An independent Think Tank RethinkX wants to start a new conversation about the future of food. Its new report starkly predicts that the beef and dairy industries could collapse by 2030. With new food tech companies producing plant-based meats that almost taste the same as meat, and with milk consumption falling as plant milk takes ever-increasing market share as the vegan trend continues, the signs are ominous.
“Rethinking Food and Agriculture 2020-2030” makes sobering reading for anybody with vested interests in beef and dairy. We are according to RethinkX “on the cusp of the fastest, deepest, most consequential disruption in food and agricultural production since the first domestication of plants and animals ten thousand years ago”. This will be technologically driven leading to better quality foods produced at a cost of less than half the costs of today’s animal-derived products.
Precision Fermentation and Food-as-Software
The report claims that precision fermentation and a production model known as Food-as-Software will change everything. So “instead of growing a whole cow to break it down into products, food will be built up at the molecular level to precise specifications.”
The result will be more stable and resilient locally produced food. The food created in this radically new way will be more nutritious and therefore benefit human health and save billions in healthcare budgets.
The benefit will be a huge reduction in heart disease, obesity, diabetes and other diseases of civilisation could be remarkable.
The benefits on the environment will be similarly great as greenhouse gas emissions will be reduced and deforestation will become increasingly unnecessary. The think tank believes that greenhouse gas emissions in the US from cattle could drop by 60 per cent by 2030 and by nearly 80 per cent by 2035.
The industrial livestock production model has reached its limits and is, therefore, the most inefficient and economically vulnerable cog – particularly cow products. Modern alternatives will be up to “100 more times more land efficient, 10-25 times more feedstock efficient, and 10 times more water-efficient.”
The modern foods have started to disrupt the ground meat market. once cost parity has been reached, the report predicts that in the period 2021-23 adoption of the new foods will “accelerate exponentially”.
The Disruption Cycle
“We are still early in the disruption cycle,” says co-founder Jamie Arbib. Whilst acknowledging that the report is full of projections, he has full belief in the framework. “To unlock the full potential of this and every other technological disruption, we need to embrace an approach that better reflects the complex, dynamic, and rapidly-changing world we live in”.
In summary, the report says that by 2030 demand for cow products will have fallen by 70% and before that point the US cattle industry will effectively be “bankrupt”. By 2035 the demand will have fallen by 80% to 90%. Other livestock markets such as chicken, pig and fish will follow on the same trajectory.
A recent issue of outsideonline.com featured a compelling essay entitled: “Is this the end of the beef industry” and described cattle as “stranded assets”.
If this disruption is inevitable, then policymakers, investors and business will need to take heed quickly to embrace the benefits of modern food. If the west fails to grasp the opportunities, then other countries such as China surely will.