Bill Gates, the philanthropist, COVID-19 pandemic expert and a man who has spent billions of dollars on the environment through his Bill & Melina Gates Foundation, wants Americans to go on a 100% “synthetic beef” diet. He says that this could help save the environment.
Gate’s logic has a foundation in scientific research. Rob Jackson, a professor of Earth system science in Stanford University’s School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences, told CNN, “Emissions from cattle and other ruminants are almost as large as those from the fossil fuel industry for methane. People joke about burping cows without realizing how big the source really is.” This methane could be just as harmful to the environment as the burning of fossil fuels.
Gates shared his views about a diet change with the MIT Technology Review: “So no, I don’t think the poorest 80 countries will be eating synthetic meat. I do think all rich countries should move to 100% synthetic beef. You can get used to the taste difference, and the claim is they’re going to make it taste even better over time.”
“Synthetic” beef could be one of two types of products. The first fits the official definition. It is grown in laboratories with the use of animal cells. In fact, it is known as “lab-grown” beef. The U.S. Cattlemen’s Association has filed a petition with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to reject this as a product that can be officially labeled as beef. Undoubtedly, this is because of its potential competition for beef raised on their ranches. However, so far, the price for the process has not dropped enough so that it is commercially viable.
While products from companies like Beyond Meat do not officially fall into the synthetic beef category, the way in which they are made also cuts carbon emissions. The Beyond Meat mission statement says in part, “By shifting from animal to plant-based meat, we can positively impact four growing global issues: human health, climate change, constraints on natural resources, and animal welfare.”
Beyond Meat clearly has made the case that the general public is beginning to accept their products and others like them. When it released its most recent quarterly results, revenue hit $94 million, which was up 3% year over year. Forbes pointed out that the field for these products is getting crowded. Among the competition for Beyond Meat products, it listed Sweet Earth Brand, Gardein, Happy Little Plants, Boca Foods, Impossible Foods, Sweet Earth Brand and Lightlife Foods. Several of these brands are owned by large public companies.
Will Gates get his wish? Not in the short term. Lab-grown beef remains in its early stages, at least in terms of its financial viability. While sales of companies like Beyond Meat continue to grow, they are dwarfed by the size of the traditional beef market.
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