Bruce Friedrich: The next global agricultural revolution

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In 2019, humanity received a warning: 30 of the world's leading scientists released the results of a massive three-year study into global agriculture and declared that meat production is destroying our planet and jeopardizing global health.

One of the study's authors explained that "humanity now poses a threat to the stability of the planet . . .

nothing less than a new global agricultural revolution." As somebody who's spent the last two decades advocating a shift away from industrial meat production, I wanted to believe that this clarion call was going to make a difference.

The thing is, I've seen this sort of thing again and again and again for decades.

Here's 2018 from the journal "Nature,"2017 from "Bioscience Journal," 2016 from the National Academy of Sciences.

The main point of these studies tends to be climate change.

But antibiotic resistance represents just as big of a threat.

We are feeding massive doses of antibiotics to farm animals.

These antibiotics are then mutating into superbugs that threaten to render antibiotics obsolete within all of our lifetimes.

You want a scare?

Google: "the end of working antibiotics." I'm going to get one thing out of the way: I am not here to tell anybody what to eat.

Individual action is great, but antibiotic resistance and climate change -- they require more.

Besides, convincing the world to eat less meat hasn't worked.

For 50 years, environmentalists, global health experts and animal activists have been begging the public to eat less meat.

And yet, per capita meat consumption is as high as it's been in recorded history.

The average North American last year ate more than 200 pounds of meat.

And I didn't eat any.

(Laughter) Which means somebody out there ate 400 pounds of meat.

(Laughter) On our current trajectory, we're going to need to be producing 70 to 100 percent more meat by 2050.

This requires a global solution.

What we need to do is we need to produce the meat that people love, but we need to produce it in a whole new way.

I've got a couple of ideas.

Idea number one: let's grow meat from plants.

Instead of growing plants, feeding them to animals, and all of that inefficiency, let's grow those plants, let's biomimic meat with them, let's make plant-based meat.

Idea number two: for actual animal meat, let's grow it directly from cells.

Instead of growing live animals, let's grow the cells directly.

It takes six weeks to grow a chicken to slaughter weight.

Grow the cells directly, you can get that same growth in six days.

This is what that looks like at scale.

It's your friendly neighborhood meat brewery.

(Laughter) I want to make two points about this.

The first one is, we believe we can do it.

In recent years, some companies have been producing meat from plants that consumers cannot distinguish from actual animal meat, and there are now dozens of companies growing actual animal meat directly from cells.

This plant-based and cell-based meat gives consumers everything that they love about meat -- the taste, the texture and so on -- but with no need for antibiotics and with a fraction of the adverse impact on the climate.

And because these two technologies are so much more efficient, at production scale these products will be cheaper.

But one quick point about that -- it's not going to be easy.

These plant-based companies have spent small fortunes on their burgers, and cell-based meat has not yet been commercialized at all.

So we're going to need all hands on deck to make these the global meat industry.

For starters, we need the present meat industry.

We don't want to disrupt the meat industry, we want to transform it.

We need their economies of scale, their global supply chain, their marketing expertise and their massive consumer base.

We also need governments.

Governments spend tens of billions of dollars every single year on research and development focused on global health and the environment.

They should be putting some of that money into optimizing and perfecting the production of plant-based and cell-based meat.

Look, tens of thousands of people died from antibiotic-resistant superbugs in North America just last year.

By 2050, that number is going to be 10 million per year globally.

And climate change represents an existential threat to huge portions of our global family, including some of the poorest people on the face of the planet.

Climate change, antibiotic resistance -- these are global emergencies.

Meat production is exacerbating these emergencies on a global scale.

But we are not going to decrease meat consumption unless we give consumers alternatives that cost the same or less and that taste the same or better.

We have the solution.

Let's make meat from plants.

Let's grow it directly from cells.

It's past time that we mobilize the resources that are necessary to create the next global agricultural revolution.

Thank you.

(Applause)