On the first page of The End of Livestock author Jacy Reese makes it clear that the book is not about why animal husbandry is bad. There are many books describing the damage caused by factories, but his book is about how to solve animal husbandry by itself.
Technology will be a big part of the answer, says Reese, animal rights activist and research director at the Sentience Institute. Scientific advances have already brought us the plant-based Impossible Burger and the first laboratory-grown burger, but we still have a way to go before we can permanently switch to farmed meat.
The Verge spoke with Reese about technological advances, why companies like Tyson are investing in alternative meats and why we should not expect to switch to meat meat next year.
This interview has been slightly edited and condensed for clarity.
The endeavor to end animal husbandry has been going on for a very long time. What happens now, where you think the animal husbandry is stopped? Is it primarily about new technologies?
Technology will be the cornerstone, but much of the progress comes from social change and activism. For example, Prop 12 was just passed in California, which sets the minimum space requirement for livestock. This type of legislation plays an important role in looking after livestock and livestock farming.
However, if a historian views the biggest cornerstones of change in the movement, I think it could The emergence of the first highly advanced plant foods, such as burgers made from plants, or perhaps, in some time, we have bred meat that is real meat with animal cells and no animal slaughter. This will help people to be guided by their values, to put them into practice and to implement behaviors.
What's new and possible with vegetable foods when we started making replacement products like Tofurky?
One factor is that it's now easier to find a variety of herbal ingredients that allow you to reach exactly the culinary offer attribute you are looking for. The Just company, formerly known as Hampton Creek, has a new product very similar to scrambled eggs, and it is so convincing that it found a mung bean that is the texture of scrambled eggs for breakfast. People working in the field of data science are doing some basic things in this area. And it is now possible to have a plant library and really catalog these thousands of plant species and find out which work in different contexts.
The second component is to create something by healing, cooling and pressure that matches the muscle fibers. The main piece of technology is an extruder – a big, long tube into which you add vegetable protein and water, and you really pull out these vegetable ingredients and pull something out of it that has the biting and sinewy character of the meat. They combine that with the plants, and you can get taste, texture, mouthfeel.
Now let's talk about cultivated meat. You write in the book that we need key technologies to evolve before it spreads. Can you explain that?
The first component is the cell. When you create a problem, you need a building block of individual cells, and you get them from a sample of living cells in an animal. You can get that with Q-tip saliva. Then you want to take those cells and train the cells to become the type of cell you want, which in this case would be muscle and fat cells for meat.
The second step is the framework. You have to create something that gives the meat cells a structure and can create something like a T-bone steak. This is part of the technology that will not come to fruition for a long time, because it's not about creating a T-bone steak, it's about simpler products like ground beef that does not need so much structure.
You need something to feed these cells. At the simplest level, this is the energy – sugar that makes sense from sugar beets or sugarcane or whatever for the local environment. You need nutrients and then you need a growth factor, and that's the hard part. Growth factor are unique compounds that are not commercially available in the food system.
There are several approaches to dealing with this. You could possibly source them from herbal ingredients. You could make them by recombinant methods, just as we use yeast to make heme or synthetic insulin for diabetics.
The last are bioreactors or the big tanks where the process takes place. These might look like beer breweries, and in fact a brewery or a kind of fermentation factory is on a large scale similar to what cultured meat would look like. There is a lot of mechanical engineering here: recycling nutrients from every bath to increase efficiency and sustainability. Because you can grow muscle and fat separately from farmed meat, you could have fish oil rich in omega-3 fatty acids that is healthier and combine it with chicken or beef. I'm sure the scientists will do all sorts of strange things, although in the near future it's all about getting cultured meat the way people eat it.
What holds us back from a strict technological point of view?
There is a lot of IP and data protection when it comes to the main roadblocks. Basically, however, the problem is that tissue engineering is currently taking place in medicine or in scientific research and not in large-scale food production. If you want to grow a human organ, do it on a small scale. You're ready to spend a lot of money, and you have to be very specific. But meat is a completely different process. They want things to be at the level of food science, but they have the technological sophistication of biomedical operations.
Even with plant-based meat, the big problem is that people do this in small labs, but scaling is a completely different problem.
What is the political view? Do meat and dairy companies not fight the development of cultivated meat? There are already fights about what one should call it .
Well, there is a meat industry and then animal husbandry. Companies we identify as meat processors, such as Tyson Foods, brand, distribute and market. They are not married to the idea of using animals for it.
Increasingly, these companies identify as protein companies, so you do not really have to fight, reinvent, or replace the existing protein industry. There are actually investments from large meat companies such as Tyson and Cargo. I think vegans or food activists have thought we need to build a whole new protein industry, but more and more of these companies are getting excited.
But I think we have to change the animal economy. I think we'll get rid of that someday, and that means you'll hit heads and fight.
One I wanted to ask is food allergy. To really stop animal husbandry, substituting people with dietary restrictions must be friendly. Is that something the industry has been thinking about?
Yes. When we build these new plant-based or cultured meats, we need variety. There are different culinary preferences and limitations and immune disorders. We do not just need an Impossible Burger. We have to pursue different approaches.
Impossible Burger has an ingredient that comes from recombinant organisms and is artificial, which could put some people off. It's good that we have the Impossible Burger, and Beyond Meat takes a different approach without this ingredient to people who may be averse. We need many choices for people who have limitations.
There is also a problem with food labeling. In the recent debate about whether meat grown in the laboratory should be termed "meat", one concern is that people with food allergies, if they call it "laboratory-grown protein," will not recognize it at the molecular level, the same product and it will eat and be hurt.
They are obviously passionate about cultured meat, but as with any new technology, there is a lot of hype. Where is the hype in this industry?
timeline. Anyone who thinks we will introduce mass market within a decade or even two decades is probably too optimistic. It's easy to get a product at a weekend in a store that sells at a loss, but that's not the same time.