Saturday, September 24, 2016

Bio-engineering food

When the artificial meat burger was developed in 2013, that cost a whopping US$350,000 ($480,686) per burger, but that is already down to around US$15. The stem cell burgers still can't be produced on a mass scale, but perhaps commercially viable inside 10 years.

Perhaps even more ominous for the dairy industry is a company called Perfect Day, which has developed "cow free" milk. Unlike soy milk or almond milk, Perfect Day is manipulating yeast in the lab to create proteins that mimic those found in cows' milk. Perfect Day aims to be in the market next year.

Similar technologies are being developed to replace eggs - as a processed food ingredient, if not as a brunch option.

 Cellular agriculture.

Instead of having all those ingredients produced by animals, you had a big vat of microbes that have been reprogrammed to make a complex organic molecules. We do that now for medicine. We know that most of the insulin we use comes from reprogrammed yeast and e. coli molecules. We've been doing it for 10,000 years, reprogramming yeast to make beer and bread and penicillin so could we do that on a larger scale and produce all the things that are good for us.

If that isn't enough change, try also genetic engineering. Its potential to change the world is just getting started. Two different things may happen.  One is that we are seeing small genetic tweaks to basic foods. Things that can help crops to grow with less water, or in more saline soils. Then at the other end of the spectrum, there are people engineering more experimental foods.

It is hard to predict when such technologies will go mainstream. That's because it isn't necessarily science that will drive the change. Commercial adoption tends to be more about protective tariffs and politics. Everyone always makes that sound like they want to protect the health of their people but it's more about protecting their local industries.

China has really discovered chocolate and consumption is expected to double by 2022. There are not enough cocoa plants on earth to sustain that and we probably couldn't grow that many if we started now so that means doing some biotechnology on the supply problem.

Ultimately, it will become more expensive to produce food the old way, particularly as the focus goes on global warming and the cost of protecting the environment rises. Everyone wants to protect the environment and everyone wants to have good food cheap. A lot of people want to eat dairy products and that's going to be a driver as pressure goes on the environment.

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