A world without industrial farms: utopia or the future within reach?


Depletion of land resources, animal torture and the needs of a rapidly growing population - there seems to be no shortage of reasons for fundamental changes in animal husbandry. However, completely eliminating animal products that are popular with consumers and established in the market is quite a difficult task. Specialists from various fields unanimously say that the future of food belongs to innovation. What are they and will it be possible to create a world without harmful industrial farms?

More than two-thirds of all arable land areas are not intended for humans, but for animal pastures and fodder cultivation. By expanding at the expense of forests vital to the planet, they destroy wildlife habitat and carbon-absorbing trees. In addition, it is estimated that livestock production itself creates 13-18 % of all exhaust gases and consumes about a third of drinking water. Bearing in mind the climate crisis situation and the fact that by 2050 will need to feed almost 10 billion people, such excessive waste of resources does not paint a bright future. Not to mention the hundreds of billions of animals raised in cruel conditions and killed for food every year.

It is impossible to achieve a sustainable and stable food system using conventional methods of animal husbandry, so scientists have been looking for new, unexplored ways for some time. Technologies focused on the creation of alternative proteins offer the most hope: plant, cultured and fermented products.

Plant-based food is a climate- and health-friendly choice 

The abundance of plant-based milk, ice cream, burgers and other products on store shelves suggests that this is the most advanced and most successfully established alternative to animal products so far. Its essence is to restore the appearance and taste of animal products using plant ingredients, spices and technologies. For vegetable burgers, sausages, minced meat and others "meaty" pea and wheat proteins, as well as beans, lentils, soy, and mushrooms are usually used to make alternatives. Meanwhile, plant-based milk is unthinkable without oats, rice, coconut, soybeans and almonds.

People often fear that plant-based products are inferior in terms of nutrients, but this is a myth. Plants contain all the substances needed by the body: proteins, fats, carbohydrates, fibers, minerals and vitamins. If the diet is balanced and varied, the body should not lack them. In addition, plant-based food is especially valued because it is suitable for lactose-intolerant people, as well as for those who avoid cholesterol - such substances simply do not exist in plants. 

From an ecological perspective, the production of plant products is an extremely environmentally friendly process. The consumption of water and land areas, as well as pollution indicators, are at least two to three times lower compared to traditional animal husbandry. 

Currently, two American companies maintain the positions of global leaders in the market of plant-based meat alternatives:Beyond Meat" and "Impossible Foods". And among plant-based dairy products, especially popular "Oatly". This Swedish company not only offers a quality range of oat drinks, yogurts, ice creams and other products, but is also actively involved in the global popularization of plant-based nutrition and increasing its availability.

Animal-free products 

The data of various surveys reveal the tendency that people, even when they are aware of the harm of animal husbandry, do not decide to give up meat because of their favorite taste. A compromise could be the cultured meat technology that is gaining more and more attention (English cultivated meat). It is the truest animal meat, grown from the animal's stem cells without raising or slaughtering the animal itself. This process is based on the principles of tissue engineering: a sample of animal cells is placed in a growth-friendly medium, where it is fed with essential nutrients. During cell reproduction, the medium is changed from time to time, which leads to the differentiation of cells into different tissues: muscle, fat, connective. This is how it is played unique meat composition.

This technology is attractive in many ways. First of all, it is a good way to shorten the production chain of meat products, eliminating from it the unethical, polluting and animal exploitation that causes the suffering of billions of individuals every year. Collecting the stem cells required for cultivation from an animal can be done painlessly or using non-invasive methods - for example, shed feathers from chickens. Once the technology is applied to mass production, it would be an efficient and quick way to meet the demand for meat. Cultivation takes between 2 and 8 weeks (depending on what kind of meat is grown), which is considerably faster than raising an animal. In addition, meat grown in this way does not have parts that are inevitable in traditional animal husbandry and become waste: bones, organs, intestines, etc. Important ecological advantages are economical use of water and land areas.

Although meat cultivation has a lot of potential, it is still in the development stage. The first cultured hamburger saw the light of day back in 2013, but so far the only country where you can taste cultured meat is Singapore. Until cultivation overcomes such barriers as technological challenges, high energy costs, unfavorable prices of primary raw materials or adaptation of factories for mass production, then the revolution in the meat industry will have to wait.

Nevertheless, this sector attracts more and more funds - in 2021 was 1.38 billion was invested. US dollars, which represents an increase of 336% compared to 2020. Currently, the number of startups cultivating meat or seafood exceeds 100: "Mosa Meat", "Aleph Farms", Upside Foods - just a few of the better known examples. Changes are also taking place at the national level - China has included cultured meat in its own five-year agricultural plan, and the Netherlands allocated 60 million euro investment to create a national system of cellular agriculture.

Fermentation is a technology we have been using for thousands of years

Although fermentation only entered the alternative protein market in 2020, historically it is not a new method. Ancient civilizations used cultures of microorganisms for preservation, for the production of alcoholic beverages - beer, wine - as well as for the production of cheese or yogurt. During the last century, fermentation has become particularly established in pharmaceuticals, where it has been applied to the production of vaccine and drug ingredients.

The fermentation process is based on the cultivation of microorganisms (fungi, algae, etc.) in order to extract food products or their individual ingredients. Three types of fermentation are used in the development of alternative protein technologies: traditional, biomass and precision. Traditional fermentation, which has been used for thousands of years, helps improve the taste, functional and nutritional properties of plant products. In this way, plant-based yogurt, cheese, as well as tempeh, a fermented soybean product from Indonesia, which has become popular as a meat alternative in the vegan diet, are produced.

No less important is biomass fermentation (English biomass fermentation), designed to produce plant proteins in large quantities. During this process, rapidly multiplying and growing microorganisms not only release the necessary substances, but also become a source of protein themselves. The resulting proteins are often used to make plant-based meat alternatives. Here is an American company meaty uses biomass fermentation and uses mushrooms to produce analogues that are not inferior to meat in texture and taste: steaks and "chickens" scones

The third type of fermentation is precision fermentation (English precision fermentation). With the help of biotechnology, microorganisms are "are programmed" to produce specific ingredients: proteins, fats, flavorings, pigments and enzymes. These substances are then used as a component of plant products or cultured meat. For example, a company "The Every Company" uses precision fermentation to restore egg whites, while the startup "Form" this method extracts milk proteins and produces vegetable cheese from them.

Perhaps the most important advantage of fermentation is the efficient extraction of nutrients, especially proteins. Microorganisms grow and multiply within hours and help extract the same substances that the livestock industry extracts from months or years of raising animals in cruel conditions. 

Fermentation, cultivation and the production of plant products are united by the fact that these technologies are much better for the planet, people and animals. Compared to traditional animal husbandry, alternative products require significantly less land area, water and other resources. They also generate less environmental pollution and emit less greenhouse gases. And when viewed through the prism of health, it is food that does not contain antibiotics, hormones, lactose and other unwanted substances.

The article is based on The Good Food Institute submitted material and report data.

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