the heart of how the economic system often works, in a very short-term way when things are going well. Based on exploitation of assets, with no need for engaging in the kind of exploratory or innovative practices that you need in the face of disruption. And indeed this disease, the resistance to herbicides in combination with climate change has brought about this disruption to the coffee growing industry, which has finally brought to the fore the risk that is posed by the gene pool in those coffee plants and has spurred this new wave of innovation. Which hopefully will ensure that we have our good cup of coffee after the heavy Christmas lunches that we're all going to have in the years to come.
Sandra: And what's more important I think to mention before we end the story, is that we do want to avert another crisis like the one in 1869. Where if you're familiar with the history of Ceylon in Sri Lanka back then the British East India colony, the local coffee growers were hit by this blight. And they fought it for 20 years to no avail. And guess what today?
Kai: They switched to another hot beverage brew and gave the English their love for tea.
Sandra: So from coffee and tea let's move the chicken.
Kai: This is a story we want to remind you of, we recorded in May. Which again charts the history of one of our favourite food groups: chicken. The history of chicken and also the chickens of tomorrow. So here's us discussing chickens.
Audio sounds: <Music and audio sounds> The future this week...
Kai: Our first story is from the National Geographic, which I think we haven't discussed on the podcast before. It's titled "The surprising origin of chicken as a dietary staple". Now, we do what we often do on The Future, This Week. We look to the past to learn about the future and this is a really interesting article about how we came to have fried chicken.
Sandra: Indeed. This is in part a history lesson, but in part it is about the chicken of tomorrow. And surprisingly before 1948, chicken wasn't really a mainstay roast at the dinner table. To understand the chicken of tomorrow, we need to go back to first the 1920s. And turns out in the 1920s, all farms raised chickens. No matter what else they did, they all raised chickens. But a quick look at the aptly named American Paltry Journal of January 1921 reveals that there were hundreds and thousands of chicken varieties from around the world.
Kai: You just want to read some of the names, do you?
Sandra: Yes. The journal had about six pages of small type classified ads featuring chicken names with wonderful things such as Single-Comb Anconas, Silver Wya...
Kai: Wyandottes. We have a Silver Laced Wyandottes at home. We've also got an Australorp and a Plymouth Rock and they're beautiful chickens.
Sandra: But do you have Brown Leghorns? Do you have Black Langshans? Do you have Light Brahmas? Do you have Sicilian Buttercups or Golden Campines? Do you have Silver-Gray Dorkings, or Silver-Spangled Hamburgs, Mottled Houdans, or Mahogany Orloffs?
Kai: No we don't. But outing myself here a bit of a chook person, I do actually know what some of them look like.
Sandra: And it turns out they look nothing like the chickens we have today. They're really small chickens, very fancy looking small chickens. And turns out point of chickens used to be just eggs. Birds where only slaughter then eaten after they had out lived their lives as egg layers.
Kai: And while this way of keeping chickens is experiencing a bit of a comeback in Australian backyards, we want to talk about how chickens became an industry.
Sandra: So this is about the business of chickens and the future of chickens. And food more generally. So let's see what happened back in the day around the Second World War. As we mentioned before, there were hundreds and thousands of breeds of chicken, and there were quite different. Each of them was adapted to whatever the conditions were where they lived. Whether it was wet or dry or humid or arid around where they lived, and they were chosen mainly for eggs. And it turns out using them for eggs was actually a really good strategy during the Great Depression and the Second World War, as it could maximise the protein you could get out of a chicken...
Kai: ...without actually killing it.
Sandra: And the competition wasn't that intense because beef and pork were rationed during that period. So eggs seemed like a really good investment strategy.
Kai: But as we came out of the Second World War, in the US people started eating more meat. And it turned out that the breeds of chicken that were common weren't actually producing good meat and they were also not producing a lot of meat.
Sandra: So one businessman actually saw the problem coming. And the problem was that beef and pork had emerged from rationing, so there was now a bigger competition in the protein space. And eggs just really couldn't keep up, nor could the meat that these birds were producing keep up. So it was Howard C. Pierce, the Poultry Research Director at the A&P Food Stores supermarket chain, that back in 1944 at the biggest poultry meeting in Canada said that someone needed to develop a sumptuous chicken. A bird with a breast like turkeys. By the next year this had started the most extraordinary undertaking, and was called the Chicken of Tomorrow. It was organised by the US Department of Agriculture, together with about 55 other national organisations. These were scientists and bureaucrats on loan from government agencies. There were chicken producers, there were land-grant colleges, hundreds of farmers, hundreds of volunteers from across the US that spent the next few years developing this chicken of tomorrow.
Kai: So this contest came to a head in 1948 when 40 chicken breeders submitted seven hundred and twenty-six eggs each to a hatchery on Maryland's Eastern Shore. Where they were hatched, and about 400 chickens were then submitted for judging.
Sandra: And what they were trying to find is as the Saturday Evening Post put it, "One bird chunky enough for the whole family - a chicken with breast meat so thick you could carve it into steaks, with drumsticks that contain the minimum of bone buried in layers of juicy dark meat, all costing less instead of more". And they actually did find this bird.
Kai: So the long and short of it is that two birds emerged victorious. The runner-up submitted by the Saglio family, a purebred White Plymouth Rock. And the winner submitted by Charles Ventress from California. A red-feathered hybrid crafted out of New Hampshire which was the most popular meat bird on the East Coast and a California strain of Cornish. And this is significant because up to that point hybrid breeds were largely discredited in the industry and purebreds were usually superior in outdoor free-living conditions. But it turns out that from this moment on hybrid breeds were actually ruling the industry, with the Saglio family soon after also abandoning their pure bred for another hybrid. And those two families grew into the two largest companies producing chickens, both on the back of hybrids that were cross bred and improved upon in the years after.
Sandra: And this is really significant because the winners of the chicken farm tomorrow did a lot more than create new types of chickens. They have managed to wipe out purebreds from commercial use and these chickens have been used for hundreds of years in commercial use. And they managed to recreate the chicken industry altogether.
Kai: Which raises the question, what was Kentucky doing before fried chicken? And we actually looked it up. So Colonel Sanders started his Sanders Court and Cafe in the 1930s but it stayed a single restaurant that revolved around different food groups until the 1950s. It was only 1952 that Colonel Sanders actually opened the first franchise restaurant. So the growth of Kentucky Fried Chicken KFC came on the back of chickens becoming an industry in the decade before that. Interesting fun fact on the future this week.
Sandra: I was going to say they probably had Kentucky Fried Eggs before they had Kentucky Fried Chicken, but there you go.
Kai: You know that they have almost 21,000 restaurants these days?
Sandra: And that's the point of the Chicken of Tomorrow. That is how they recreated industry. The 21000 restaurants all sell the same chicken. And these chickens and the genetic cocktail behind them is owned by only two companies in the world. What these early producers of the Chicken of Tomorrow managed to do is to create really complex crosses so they made sure that the chickens that they produce could not be reproduced outside their companies. So if you are a farmer and had bought one of these new hybrid chickens, and tried to mate them on your own property with other chickens, the birds that you would get would not be true to the breed that you had bought.
Kai: Which would not show the same kind of properties that you would want in the birds so they would over time degrade. So what farmers then had to do is go back to the company and buy the eggs to hatch the chickens.
Sandra: So every time you wanted to start a new line of chickens you have to buy new chickens. Pretty much the same way you would buy hybrid soybeans or hybrid corn. And in a remarkably short span of time after the Second World War, chickens turned into intellectual property.
Kai: And the article puts it beautifully. The open source birds that had populated millions of farm yards and back gardens for thousands of years became an ingredient in proprietary intellectual property. And that's the point that we want to make.
Sandra: Chicken meat had turned into a trade secret. So even if you remove patent protection, even if you remove formal intellectual property rights, because of the complexity built into these chickens you just couldn't reproduce the chickens yourself. And the same thing is happening today. We started a conversation around lab grown meat on The Future, This Week. We talked about fake milk and a few other products and lab grown hamburger patties.
Kai: And this conversation is increasingly going mainstream. When we first talked about this, we talked fake milk as in soy milk. Recently we hear milk protein that is being produced from genetically modified yeast. And while this was first reported in the tech media and we reported an article in Wired magazine, just this week an article in The Guardian is laying out the whole complexity of this emerging new agri-tech industry. Which ranges from reproducing milk, reproducing various forms of meat, taking on the challenge of reproducing egg whites, but essentially building methods to produce products that genetically replicate the real deal - but doing it in the laboratory.
Sandra: And the 1948 Chicken of Tomorrow actually has really important lessons for what we're seeing happening in the industry today. Lab grown meat is also becoming an intellectual property question. And were seeing companies like Tyson Foods, who is the world's second largest food processor - and who incidentally also started around the Second World War with chickens which were not rationed like beef and pork was - and they've started to invest in clean meat. At the end of January this year Tyson Foods invested in Memphis Meats. And Memphis Meats is one of the companies that produces self-cultured meat. Tyson Foods has started to rebrand itself as a protein company rather than a meat company. But along the same arguments that there will be a couple of companies that will own the IP to the new lab grown meat in a similar way that they owned the IP for the chickens which gave them a competitive advantage for over 50 years.
Kai: So we've previously discussed that one of the motivations around creating fake meat or clean meat or lab meat, depending on how you look at it, is the environmental impact of feeding a growing world population with traditional methods. Because cattle herds turn out to be quite destructive to the environment, and we can tell a story about this here in Australia. But they also contribute to a significant extent to greenhouse gas production, and climate change, and so the promise is that by perfecting and improving on current lab methodology we can actually produce laboratory meat protein and other products at scale and therefore reducing the environmental impact and feeding a growing population.
But the question that emerges now is who is going to own that intellectual property, and will the technology that will solve these problems be in the hands of just a few or even one or two large tech companies?
Sandra: Or meat companies for that matter. So, what we've seen with Tyson Foods - who's the world's second largest food processor - we're also seeing for instance with the P.H.W. Group. Also this January the third largest poultry producer in Europe announced that it was partnering with Super Meat. That is an Israeli clean meat company similar to Memphis Meats. So we're seeing many of these large food producers moving very early on into this space even before we have managed to perfect the technology that will allow us to do this at scale. But with significant investments from the players in the meat industry there is a real chance for this to move forward a lot faster.
Kai: So while a lot of start-up companies are active in this space, working on these technologies, it is significant who is investing in those companies and who emerge as potential buyers of these technologies once the start-ups prove that it can actually be done at scale and early hatching problems - see what I did here?
Sandra: I see what you did there.
Kai: - such as coming up with a more efficient and cost-effective solution for growing meat cultures and the like have been developed.
Kai: Oh enough with the yolks.
Audio sounds: <Music and audio sounds>
Kai: Well speaking of jokes, isn't it a tradition to read out Christmas cracker jokes on Christmas. In our recent research for good stories for the Christmas special podcast I stumbled upon this website which has a few of those gems. Hey Sandra, why can't a bike stand up by itself? Because it's two tyred.
Sandra: Haha. Okay. I looked for one, this is what I found.
Sandra: What do you call a penguin in the Sahara Desert?
Kai: I have no idea.
Kai: Haha. Okay. One more from me. What do you call a dinosaur with an eye patch? Do-you-think-he-saurus.
Sandra: Ha. Why can't T-rexs hug?
Kai: Cause they have tiny arms.
Sandra: Because they're extinct.
Kai: I think we're moving on. Yeah. If you have enjoyed this as much as we have. But we have a final great story for you which we recorded all the way back in March, titled The Fake Food Future, in which we discuss...
Sandra: Cow-less milk, cow-less yoghurt.
Kai: Lab meat.
Sandra: And the future where all foods will be separated from the animals. That is milk, yoghurt, sausage, bacon, chicken all grown inside a lab.
Kai: Well, bon appetit. Enjoy.
Audio sounds: <Music and audio sounds> The Future, This Week...
Sandra: So our story for this week comes from Quartz. It's titled "Mooving on: Meet the start-up that makes milk - without cows". And coincidentally, it's exactly a year ago that we did our first story about milk.
Kai: So at the time we discussed fake milk - soy milk, almond milk, and the question of whether we can call something milk if it doesn't come from an animal, from a cow. So is almond milk actually milk?
Sandra: And also who gets to decide what gets called milk?
Kai: Yeah but what is real milk?
<File audio>: "A bottle of milk thanks." "Low fat, no fat, full cream, high calcium, high protein, soy, lite, skim, Omega 3, high calcium with vitamin D and folate, or extra dollop?" "Ah - I just want milk that tastes like real milk."
Kai: But this is different.
Sandra: Or is it?
Kai: Exactly. Now, this is milk that also doesn't come from a cow. So genetically it's milk, but grown in a laboratory. The process by which this is done is called microbial fermentation and it uses a kind of genetically modified yeast that produces the proteins that you find in milk. And the outcome is real milk. Or is it real?
Sandra: So in a process that's quite similar to how we make beer or for instance, food scientists will now program a genetic code into that yeast and we will get a final product that is arguably cow's milk but without any cows.
Kai: So is it cow's milk if there's no cow involved? That's one question. So we could discuss at length what we're calling this and who has the authority to actually name things. So if you ask the scientists who does a chemical analysis or a DNA analysis, for them it's absolutely cow's milk. But there was no cow involved. This is one angle of looking at this, but we want to discuss a bigger picture here today. So this is part of a larger trend in food innovation and the practice is called cellular agriculture. And it isn't just about milk. There's equally a story this week incidentally about what's called clean meat. Meat that is produced without the involvement of animals except for the animal donating the initial couple of cells that are then grown in a laboratory to make up muscle meat that is supposedly indistinguishable from real meat, so to speak, and tastes just the same.
Sandra: So let's have a closer look at this type of food innovation. So first this idea of the cultured meat really took off a few years ago back in 2013 where a Dutch scientist Mark Post went on British television and for the first time cooked a lab grown hamburger arguably made from meat.
Kai: It wasn't cheap.
Sandra: It wasn't cheap at all it was about 300,000 dollars. Now, that's an expensive burger and it was paid for by...
Kai: ...an anonymous donor who later turned out to be Sergey Brin from Google.
Sandra: And since then we've seen a few experiments. Companies like Memphis Meats that attracted a lot of capital from people like Bill Gates, and Richard Branson, and Jack Welch, and so on. The company that is in the article we're discussing today, Perfect Day, that's now raise millions of dollars and attracted a lot of talent to work on what is currently called a clean animal product such as the milk or the meat in these experiments. And in theory there's enormous potential in these technologies. In the case of the meat as you've mentioned making the single cell from an animal. And growing that for about three months could actually give you enough meat to make 20 trillion chicken nuggets.
Kai: That's a lot of chicken nuggets.
Sandra: There's a lot of food. So how does this come about in the first place? Clearly a lot of the food tech innovation has come on the back of other technology innovations and has come out of the same innovative places like the other technologies that we see in other industries.
Kai: Yes, on the one hand of course this is driven by new technology and we're doing it because we can. We have the technology now to grow meat, and use yeast to make milk, and do all of this and do it at scale, soon. But the other angle is that this is done to solve a real problem which is to feed a growing population in a world with environmental problems.
Sandra: So one of the megatrends we look at the University of Sydney Business School is that of resource security. And there there's a huge need to increase the global food production. The estimates are that by 2050 will need 35 percent more food than we are currently producing. So this would be solving a real problem. And then there are all the pressures that we currently have now. If you think of food safety or food security as an issue, in China for instance milk has been a particular problem over the past few years so this is addressing a real need. There are also huge quantities of land, also of water. Fossil fuels are the resources that are needed to produce the meat and the milk that we currently consume. So this could potentially address sustainability in food production.
Kai: A study by the University of Oxford has found that clean meat production could result in 78 to 96 percent lower greenhouse gas emissions, and use 7 to 45 percent less energy, 99 percent less land and about 90 percent less water than traditional methods of meat production. We all know that animal farming is very resource intensive. Not only is a lot of land and water used to grow food for animals. Animals are also destructive to the environment such as in Australia where cattles are blamed for erosion and having a huge negative impact on the native landscape. So one idea behind creating meat in the lab at scale is to solving many of those problems. On top of this come problems of animal cruelty, animal welfare, the idea that it's really not a great idea to farm animals at scale. It's cruel to the animals. Animals catch diseases. We have to use antibiotics. They enter the food chain. They are at the heart of increasing antibiotic resistance. So the idea is that this technology will do away with all of these problems.
Sandra: But we must not forget that this technology is really in its infancy. So while there are studies like the ones you've mentioned also echoed by the London School of Hygiene and Medicine that says that producing for instance beef in vitro would reduce land use by ninety nine percent gas emissions from capital by 90 percent. These are very dependent on how this meat is produced in this instance, they're looking at vats that are fed only by pond scum. And in this case we will see those benefits. However there are a number of other studies such as one from Arizona State University that looks at for instance manufacturing chicken and the fact that if we are going to use conventional nutrients and things like glucose, we might end up using more energy and releasing more greenhouse gases than farming the traditional chickens. And the reason might be that we might need to heat those ingredients to a certain temperature to be able to multiply the cells. But all of these technologies are really in their infancy, so it's quite difficult at this point to have reliable studies that could evaluate this scale.
Kai: Yeah. So there's other sceptics, such as Margaret Melin of the Union of Concerned Scientists, who also speculates that the energy in fossil fuel requirements if we were to do cultured meat production at scale might be as, if not more, environmentally destructive than producing food the conventional way. So the jury is still out on the environmental benefits, but one big argument is the health benefits. So proponents of kosher meat say there's not going to be any contamination that happens when slaughtering animals, where the intestines can contaminate the meat. We don't need all the medication. We can also grow muscle meat without the fat which is supposedly unhealthy. We might further engineer the meat to give it extra health benefits so there's a real belief in the power of engineering a food that is better than the original.
Sandra: So on the same week where we have stories like the one from The Guardian that says that yes, bacon really is killing us and it's looking at decades worth of research that actually shows that the chemicals we used to make bacon currently do cause cancer. This seems like a real solution to the problem, but we must remember that creating these food products in the first place is only half of the equation. There's also a problem of achieving acceptance by those who have to eat these products.
Kai: Yeah and my understanding is that they're just creating muscle cells. They can't actually artificially create bacon. And we love bacon. Everyone loves bacon.
Sandra: Everybody loves bacon.
Kai: Although our sound editor Megan gives me a stare. I think Megan is a vegetarian. So okay. Not everyone loves bacon. But for those of us who love bacon, there's not going to be any artificial bacon as yet. And supposedly we shouldn't eat that anyway. But this is the bigger question, how do we feel about this right? And so my natural reaction is this is just wrong. This is just unnatural. Why would I eat meat that is coming out of the laboratory that's not coming from an animal?
Sandra: Whereas I, on the other hand, have absolutely no problem with yoghurt made in a lab or with milk made in a lab for that matter. So it's going to be interesting to see how public conversations will shape our acceptance of it. For instance, MIT reported on a survey about half of vegetarians would eat meat if it came from a lab and not from an animal.
Kai: Yeah. So it opens up a whole new angle. Is meat that is coming out of the laboratory, is that actually meat? Is it okay? You know if I'm an environmental vegetarian, and I don't eat it because of the impact on the environment or animal cruelty, would meat from a laboratory be acceptable? Or how do we think about this?
Sandra: So this is still playing out. We've seen a change in consumer preferences, where only about four years ago if you ask people whether they would eat this about 80 percent would say no. And as late as last year about a third of people would be willing to eat and try this. And we've seen the efforts by some of these start-ups to actually introduce these lab-grown products to high end restaurants first to achieve acceptance and to make that a little bit more prominent in the public sphere.
Kai: Yeah, so this brings us back to...
Sandra: Bacon. If you think about bacon, there are a lot of cultural associations that we have with bacon. There's this idea of comfort food, of a nice warm breakfast, of where bacon comes, from how we've shared bacon with your family. There are all these cultural associations that we have with our food. So it's not just about how you could produce it and how you market it, but also with a whole culture.
Kai: Yeah. So it's absolutely an identity issue. What we eat says a lot about who we are. But also, how we do and how we grow our food says a lot about who we are. And that's the point I want to make. These things can change, and we know from past episodes of disruptive innovations that those changes are deep rooted changes in identity and in worldview, and they are reasonably unpredictable. So it's very hard to foresee whether this is going to become a thing. But those changes are often very transformational, so we might say now this is really unnatural. We don't want to eat, this doesn't feel right. What does it say about us if we grow our meat in the laboratory? But let's put it that way. Our grandchildren might look back and ask of us who were really growing at scale animals and then murdering them to eat them? That sounds cruel and disgusting, right? So why wouldn't you just grow your food in a laboratory like civilised people? So the way in which we look at the world is very much dependent on what we're used, to what is normal to us and depends on a certain view of the world. And that might well be changing as we're going about solving problems of feeding a growing population.
Sandra: So I, for one, am really looking forward to trying to Perfect Day's yoghurt made from real milk without cows.
Kai: But no more bacon.
Audio sounds: <Music and audio sounds>
Sandra: Actually I have one last Christmas cracker joke.
Kai: Is it about bacon?
Kai: Go for it.
Sandra: Little Timmy has 10 pieces of bacon. Little Timmy eats 10 pieces of bacon. What does he have now?
Sandra: Little Timmy has happiness. That's all we have time for this year. Happy Holidays.
Kai: Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year.
Sandra: Thanks for listening.
Kai: Thanks for listening and see you next year for Season 5...
Sandra: Of The Future, This Week.
Kai: Every week.
Outro: This was The Future, This Week, made possible by the Sydney Business Insights Team and members of the Digital Disruption Research Group. And every week right here with us our sound editor Megan Wedge who makes us sound good and keeps us honest. Our theme music is composed and played live from a set of garden hoses by Linsey Pollak.
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