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Lab-grown meat may never be cost-competitive enough to displace traditional meat (thecounter.org)
533 points by coldturkey 34 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 971 comments



As a big fan of the idea of manufacturing meat in an environmentally sustainable way (and without having to resort to raising and killing animals), reading this article felt as if someone was throwning a bucket's worth of ice-cold water on my face.

According to the article, the barriers to cost-efficient manufacturing of lab-grown meat at large scale are fundamental, e.g., impossible to overcome according to the Laws of Thermodynamics and our current understanding of cell biology and chemistry.

Quoting from the OP:

> David Humbird, the UC Berkeley-trained chemical engineer who spent over two years researching the report, found that the cell-culture process will be plagued by extreme, intractable technical challenges at food scale. In an extensive series of interviews with The Counter, he said it was “hard to find an angle that wasn’t a ludicrous dead end.”

> Humbird likened the process of researching the report to encountering an impenetrable “Wall of No”—his term for the barriers in thermodynamics, cell metabolism, bioreactor design, ingredient costs, facility construction, and other factors that will need to be overcome before cultivated protein can be produced cheaply enough to displace traditional meat.

Is there anyone on HN with deep expertise in this area who can comment on this article's scientific accuracy?


I have no experience in the area, but just to point out that you could equally apply some of those arguments to meat production.

The current meat industry is only cost effective because we've spent the last few millennia optimising the everloving hell out of it - and its scale is just as unfathomable. A significant proportion of the Earth's land surface is currently dedicated to either growing animals or growing animal feed.

So of course, for an alternative to displace it, it would also have to work at unfathomable scales too.

And bearing in mind, the technology to grow meat is essentially an exercise in recreating eons of evolution in a factory. It's an enormous challenge, but that alone doesn't mean it's impossible. Current meat production is also incredibly inefficient from a thermodynamic perspective.

I have no idea whether lab meat will ever come to pass. I suspect it will eventually, but probably take longer than expected.


>> Humbird likened the process of researching the report to encountering an impenetrable “Wall of No”—his term for the barriers in thermodynamics, cell metabolism, bioreactor design, ingredient costs, facility construction, and other factors that will need to be overcome before cultivated protein can be produced cheaply enough to displace traditional meat.

> I have no experience in the area, but just to point out that you could equally apply some of those arguments to meat production.

> The current meat industry is only cost effective because we've spent the last few millennia optimising the everloving hell out of it

Eh. I'd probably say the meat industry is cost effective because they have a superior bioreactor design: rugged, self-contained, low maintenance, and cheaply replicated. Lab grown meat probably can't compete until they re-invent "animals" in the lab.


The meat industry is also cost effective due to massive government subsidies, at least in the US. Would these subsidies be available to lab grown meat operations?


The New Zealand meat and dairy industries do not receive subsidies after radical market deregulation during the Labour government of '84.

We have a highly efficient and profitable sector, mainly for the reason that we compete in fairly extreme conditions against subsidised international players.

Note that this process incurred significant pain for many individuals while the industry reoriented and consolidated, and I am not inviting any argument around environmental impacts (which I would contend are bad, but also clearly less bad than other countries).

So yes, "natural" meat can be competitive and efficient without government subsidies.


All that is true, but - we also don’t force farmers to internalize the externalities created by their industry.

Southland farmers themselves are saying that if they had to comply with proposed water and soil quality regulations that they wouldn’t be able to exist due to the increased costs involved.

The backlash even from the introduction of a heavy vehicles tax are representative of how much these farmers think they rely on the unpriced benefits they are getting.


> if they had to comply with proposed water and soil quality regulations that they wouldn’t be able to exist due to the increased costs involved

People always say things like this until they are forced to, and somehow find a way.

(Particularly if imports were charged similar tariffs)


> People always say things like this until they are forced to, and somehow find a way.

That is one of two possible outcomes. The other is that the sector just dies off and relocates to another place on earth, where externalities don't have to be considered, maybe for strategic reason. This has happened many times.


This is why the EU is looking into carbon-based tariffs.

If you want to enact global change, you can't just change yourself, though it's always a good place to start.

And probably a major beneficiary of similar laws currently is meat production and animal welfare laws used to exclude imports.


> All that is true, but - we also don’t force farmers to internalize the externalities created by their industry.

The net externality is probably positive, and if you want to start evening the slate using externalities then farmers would deserve a subsidy (which is bad policy).

Food is about as high on a supply chain as it is possible to get, and the entire downstream supply chain would count as an externality of the farmer's activity. If farmers didn't produce food we'd all starve to death, but that is absolutely not priced in to how much they get paid.


As I said, I really don’t want to get drawn into the environmental debate, but there is one persistent myth that does need to be corrected: the idea that emissions from “heavy” vehicles are not priced. They are. They’re in the ETS. Reductions in heavy vehicle use due to tax will not reduce carbon emissions at all, as it will be emitted elsewhere in the economy. The only way to reduce the emissions of an activity covered by the ETS is to lower the cap, which can be done without a vehicle tax of any kind.


It’s time to subsidise NZ farmers to at least encourage sustainable land use.


Farming is thankless, backbreaking, poorly-paid work that often is only viable because of subsidies the government provides, because the government recognizes that without farmers we'll all starve. And you're concerned that they're not paying their fair share. Fine. Good luck with that.


> they're not paying their fair share

That's not how it works. There is no fair share. He is saying that farmers are not actually paying the costs they make society incur. Therefore these costs are not priced into the meat they produce which would not be that competitive if that was the case. It's a form of subsidy.


The cost of food as a share of income has fallen dramatically over the last fifty years or so. It's not unfathomable that it rises a bit again in exchange for properly pricing in externalities.


Demand for food is pretty inelastic.

If the external costs were included, consumer would simply be forced to pay for their consumption.

This would give a fair advantage for food that has less external costs.

External costs are also hard to estimate, especially if they is burdened on another species. How much is the suffering of a chicken worth?


and yet if you actually did that, people on the other side of the political spectrum would complain that it's unfair for poor people because they now have a higher food cost burden. Shouldn't the rich subsidize for the poor for these essentials?

So then you get back to the original condition - subsidizing food once again. In fact, this is the reason why they are subsidized in the first place!


No, if you implement a efficient system to transfer wealth, you don't subsidize meat as meat and plant based food are treated equally.

If a less lucky person (or what you call poor) receives money, they are still incentivized to spend the money efficiently. With the money they have available now, they can buy less meat but more plant based food than before.


We could for example lower taxes for those that earn least while increasing water and soil quality regulations (with matching tariffs for imports). This would increase food costs, which would hopefully match the money that people gained through lower taxes.

Meat would then become slightly more expensive than plant, but also have a major benefit for products that don't use a lot of water or harms the soil. Aquaculture would get a big boost, as would alternative method of meat production. The use of farm animals as an ecological alternative to using machinery to keep land clear of unwanted vegetation has become a niche method, and increased water and soil regulations would indirect benefit such farming alternatives.


> we'll all starve

Please, every time someone proposes farmers lead a less cushioned life we get these huge bitter fights from somewhere. They don't also have to exist here. If you have a vested interest and want your subsidies to continue, that's cool! But there's no need to peddle your salty response to it when literally everyone everywhere has already heard them said many, many times.


>less cushioned life

Jesus Christ... Come spend a week on my farm and see how cushy it is.


I grew up in the countryside. I'm sure your farm is very difficult to live on, but I'm not so sure it's a general thing.

Edit: Besides that, a subsidy is a cushion. That's what I was talking about. That doesn't merit this response.


We'd probably have to define what "not receive subsidies" means.

I'm pretty sure they don't pay for the damages caused by the methane and N2O emissions caused by the meat production. "We don't have to care about our externalities" is ultimately a form of subsidy.


And the results shine! New Zealand has the world's highest feed efficiency in poultry.

https://www.feedstrategy.com/poultry/new-zealands-tegel-poul...


A bit of googling says that New Zealand cows eat a lot of grain in both the beef and dairy industries. Grain is subsidized in many countries.


> The meat industry is also cost effective due to massive government subsidies, at least in the US. Would these subsidies be available to lab grown meat operations?

Why would those subsidies matter when you're comparing a cow to a bioreactor? You can stick the cow in a dirty field and have hundreds of pounds of meat a few years later, as dirt-poor herdsmen with practically no captial have been doing for thousands of years. Its equivalent competitor would be a fussy bioreactor in a clean room that would require millions in capital, as well as high-end expertise and labor. Apparently the "food" is also ridiculously expensive.


Meat was a thing before government subsidies were a thing. Or before governments were a thing. Before most things were a thing, really.


What has exchanged is 1) the massive scale of the human population and 2) wider access to animal protein. Without the subsidies, I expect prices would rise for consumers (most farmers are not making vast profits despite subsidies) and that is not a vote winner.


> What has exchanged is 1) the massive scale of the human population and 2) wider access to animal protein. Without the subsidies, I expect prices would rise for consumers (most farmers are not making vast profits) and that is not a vote winner.

But the context here is lab grown meat. If you removed all subsidies from traditional meat production, I really doubt meat would become more than ten times more expensive. From the OP:

> This approach is one factor that helps to cut down the volume of media needed, leading to what sound like impressive results: $18 to produce a pound of cultured chicken, according to a press representative.

> That’s the lowest real-world figure I heard in the course of reporting this story. It could also easily translate into a price of more than $30 dollars per pound at retail—and may never go any lower.

It's worth noting that those numbers are estimates and the facility that is supposed to produce them hasn't been built to validate them.

Compare:

https://www.target.com/p/boneless-38-skinless-chicken-breast...

> Boneless & Skinless Chicken Breasts

> $1.99/lb

https://www.target.com/p/chicken-drumsticks-value-pack-4-28-...

> Chicken Drumsticks

> $1.29/lb


The country with the most expensive meat I know is Switzerland. The local chains Migros and Coop mostly sell meat produced in Switzerland. Here's the chicken you can usually find on the shelves in Migros:

https://produkte.migros.ch/optigal-poulet-241001011000

> Whole chicken - $10/kg

https://produkte.migros.ch/optigal-poulet-schenkel-241110100...

> Chicken drumsticks - $15/kg

https://produkte.migros.ch/poulet-brustschnitzel

> Chicken breasts - $30/kg

https://produkte.migros.ch/bio-pouletbrust

> Chicken breasts (I suspect this is free range) - $58/kg


Are the Swiss vegetarians, or do they just have a high median income? Coming from the US, those prices are unthinkable.


They have a high income and are really good at ignoring the poor who do the dirty, low paid jobs and at best eat mortadella/baloney, cheese and eggs (doing their part for the planet, unlike everyone else lmao). Just like other western EU countries, tbh.


Switzerland does have poor people. ~10% of the population below the poverty line which is defined around 2.2k CHF/month per person. This definitely doesn't allow for a lot of high quality meat consumption.


Ah yes, but how much would lab-grown meat produced in Switzerland cost?


Given that Switzerland has a world class chemical engineering and pharmaceutical industry and production facilities already, hypothetical lab-grown meat from Switzerland will probably among the cheaper high quality lab-grown meat in the world.


My understanding of Swiss manufacturing industry is high-end, complicated things. I agree it's likely that Swiss lab-made meat would be the cheapest in the world, but only by virtue of being the only place where it's feasible to make it.


Sure, a few times per week, at a cost of spending quite some hours hunting, for a much smaller population.


My grandmother had to raise the meat she ate herself. That meant that meat was fairly rare, usually only on Sundays you'd get an actual piece of meat on your plate. Today we eat way more meat than in the past because it's so cheap thanks to subsidies.


Refrigeration is to blame as much as anything.

Raising a cow is only a part of the problem, and it isn't that much harder to raise 10 cows than 1 cow, if you have the acreage. O(log) at the worst.

Butchering and preserving the meat was the O(n) operation, and usually required O(n) resources to salt or smoke, which could be expensive resources depending on your time and place in history.

Refrigeration changed the game, to where we could preserve the meat as fast as we could butcher it. Now instead of spending days or weeks salting, canning, smoking or curing your meat, you can fill a freezer in an afternoon.


Not just subsidies though, also technology and organization.


Industrial farming is a real problem, for the environment, for the animals, for the climate and for us consumers.


The scale is vastly different, is it not?


yeah, before capitalism was a thing, before the current human population of the earth was a thing, really.


Not that I claim to know how to factor the cost in, but meat production has negative externalities that the industry doesn't pay for. Not to mention things like water rights etc. If the farmers actually paid those costs, my guess is the price gap would close a bit.


No it is not. Please provide evidence for this claim.


https://medium.com/@laletur/should-governments-subsidy-the-m...

> According to recent data from Metonomics, the American government spends $38 billion each year to subsidize the meat and dairy industries, but only 0.04 percent of that (i.e., $17 million) each year to subsidize fruits and vegetables.


A google search for Metonomics returns only results with this exact same quote. What is the source for this, what is meant by subsidizing an industry versus “fruits and vegetables” (ie, Is subsidized grain part of the meat industry? Why would we compare an industry to two specific categories of food?), and what does recent mean?


> the American government spends $38 billion each year to subsidize the meat and dairy industries

What does that work out to per pound of meat output?


US meat production is about 100 billion pounds / year, half meat and half poultry. So removing subsidies alone would raise costs by about $0.38/lb, but it may be as much as twice that if subsidies fall primarily on one subsector.

The externalities -- both environmental and the poor labor conditions tolerated in the meat processing industry -- are probably a bigger "subsidy" than the budgetary ones.


> Lab grown meat probably can't compete until they re-invent "animals" in the lab.

Yes, but this also means it's going to be huge improvement over "regular" meat - they don't have to reinvent whole animals, just the parts that matter.

I find it weird to postulate deal-breaking fundamental limits for a process that's a strict subset of a process we've been using and improving for thousands of years.


> I find it weird to postulate deal-breaking fundamental limits for a process that's a strict subset of a process we've been using and improving for thousands of years.

The process that they're talking about isn't anything like the one we've been using for thousands of years. "Lab grown meat" is about growing cells in vats. Very different. It almost feels like trying to make a car cheaper by not having tires and a windshield (and no substitute). Sure you might be able to get something that limps along, but the things you're dropping solve important problems. Trying to grow massive amounts of animal cells with no immune system seems just as foolish.


> It almost feels like trying to make a car cheaper by not having tires and a windshield (and no substitute).

The way I see it, it's like people were buying cars only to hook stuff up to the alternator to power it, and someone figured maybe we should just build a combustion engine in a box, optimized for electricity generation, so we don't have to deal with the rest of the car.


> The way I see it, it's like people were buying cars only to hook stuff up to the alternator to power it, and someone figured maybe we should just build a combustion engine in a box, optimized for electricity generation, so we don't have to deal with the rest of the car.

I don't think that's a good analogy, because it presumes the removed parts were unnecessary for the core function. Trying to find a perfect analogy is a waste of time, but I think yours would be closer to the truth if during their "optimization" they also removed the oil and air filters. After all, who needs those? We're running the engine to covert fuel to power, not filter air or lubricants (but without doing that the engine will get damaged).

With a lot of systems, you can't just remove any component you wish and still have something that functions well. The lab grown meat people appear to have "removed" far too much (i.e. petty much everything).


> Yes, but this also means it's going to be huge improvement over "regular" meat - they don't have to reinvent whole animals, just the parts that matter.

Meanwhile breeding will be working toward the same end from the other direction: minimizing unnecessary animal components. We have chickens that are impaired by the weight of their own overgrown breasts, and very possibly there are already other organs that are withering away under breeding pressure.

Both directions of advancement are disturbing. I think the breeding program, if it reaches this optimal efficiency conclusion, is probably more disturbing. But also much easier.


Maybe that’s the solution. Is there some level of “living” things that has all the same qualities of a cow, but that we would feel comfortable raising and slaughtering in inhumane conditions? If not, what makes eating cultivated tissue better?


Yeah, I know the thought of semi brainless cows all hooked up to some machine, Matrix-style, may seem like a horror show to many, but from my perspective, it's the ethical thing to do. The primary reason I try to cut down on eating meat is from an animal rights perspective - I just can't grok the cognitive dissonance it takes to ooh and ahh over the cute, "human-like" reactions of, say, a cow getting a backscratch on r/aww, while simultaneously munching down on a burger.

If I could eat meat from a creature that I knew felt no pain and basically had no higher emotions at all, I wouldn't have an ethical dilemma over it.


I think we are not discussing ethics in depth enough in our soviety. What specifically is it that is unethical about the meat industry? Is it the way the cows are slaughtered? Is it that we take their life? Is it how they live their life? Can any of these arguments be made void from an ethical standpoint, if they are addressed somehow?

Since this discussion lead into brainless cows, why does that solve the ethics problem? Could it not be argued that it would be even more unethical to breed severly handicapped cows, without ability to experience the world?


Yes pretty much all of the above. Forcing a sentient being to live an existence that it didn't evolve for is extremely cruel. Even animals such as cows and chickens have social and emotional needs that were built into them in millions of years of evolution. A couple thousand years of domestication don't turn them into automata that can be treated as a product whose purpose it is to make our food taste a little better, but which we can easily find substitutes for.


> Forcing a sentient being to live an existence that it didn't evolve for is extremely cruel.

This seems like it would strongly apply to modern day humans living in an extremely complex, sedentary, large scale and atomized world. Much more so than cows even!


It does apply to modern day humans in some aspects and is a reason for a lot of misery and suffering in our world. Obviously I'm not saying that we have a lower quality of life than our hunter and gather ancestors, but a lot of the things that go against our evolutionary environment are the direct causes for much of our suffering. But going back to the actual argument, the the degree to which our lives differ from that we evolved in is obviously much smaller than for livestock.


Does that mean that domestication of animals always is wrong?


Inspired by Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - breeding animals that want to be eaten is more ethical than killing animals that don't want to be eaten.

https://hitchhikers.fandom.com/wiki/Ameglian_Major_Cow


> Is it the way the cows are slaughtered? Is it that we take their life? Is it how they live their life?

Do cows have emotions and awareness of the world they live in?


It's hard enough to confirm whether other people have emotions and awareness of the world they live in, let alone cows...


> I just can't grok the cognitive dissonance it takes to ooh and ahh over the cute, "human-like" reactions of, say, a cow getting a backscratch on r/aww, while simultaneously munching down on a burger.

The person who eats a burger and then sends death threats to someone for killing a cat makes a good example of https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychological_projection

More on https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychology_of_eating_meat


Would you have a problem eating meat from a dna manipulated cow that essentially was born brain dead? (Mother isn't but the baby's dna is modified during pregnancy).

If yes because it was modified during pregnancy.

What about impregnation said cow with dna modified sperm.


Cows are mammals and we now do know that we, as mammals, share a common trait which is we love our children so much because it’s an evolutionary advantage for the survival of our species.

So in your scenario, either cows will suffer from giving birth to brain dead children, or at least, not different from today, because we take their children to get their milk.

Brain dead mothers would be ethically ok to me but … that’s really a really strange thought and I feel that there would be unknown issues like how could you know that your cow is sick like a full bag of bacterias if the cow is not showing suffer ?

What an a odd topic.


I just want to point out that modern cows produce milk long after the calf stops needing it.


The ethical problem I have with that scenario is that you'd basically have mother cows lined up, factory style, to give birth. Google "pig gestation crate" to get a sense for what that horror show is like.


Why stop there? Couldn't the mother be brain dead as well?

It's a dystopian idea - breeding zombie cows that aren't alive on a cognitive level - but you can draw parallels to abortions and pulling the plug on brain dead human patients. As a society we somewhat agree rationally that the lack of subjective experience or cognition renders most ethical concerns moot.

From an emotional/intuitive stand point it still grinds a few gears though. Would we be fine with growing brain dead humans for consumption?


Are you sure there is such distinction? (cognitive level ethics vs emotion)

As I see it, if there are no emotions/emphaty then field of ethics has no use.


There is a significant dissonance there for sure. For example, most people would say that some wars are justified ethically, yet they might change their mind completely if a family member is killed in one. Emotional impact can be a significant part of what you deem ethical. Yet you can't structure broad ethical "rule sets" based on subjective trauma or experience.

The relationship between rationality and emotions when it comes to ethics is really complex, and since it's in the realm of philosophy I don't think there are any clear cut answers.


> semi brainless cows ... it's the ethical thing to do

A second way to make it ethical in terms of animal suffering is to effectively start eating road kill. That is, you raise a farm of cows, treat them well, and eat them when they die naturally.

A third way is to raise a farm of cows, anaesthetise them via their food when they're old enough, and kill them in their sleep. It's more debatable than the above but I believe it's ethical as long as it's done right (which it won't be, in practice).

This all of course ignores GHG emissions and loss of biodiversity due to the need to produce large amounts of feed and large uses of land. But speaking strictly from the cow's perspective, I think it is ethical.


> when they die naturally.

For many (most?) animals, predation or starvation is the "natural" way to die before actual old age would be an issue. Many suffer horribly towards actual old age death.

I think this is a children's tale disney style myth we've grown up with.

I would argue that slaughter is more "humane" if done right.

But significantly better to not breed animals for food to begin with, if there is an alternative. Even if the alternative costs significantly more.


The meat would probably be disgusting.


Dying naturally (for basically anything we commonly consume as meat) if humans had never evolved, would be being eaten by a predator.

We're just much much better at predation than anything else.


Insects. The meat would then be reprocessed into something different.


That's the first thing I thought of as well. Other invertebrates would presumably work too. There's already no taboo against eating crustaceans, and mollusks are generally acceptable as well. Though you probably have to restrict molluskivorism (that's my word of the day) to gastropods and other less complex organisms to avoid the ethical and cost problems that would come with cuttlefish, squid, and octopus farming.


Insect cells don't have the compounds that makes meat taste like meat.


On the other hand, meat doesn't really have much of a taste. It's more about the texture. If you forget to add spices to your meat, it tastes like nothing.


That's completely false. Even the most bland piece of meat has some taste.

I understand you don't eat chicken breast without spices or some sauce but most pieces of meat are pretty good as they are, especially if it has some fat.

Maybe if you grew up somewhere where spices are used a lot you can't enjoy food without them, but that doesn't make your comment true.


That's a truly bizarre assertion.

When I eat a good steak, I don't want spices on it, because I enjoy the taste of the meat.

Different meats have a wide range of flavour.


English is not my first language, with taste I meant to include flavor, texture, mouthfeel etc.


Meat tastes a lot, if you can't taste it then you have destroyed your taste buds with spices or something.


Imagine an industrial life support system, I would venture our medical tech is either there or almost there for it. The hard part where I'd envision the greatest challenge is an artificial immune system that works in the tanks but absolutely won't harm people after the vat grown products are taken out of the loop.

As a bonus this same type of technology could work for growing organs and any other biological part.


Isn't the typical solution for this is to isolate the vats? Eg just like chip fabs are kept clean.


Yes and the article discusses this extensively. The problem is that it's very hard to achieve the necessary level of cleanliness. The article mentions needing to take apart, clean and re-assemble entire plants because some bacteria were hiding in small pits inside imperfect welds!


Similar to how hard it is to clean MRSA or prions. Hot high pressure CO2 does it. (It's cheap, readily available everywhere. It's a process problem. It's hard to do it in hospitals in a safe and automated way because humans, but in a factory the pesky humans are not a problem.)


In Dune, they’re called Axlotl Tanks.

One benefit I see is lab-grown meat won’t come with misfolded proteins.

After we solve most bacteria and viruses, this’ll be the next thing you solve, and lab-grown meat probably solves it out of the box.


Not sure the Dune simile is a good one, here... in the prequals they're shown to be humans hooked up to nutrient feed lines. Or that was the point and I missed it...


Not just in the prequels. Not just any humans. Humans with a womb.


Insect protein is pretty good. I don't get why people are OK with the messy, cruel slaughter of pigs and cows who have family lives and friends, but eating insects, ugh?


Yes, it's called a cow.


The key is "inhumane". There are many people ok with farming and slaughter, but not in the conditions necessary to accomplish it at the current scale, convenience, and price the world consumes.


I would be really surprised if none of those people had ethical problems with a Matrix-style farm of brain-dead cows too. It's like asking what they prefer between raising brain-dead children in vats vs raising like in the movie The Island. I'm not sure one dystopia is better than the other.


Ruggedness and low maintenance is kind of debatable. A lot of that is just anti-biotic overuse. Which is a big issue.


> Ruggedness and low maintenance is kind of debatable. A lot of that is just anti-biotic overuse. Which is a big issue.

Not compared to a bioreactor. From the OP:

> The simple reason: In cell culture, sterility is paramount. Animal cells “grow so slowly that if we get any bacteria in a culture—well, then we’ve just got a bacteria culture,” Humbird said. “Bacteria grow every 20 minutes, and the animal cells are stuck at 24 hours. You’re going to crush the culture in hours with a contamination event.”

> Viruses also present a unique problem. Because cultured animal cells are alive, they can get infected just the way living animals can.

> “There are documented cases of, basically, operators getting the culture sick,” Humbird said. “Not even because the operator themselves had a cold. But there was a virus particle on a glove. Or not cleaned out of a line. The culture has no immune system. If there’s virus particles in there that can infect the cells, they will. And generally, the cells just die, and then there’s no product anymore. You just dump it.”

It's like comparing steel plate to a piece of tissue paper. Sure, an armor-piercing bullet can defeat the plate, but pretty much everything can defeat the tissue paper.


Like semiconductor fabs, keep it clean and automated.


Ahh yes, semiconductor fabs, well-known for their low startup and operation costs...


The amortized cost is not that expensive. What's big is the price tag on a new fab with all the new tech gadgets from all the vendors (for example when you buy one big EUV machine from ASML and it takes 40 rounds with their special 747 to deliver it).


> Like semiconductor fabs, keep it clean and automated.

Lets hope not. That's one of the reason why they are so expensive


Semiconductor factories are expensive, sure. Semiconductors are cheap and famously have been getting exponentially cheaper for decades.


I've consumed probably less than a pound of semiconductors in my entire life. I consume almost a pound of protein a day.


silicon (the interesting part) inside plastic that you see is quite small and thin. You would need hundreds/thousands of them to approach the size/weight ratio to single steak.

And silicone that needs that high level of cleanliness is not cheap. Most chips are fabricated on larger/older processes that do not require that high level of cleanliness


The sliced wafer is small, but due to the precision and process requirements everything else is big. Chip fabs have a complete chemical plant in them because they need high purity solvents and deposition feedstock.

That older level of cleanliness is still above a typical pharma factory level cleanliness. (Where there's no laminar air flow and no need for bunny suits, but everything is sterile and consumables like containers, pipes, feedstock is unpacked right before. And there are a number of verification (QA) steps before the finished lot leaves the factory. Just like with chips, just in the pharma/chemical case it can be done in bulk if it's in a homogeneous liquid phase.)


As I have read, that’s primarily a difference between pasture and feedlot breeds; pasture breeds mostly do fine without antibiotics whereas feedlot breeds require constant attention.


Also worth noting that antibiotics in meat production is not only about health. For unclear reasons (or at least, it was unclear years ago when I learned about this) giving cows antibiotics just makes them grow much better and fatter. Presumably, there are bacteria that inhibit growth without making the cows visibly sick. Result: antibiotics get deployed to all cows as a general growth enhancer, rather than focusing on actual sickness.


>So of course, for an alternative to displace it, it would also have to work at unfathomable scales too.

The alternative is already there, vegetarianism. It's not unhealthy either, much more thermodynamically and land mass efficient, even cruelty free if you believe in that.

It's just that the almost only meat diet has taken over the planet.

We just need to make meat cost prohibitive enough to force the majority of people to eat the majority of their meals vegetarian.


The other major alternative is diet from aquaculture, which has better fresh water and land use than vegetarianism.

What we need to do is make the externalities created by farming part of the food price, including the pollution they create. The artificial fertilizers, the fossil fuels, the energy costs, water pollution, eutrophication, the destruction of biodiversity and land usage. All of it need to be part of the price so that it incentivize a change in the dietary culture towards more sustainable production.

Getting people to change their culture is the hard part. Convincing people to eat less meat is like convincing a vegetarian to eat more molluscs. Almost impossible.


> The other major alternative is diet from aquaculture

If push ever actually comes to shove, bugs are way more efficient than fish. The fact you can’t buy a soldier-fly larva burger even if you want to, makes me think we’re far from peak meat.


I am not totally convinced with insect farms. Creating food in the ocean has a unique aspect of not using land, which would allow for more of those carbon binding trees. With 71% of earth being covered in water there is a lot of unused space.

Promising technology from aquaculture are algefarming which can be used for carbon capture or ecological alternative for animal feed, seaweed farming which can either be used directly in human diet or as animal feed, molluscs, shellfish and fish farms. Some shellfish are already heavily involved in water treatment and water quality control.

Insect farms in comparison seems more limit in use, and harder in terms of cultural change. There has already existed plenty of cultures that have depended on the ocean for their diet, similar to cultures in the past which primarily depends on vegetarian diet. All that might be required for a cultural shift is a nudge in the right direction with economical incentives.


Bugs are currently used to create feed for animals. It's small scale but worth bearing in mind if a gradual phase out is desired.


I don’t think aquaculture refers to fishing, but rather to growing plants without soil.


Aquaculture doesn't refer to fishing, but it does refer to farming aquatic life, usually fish. You're probably thinking of hydroponics.


Yes, you’re right. My mistake!


> We just need to

The word "just" in this sense is a signal that you might easily be underestimating the difficulty or cost of something.

> We just need to make meat cost prohibitive enough to force the majority of people to eat the majority of their meals vegetarian.

If you were talking about persuasion, this would be fine.

When you start talking about forcing people to change their habits, it is time to take a step back and get curious about those other people's perspectives. In this case, you're talking about the daily or weekly dietary habits of more than 2 billion people.

Before moving forward, you should have a clear answer to the question of how many megadeaths you are willing to cause through war and famine.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Napoleonic_Wars_casualties#Tot...

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Leap_Forward#Consequence...


>Before moving forward, you should have a clear answer to the question of how many megadeaths you are willing to cause through war and famine.

War and famine is what we currently get with the current dietary trend. Going back to a mostly vegetarian food supply would liberate so much land mass that you would have fewer issues feeding the world.

>In this case, you're talking about the daily or weekly dietary habits of more than 2 billion people.

Humanity hasn't had such a high meat consumption ever before, it's an aberration of the last century that is unsustainable. We changed the dietary habits of a lot of people over the last century. There's no reason we couldn't change them back.


> We changed the dietary habits...

No, we allowed people to change their own dietary habits and they chose to do so.

> There's no reason we couldn't change them back.

There is a reason: The probability that they would respond with violence that would spiral into a massive humanitarian crisis.

Remember that the Syrian civil war was kicked off in large part by the prices of food in the Arab world putting pressure on pre-existing fault lines.

> Going back to a mostly vegetarian food supply would liberate so much land mass that you would have fewer issues feeding the world.

You're not wrong about the destination...but the path to get there matters if you want to avoid making things worse. Also, there is a massive difference between freeing up the alfalfa fields of California and the grazing lands of Afghanistan or Pakistan.


>No, we allowed people to change their own dietary habits and they chose to do so.

Because it became vastly cheaper. But you still called it a choice. So why do you keep referring to the opposite scenario (people eating less meat because it's more expensive) like it's not?


Because

1. People making choices which feel unpleasant often consider themselves to be forced. Those people can be willing to use violence to avoid those choices.

2. I’m responding to someone who talked about forcing behavior change.


> Humanity hasn't had such a high meat consumption ever before, it's an aberration of the last century that is unsustainable.

Humanity hasn't had 7 billion people before. It grew by 6 billion in said century. Is that sustainable, you think? Every extra person has a carbon footprint and consequently contributes to increase in land-use and resource exploitation, and by extension environmental destruction. Modifiers like fossil fuels exacerbate the rate of destruction but ultimately the scaling remains with whatever we replace with. The only sustainable course is for growth to stagnate entirely. This is popularly predicted on the horizon, but it seems too optimistic. So long as there is global poverty and inaccessibility to contraceptives there will be growth.

High meat consumption isn't exactly novel, it just hasn't been done to this scale. During Victorian period of inequality it may have been lower among workers, but that hasn't always been true. -- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Food_and_dining_in_the_Roman_E...


> There's no reason we couldn't change them back.

I'm with you for the most part. I'm vegetarian myself, chiefly for environmental reasons. And certainly we could change people's habits back, but there's an obvious reason this would be very hard: it's easy to give people something they want; it's hard to take it away. People feel loss more keenly than gain, so they will feel return to the status quo ante to be a greater loss in quality of life than leaving it was a gain.* And most people everywhere just aren't that pro-social. They want to eat meat. They don't particularly care about the well being of others or their future selves. I think this is malleable, but most people would prefer not to change their attitudes. I'm not sure what the solution is.

* Also, we discount utility by distance. A gain one year ago or one year from now feels less important than the same gain today. And if we're talking about a gain felt by a previous generation, the utility drops down another notch. Someone else's imprisonment or freedom just doesn't matter as much to you as your own. Change is hard in part because you feel the pain now and the gain is sometime in the future.


> And most people everywhere just aren't that pro-social.

As we've seen with COVID, a significant number of people aren't willing to wear a mask in Walmart to avoid killing grandmas; they certainly aren't giving up their McDonalds and BBQ steaks without some kind of squabble.


A few things here, some to other posts upstream of yours.

1) There is absolutely no shortage of arable land. None.

Even with the immense amount of "the best growing land ever" being covered with cities, for cities formed where the living / land was good, there is an incredible amount of farming land purposefully fallow.

In the EU, people are paid not to farm. In Canada, land use is restricted by quotas on who and how land can be used. Market pressures are used elsewhere.

I can't overstress how much land is just not being used.

This has a secondary benefit -- if times get "tough", environmental, or just many dry seasons, fallow land can be brought into use. This is vital, for this is what prevents wars!

2) We currently through away massive amounts of food, due to spoilage.

Many different discussions about this, but I've seen numbers from 33% to 50% lost in silos.

Again, this is what prevents war. Starvation. You don't plant crops, and decide "OK, I need $x food per person, I'll plant $y crops."

Pests are cyclical, and even with pesticides, take a toll. Water (rain) is random, and too much is just as bad as too little. How cool or hot, how sunny or cloudy, all effect output.

So, we must grow excess crops in order to keep people reliably fed.

3) Due to the above, and how much corn, and others are redirected into fuel manufacturing, the problem feeding people isn't food supply, it's "Will they pay us for our food".

Almost every year, the above spoiled food just rots. More is thrown away. Why? Pay me or I won't give you things."

Right or wrong, that's the reality of it. We could feed, if we really wanted to, 100 billion people, including meat, without even going to advanced farming methods. And population growth looks to be, soon, on a downward* trend. We've reached peak people.

4) But...!, I'll try to answer some 'buts'.

* crop rotation, and the science behind it, including soil testing is well understood. It often isn't done, because crop $x is worth good money, and $y is worth meh, but without fertilizer this is the way to go. And it works. Well. It's all about cost here.

* cattle can easily graze, and there is almost unlimited land here. The real issue with cattle is grain feed, combined with petro-chemicals (fertilizers) to grow that grain. That is where "cattle = bad".

Many places outside of the US do indeed grass/free graze feed. There is absolutely no environmental cost here. If those cattle didn't exist, then wildlife would grow abundant, and feed instead.

Only through some false, artificial means, eg humans fencing off land, and then killing anything which intrudes, prevents everything from rabbits, to goats, deer, etc from eating that grass.

* meat is the most environmentally friendly way to transport energy, due to its density. Trains space, boat space, is often not about weight, but space. Grain takes a lot more than just meat.

* the problems which are cited in this article are really simply put.

A cow, sheep, goat, etc does all the work for you, of collecting energy. Grow your own meat, and you must supply all that energy!

When it comes to free-range cattle, nothing could be more energy efficient for making meat.


> Many places outside of the US do indeed grass/free graze feed. There is absolutely no environmental cost here.

In Brazil huge tracts of the Amazon are converted into grassland every year for cattle grazing. This is not environmentally free. This has turned the Amazon from a carbon sink to a carbon source. And the density of ruminants on grasslands is vastly different if those ruminants are raised for meat instead of fending for themselves. And, of course, ruminants emit methane. Just burning the grass every year would be better for the environment than feeding it to cattle.


> Many places outside of the US do indeed grass/free graze feed. There is absolutely no environmental cost here. If those cattle didn't exist, then wildlife would grow abundant, and feed instead.

That replacement does sound like something that could reasonably described as a cost. To the environment.


> When it comes to free-range cattle, nothing could be more energy efficient for making meat.

It's also far less cruel than more sensitive people here imagine it to be.

Animals die in the end, true, but eventually everyone dies. They live a decent life, walk in the pastures, play with their kin, get treated if injured. This is better than life of animals in the wild by a huge margin. Some of them also get to have a long life; many cows that are used for milk usually are not slaughtered until they get old.

Factory farmed meat is fucking genocide and should be banned forever.


> Going back to a mostly vegetarian food supply

From agricultural point of view, it is nonsense. There are places that generate more human edible calories by having animals. For example Mongolia, or nordic regions.

> Humanity hasn't had such a high meat consumption ever before, it's an aberration of the last century that is unsustainable. We changed the dietary habits of a lot of people over the last century. There's no reason we couldn't change them back.

If people will decide to eat less meat then be so. Forcing them would be disgusting.


>From agricultural point of view, it is nonsense. There are places that generate more human edible calories by having animals. For example Mongolia, or nordic regions.

Exceptions that prove the rule. Also nomadic hunters will not pay higher taxes on food in stores, because they're hunting it themselves, limiting the amount to what they can hunt, and limiting their fertility to the amount of calories they can get from the land. We have had unlimited growth of the human population elsewhere, which is what's worrysome, not the minuscule amount of leftover hunter-gatherers.

>If people will decide to eat less meat then be so. Forcing them would be disgusting.

Forcing humanity to march into inhostiptable environments because a portion of humanity doesn't care is I would say more disgusting than telling somebody, you have to eat food that's better for you and the environment.


> and limiting their fertility

I guess places that would implement these policies (taxing meat consuption for environmental reasons) are exactly regions that get older, are shrinking or are likely to shrink in the future (EU, USA). While in places like India, China, Africa, such a regulation is unlikely and increase of the living standard there will compensate (more likely overcompensate) for eliminated meat consumption in Europe and the US.

> because a portion of humanity doesn't care

People care. I doubt there is even one adult in this world who has never heard about vegetarianism, climate, emissions. They do care. But their values are complex and their influence on the climate is just part of the decision making process. It is not their fault they would decide differently from you.

> to eat food that's better for you and the environment

If they are adults, they can decide for themselves. How could you be so sure that switching over to vegetarianism would make their life longer, more satisfying and environment significantly better?


> how many megadeaths you are willing to cause through war and famine

This is a strange way to describe moving towards a more sustainable [cheaper and healthier] diet.


I doubt it is healthier diet. Researches showing vegetarians are healthier have a problem that puts vegetarians to one group and omnivores to the second group putting people eating at fast foods altogether with people eating for example Paleo or mediterranean diet.

Greek diet is healthy, still they eat fish, seafood and meatballs.

Japanese cuisine is healthy, still they eat fish and seafood.

Korean cuisine is healthy, still they eat pork, fish.

Mediterrean diet is healthy, still they eat all types of meat.

Speaking of sustainability, there are regions where animal product is better (Mongolia, nordic regions). Besides that, sustainability is one of measures in the equation. People want sustainable diet, but not by all costs.


Right. By taking an approach which is:

1. Persuasion-based

2. Adapted to local cultures -- Such as the startup/industrial culture of California and much of the US.

We can significantly reduce the environmental impact without sparking large conflicts.

Talking about enforcing a change on the world is so large as to be counterproductive. Talking about influencing an area the size of California, Texas, or the UK has a chance to improve things.


The healthy aspect is in not overeating meat, which is well proven by modern science to be a significant public health risk in various developed countries.


It would be a very strange way to describe encouraging people to choose a more sustainable diet with writings like https://veganmuslims.com/dont-kill-an-animal-this-eid

It is a pretty normal way to describe trying to force dietary change on entire nations who are very attached to their cultures and traditions. https://www.palaisamani.com/eid-al-adha-el-rituals-in-morocc...


At this point I can't really believe you are arguing in good faith.

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


First, thanks for raising that. Good-faith discussion matters.

The strongest interpretation I was able to come up with is "Meat has enough environmental impact that it is worth public interventions to raise the prices of meat in enough communities around the world that billions of people notice the increased cost and feel forced to give up meat"

Is there a more charitable interpretation that I am missing?

Does anything in my words indicate that I think carlmr desires the deaths of people? (I don't think he wants that. I hope we all know we're talking about unintended consequences here).


When I last researched, most studies studying vegetarian diets for toddlers and young children showed clear deficiencies when it came to certain nutrients and delayed development due to this. So I'm not entirely sure I'd call it unhealthy.

That said, as an adult I do strive to heavily reduce meat and fish consumption and to adhere to a vegetarian diet 80% of the time but it's easier to manage for adults than for young children.


Children can fairly easily have a vegetarian diet without any issues. There are a few things to look out for (enough vitamin B1, B12, iron and protein), but if you provide fish, eggs, tofu, tempeh, and legumes this is not generally a problem. Most store-bought meat replacements (vegetarian meat balls etc.) have those added already.

Veganism is a different beast and requires much more care (and probably advice from a dietician). Vegan children not getting the nutrition they need seems to be a point of concern for many health care professionals.

I would wager that most national nutrition centres provide useful guidance on vegetarianism or even veganism by now based on up-to-date research — the Dutch Voedingscentrum does¹.

1: https://www.voedingscentrum.nl/nl/service/vraag-en-antwoord/...


On the B12 front, it should be noted that while vegetarians and vegans usually need to supplement this, animals are supplemented B12 in their feed, which is the largest reason why meat eaters don't need to supplement. They're being indirectly supplemented.


I keep seeing this claim in these HN threads and across the internet, do you have a reliable source for this? Google brings up nothing but vegan conspiracy sites.


Found this interesting article from someone that seems to know cows: https://praisetheruminant.com/ruminations/is-it-true-that-co...


Yeah, this article makes more sense. My grandfather put out the blue salt blocks every year so the cows would get enough cobalt (I remember asking teachers why salt blocks were blue until one knew why). That's why this all seems like nonsense, none of the farmers I know ever gave their cows B12 supplements or have even heard of it. Now their VET might have given B12 shots to the odd calf like that article states, that I would believe.


If this is true, what was the dietary source of B12 in pre-modern times?


Trust me, it's always a rabbit hole; with claims like "humans used to be entirely, or mostly, vegan and got our vitamin b12 from eating the dirt on root vegetables" or "if we stopped washing our fruits and vegetables we would get enough from the bacteria on the produce"


Things can be complicated I'm not sure that is a reason to think these theories are incorrect. I am tempted to believe microbiome and eating more slightly rotten/off food than we currently do also helped but it's not as if humans from antiquity were all living into their 90s.


Well, except there is no evidence at all that humans were ever anything other than omnivores and large segments of humanity were know to be hunter gatherer societies from the archaeological record. A few societies have become ovo-lacto vegetarians and some modern humans have effectively become vegan.


Fish is not vegetarian and, as you say, eggs and dairy are not vegan.


Strictly speaking that depends on the definition of meat, which for some is limited to mammalian meat. Others prefer to call vegetarianism plus fish pescetarianism, vegaquarianism, or pesco-vegetarianism.


He said specifically that eating fish is not vegetarian, this is 100% an accurate statement, you can choose to define the word "meat" however you want but the textbook definition of vegetarianism does not include fish.


But semantics don't really matter if we're talking about vegetarianism for sustainability of the planet.

Define fish as meat or not, that is, in my understanding, a currently unsustainable model.


Ok, I always thought that vegetarian = no fish and meat and veganism = vegetarian - egg, milk and anything produced by animals.

If you can complement with fish, then it's obviously a lot easier.


My kids are 100% vegetarian from birth and I can't say we have observed any issue whatsoever. We do ensure they eat a very varied diet. We do get their bloods checked from time to time and nothing notable there either.

Of course it's possible they would have been gigantic, athletic super-geniuses if we'd fed them meat. I can't disprove that, except to say I ate meat as a kid and I'm decidedly average.


N=1


This is an existence proof that deficiency is not inevitable.


> The alternative is already there, vegetarianism.

Since "lab grown meat" lacks characteristics that would make it an animal (both by biological definition and also according to popular opinion), i.e. it's not motile, it too should be considered a vegan option.

Because it's not coming from an animal, it's not even "meat" - it's technically just flesh.


Veganism as an ethical principle is very simple - the use of any products created from or by animals is unethical. Since you still have to get your stem cells and fetal serum from somewhere, cultured meat isn't vegan. Even if you managed to get self-renewing stem cells and a different growth medium, you still have that initial gathering of stem cells making it non-vegan.


If the only connection to "meat" is the initial stem cell gathering then you may be right that it's not technically vegan but I can't imagine most people would care about that


> I can't imagine most people would care about that

It depends. In India for example, vegetarians also have a learnt aversion towards meat (for religious/caste reasons). Even now, in colleges, many vegetarian students demand to have their own separate hostels and canteens, so that they don't have to use the same utensils that have once been contaminated with meat (even though they have been washed thoroughly with soap after).

For someone like this, anything meat like is disgust-inducing and not even remotely an option.


True. Personally I'd be happy with that myself, but that definitionally makes me a non-vegan


So getting cultured meat from a human who agreed to it is ethical and therefore vegan ?


Vegan doesn't follow from ethical. While this would technically qualify as vegan, most people also have a pretty strong stance against cannibalism even if voluntary.


Implying that because you satisfy the criteria of one moral principal means that all other moral principals are void is nonsense-think.


Of the vegans I know in real life, none take such a hard-line approach with respect to products such as vaccines that were initially cultured with animal tissue, or even tested on animals. [1] I assume cultured meat would fall into a similar category, though they might avoid it for other reasons. When we discussed it, most of them also do not object to native peoples hunting wild animals or judge people who consume animal products in places (e.g. above the arctic circle) where a vegan diet is cost-prohibitive.

There are no doubt vegan purists who consider my friends to be "bad vegans", I'm just bringing it up to refute the notion that the vegan community is as fanatical or monolithic as some make them out to be.

[1] https://www.peta.org.uk/blog/vegans-covid-19-vaccine/


India has banned production of cheese using rennet, which is why quality of cheese in India is almost uniformly atrocious.

But I suppose that's more of a "cow" thing, than a "vegan/vegetarian" thing.


How did we get from vegetarianism to veganism?

It was me. Shame on me. I quoted someone talking about vegetarianism, and wrote veganism while talking about vegetarianism.


I'm wondering how people would react to eating "lab grown human" flesh ... Kinda freaks me out, but also kinda curious.


"Oh my god the government is feeding us dead babies!" would probably be up there.


There are two rather well known sci-fi stories on this subject. Food of the Gods by A.C. Clarke and Pleased to Meat You by Stephen L. Burns.


There's a novel in which a celeb named Polly is cloned and harvested for burgers.


Yes, I think so too. Previous comment I think meant that if making cultured 'flesh' is infeasible, we can switch to a diet that is vegetarian and feasible at scale.


I believe vegan considers the ethics of production too, so milk is out, even though milk is not technically an animal. Honey is a common example that is considered on the borderline I think that may (or may not) be similar to lab grown meat depending on the specific process.


What's thermodynamically efficient? Do you mean energy efficient?


Yes, animals waste most of the calories we feed them. By huge factors. We could feet a lot more people with the current energy and land-use, or feed the current number of people with a lot less effort.


how about everyone convert their lawns into gardens. have a few chickens too for eggs, feeding them with kitchen and garden waste

then you dont have to truck everything around, or use huge amounts of fuel to work the land.

oh wait that takes effort, everyone wants a low effort, idealistic (yet unfeasible), solution to the food problem.


Don't the vast majority of people live in apartments?


and perhaps that is why we are having sustainability issues?


People buy what they want to buy. Given the most efficient would be for example peas. Does it mean eating peas should be allowed but eating grains forbidden? Or are we going to do artificial cutoff by the divide meat/plants? Why? To make 10% of vegetarians happier?


I think everything should be allowed, but we should do a better job of making people pay for what they use by pricing the externalities into the consumption of a product. Once those price signals are in place then you let people make their own decisions.


Ok, so let's say the lowest externality food will be a baseline. For example peas. Grains are higher, so we would also tax grains? And we would grow this until the highest - beef. Or is there going to be "accepted externality"? If so, why those who suggest taxing meat more suggest the cutoff right between plants and meat?


For the reason you give, a Pigovian tax on the externalities themselves is a better approach than specific regulations or pre-defined taxes on each class of consumer product.

Another benefit of this approach is that it provides price signals to the product's producers as well as consumers -- after all, if a company comes up with a way to produce beef with fewer externalities, they should be able to capture some of the value!

There is certainly disagreement with regard to how to handle some of the more difficult-to-assess externalities, but even taxing a handful of externalities still helps push product prices slightly closer to their true cost.


Another problem is that taxing negative externalities is often used for another things than eliminating given externality.

I will buy beef (or corn). It will emit CO2. Capturing given CO2 would cost $5. So the tax will be $5. But politician will not use these $5 for capturing the CO2 emissions.

He will buy votes instead. $1 for a symfonic orchestra. $1 for police department. $1 to subsidies to a company of a friend lobbyist. $1 for a new playground... Most often, negative externality taxes are just proxy for taxing people more without using money to fix the externality. So even if you believe the externality exists, but you are not supporting given politicians' program, it is a rational choice not to pay the tax.


The primary goal of taxing a negative externality is to discourage it. Using the funds for mitigation would be a secondary benefit.

If you object to using tax policy to shape public behavior because politicians cannot be trusted to efficiently allocate the resultant revenues then perhaps you'd be in favor of returning the revenue as a dividend[1], which is an option that has become more popular lately.

[1] https://www.afcd.org/


It's not a waste if you value their life. They get to live.

The end of animal agriculture would mean their genocide.


I don't know how you can think that the animals we eat have a good enough life than that it's better than if they weren't born. Imagine being only into cages without social interaction, fed horrible junk, only to be killed a few months later for food.

I'd definitely choose not be born over being born as cattle.


By that logic it would be better no animals would exist at all. If you think cattle suffers, you should watch a live dear being torn by wolves.


Vegetarians eat eggs, drink milk, eat cheese and use leather (and other materials sourced from animals) so the scale of animal production could be lower but cannot be eliminated.

Vegan alternatives in materials depend on oil production.

So in some way, I think, animal production and animal industry is inevitable for us.

As somebody, who has been half half vegetarian (16 years), I would be strongly against making meat even 1 % more expensive. What people eat is their decision, not mine.


>I would be strongly against making meat even 1 % more expensive. What people eat is their decision, not mine.

We can't solve collective issues with individualist extremism like this. We're all living on the same planet. So as long as we all share this one resource for our collective survival, other people's food decisions aren't "theirs", if they're not carbon neutral or low-emission.

If the food you eat has global externalities you should pay for them.


> We can't solve collective issues with individualist extremism like this

That's what innovation is for. Case in point: seaweed-additive feed that is set to be adopted for production in Brazil, and Australia. Boom, no more methane.

A measure such as forcing people to avoid meat has to be justifiable for the public to concede to it. As it stands, it isn't, though some will be receptive to the idea of either reducing consumption or forgoing it altogether for a variety of reasons. What people aren't receptive to authoritarian rhetoric.


> We can't solve collective issues

Unless practically everything (food, transport, education)... becomes a collective issue and no space for individual liberty is left.

Honestly, I'd rather live on 1 degree warmer Earth with 1/100 of regulations/subsidies than the opposite. And this is my vote, yours is yours.

> If the food you eat has global externalities

Everything has externalities. Pesticides have externalities. Mining base materials to do just anything (a tractor to farm land, materials to build a house) decrease amount of nonrenewable materials, which is externality. Many meat substitutes are packaged in plastic materials made from oil.

There just must be acceptable level of negative externalities.


>Honestly, I'd rather live on 1 degree warmer Earth with 1/100 of regulations/subsidies than the opposite.

What you're really saying, though, is that you'd rather everyone live (or die, as the case will be for a lot of people) on a 1 degree warmer Earth.

Make no mistake about it, you want other people to suffer and die as a result of climate change because you want don't want to be told what to do. Yay for individual liberty.


> you'd rather everyone live

Yes, this is exactly what I say. I would rather everyone live in the World with cons of underregulations then in the World with cons of overregulations.

For me, overregulation is suffering too.

And honestly, even when people don't realize it explicitly, their acts are very much the same (90% of people know that meat increases emissions, still they eat meat; 90% of people know that petrol cars increase emissions, still they...; 90% of people know plastics pollute oceans, still they buy plastic things even when non-plastic alternatives are available).

There is demand for behaviors that have negative externalities. And it is massive, I doubt I even know a single person who doesn't cause any negative externalities.


>What you're really saying, though, is that you'd rather everyone live (or die, as the case will be for a lot of people) on a 1 degree warmer Earth.

What a weird thing to say, when there is an order of magnitude more people dying from cold than from heat today. You seem to be the one wanting people to suffer and die.


Mostly agree, though would be fine with reducing/eliminating subsidies in the West which drive incentive for increased meat consumption. Speaking as a quasi-vegetarian who consumes fish and poultry regularly.


It's not an alternative. It's like saying that having no email is an alternative to having a GMail account, it isn't. Sure some people get by just fine, but it's not realistic to suggest it to people.


how about everyone convert their lawns into gardens. have a few chickens too, feeding them with kitchen and garden waste

then you dont have to truck everything around, or use huge amounts of fuel to work the land.

oh wait that takes effort, everyone wants a low effort, idealistic (yet unfeasible), solution to the food problem.


>oh wait that takes effort, everyone wants a low effort, idealistic (yet unfeasible), solution to the food problem.

This is what I can see is the problem in any of these conversations. Vegetarianism is the cure! And look! You don't really have to change your life that much! Lab grown meat is the cure! And look! You don't really have to change your life that much!

When did conversations about sustainability just completely drop the 'your life will have to be different' approach?

Also, lawn chickens are a good idea, but only as part of a concerted neighborhood effort.

If Mr. Jones has chickens, and Mrs. Smith has a milk goat, and Mr. Lee has an exceptional vegetable garden, and Mrs. Brown has apple and pear trees, then everyone can get what they need within their own neighborhood. Extrapolate out across the entire suburb, and you really have something.

(now I'm going to get really, really cynical) The problem is now that most people are selfish, self-centered, and short-sighted. There is no sense of community, and no sense of immediate gratification for working as a co-op to help the neighborhood succeed.


I agree with your sense that most people have completely lost their sense of community; this is the primary reason that I oppose widespread immigration. Increased diversity of class, race, culture, religion, values, etc. makes it extremely difficult to organize along non-financial lines. People withdraw into their sub-communities as a result of living near people who don't think like them.

This should be obvious, but I'm astonished that it's not. I think people are afraid of being called racist, but it's a very simple concept. Is it easier to organize a high school party in a group made up of 15 jocks, or a group made up of 3 nerds, 3 jocks, 3 skaters, 3 gangsters, and 3 choir kids? Or, a less "immature" version of the same question--which is a higher-trust environment, a big group of recent immigrants from the same country speaking the same language and worshipping the same god, or an equal-sized set of random people taking a bus in New York?

The reason that I mention this is that I desperately want to change my and everyone else's life to be sustainable, as you describe in your example, and participate in a mutually beneficial exchange of value with people in my community, but the people in my community share very little common ground with me and will not go out of their way to help me (which is completely not the case for my friends and family, who are scattered across the world). This is not the case for me; I often go out of my way to help people that are not like me, but the favor is rarely returned.


I think organization along financial lines is much more egalitarian. It’s fungible and people can make changes in their lifetime to move between social classes. You’re proposing racially based zones in the world where everyone of a single race must reside. It’s asinine and odious.


That's interesting. Because I have the same thoughts, but came to the exact opposite conclusion.

Arbitrary borders make it harder for people to get to know each other. My experience is that one the easiest things to bond over is 'difference' between cultures. Whether that's food, holidays, religion, whatever. Easy, seamless immigration helps people move around, easing the process of getting to know each other.

Further, building community of place is all about knowing each other. (Source; my life). Knowing your neighbors, and where they come from, helps build empathy for others, in general, in my opinion.

I find it fascinating that we both come at the same problem, with wildly different conclusions. Human brains, what weird things.


Do you really find that people bond over differences in culture more than they bond over similarities? Devout Catholics and dedicated Protestants? Introverted nerds and extroverted jocks? Career felons and beat cops?

People inside the same culture don't bond over differences, so why would people from other cultures do so? I had a many differences with the recently-immigrated Mexican kitchen staff in the restaurant I worked in, many with the dirt-poor kids at my high school who fought each other daily, and many with the rich kids from the mansion district, and not one of those groups was friendly or desirous of "bonding" with me. Their contextual social power and sway was immense, and their loyalty to each other was far stronger than any voluntary community of differences I've ever belonged to.

> My experience is that one the easiest things to bond over is 'difference' between cultures.

Are you talking about "people who behave and think like Western progressives, but happen to speak different languages and hail from different locales"? That isn't real diversity. I get along very well with highly-educated immigrants from China, Singapore, India, Nigeria, etc. because we all had nearly exactly the same life: a lot of studying, reading, and close ties with our family. It's very fun to bond over differences then, but the only reason the differences arise is because we're already almost the same. When we laugh over how our holidays and food are different, we are constantly reinforcing our similarities; we speak at the same volume, we let one another talk at similar rates, we ask questions of a matching intimacy, and we have the same desires of each other, namely to allow the other peacefully prosper. I can bond easily with an engineering student from Thailand, but not so with a career thief from the same country.

> I find it fascinating that we both come at the same problem, with wildly different conclusions. Human brains, what weird things.

Beware of ignoring certain patterns in order to come to fashionable conclusions, although perhaps you really have never experienced anything like what I've experienced.


People bond over whatever lets them make a connection.


>Do you really find that people bond over differences in culture more than they bond over similarities?

Yes, that has been my experience. Talking with people and learning about how and why they do things is the easiest way to become neighbors. Taking an honest interest in the people around me has been the easiest social lubricant that I have found. It has helped me build a community in the past, present, and I assume in the future.

>Are you talking about "people who behave and think like Western progressives, but happen to speak different languages and hail from different locales"?

No. I have lived in the same house/apartment and/or in the same neighborhood as individuals from other cultures, including those relatively similar to mine and wildly different; from folks who were fabulously wealthy and well-connected, and those that had just the clothes on their backs when they came here. In my experience the only individuals who I have been unable to actually interact with positively are those who regardless of where they're from I wouldn't have been able to anyway. Religious extremists, that's one. Bigots, that's another. These are people who I would not get along with, even if they were from my own family.

Your example of the Thai career thief is a prime example. Someone coming here specifically to undercut and sociopathically 'get ahead' is not someone I would want to interact with. There are those people who already live here, though. That's not an immigration issue.

>although perhaps you really have never experienced anything like what I've experienced.

I feel like that's obvious; we're two different people.

What I was saying is that it is fascinating to me that two people with the same conclusion 'society is fragmented' have two wildly different conclusions about the reason for it.


To a degree it is not a bad idea. Landfills account for more carbon emissions that air travel, and even in the case where we collect kitchen waste it usually end up as fuel which release some amount of carbon into the air.

In addition we tend to use lawn mowers to cut grass, and chickens are quite effective at keep grass down. Replacing mechanical means that (often) run on fossil fuels with animals would be a boon to the environment and air quality. Chickens also keeps out most pests which reduces the need for toxic chemicals.

There are downsides, but on the whole I suspect it has a net-positive for the environment.


"A significant proportion of the Earth's land surface is currently dedicated to either growing animals or growing animal feed."

It's important to note that almost all of the land that cattle are raised on is unsuitable for any other purpose. They aren't grazing cattle in Manhattan, it's in places like rural Australia or Texas where there is no infrastructure, no arable land, and no human population that is competing with the cattle population for resources.


I live in upper midwest in what should be native forested area and large tracts of forest have been clearcut just for cattle. My neighbor last year cut dozens of acres of heavy forest to raise more cattle. I don't think people fully understand what has been done in many areas to destroy the native environment just to raise cattle.. let alone the corn raised that many cattle ranchers in midwest at least feed their cattle.


Land use questions are far more of a concern in developing countries than in the US. The area of forested land in the US is actually increasing, not decreasing.

But in general the point is that meat production does not have to be displacing other food production. Cows are actually a way to convert otherwise worthless land into food. And the grass they're eating is not going to typically store carbon otherwise.


> Cows are actually a way to convert otherwise worthless land into food. And the grass they're eating is not going to typically store carbon otherwise.

I think this is provably false. As mentioned above, a lot of land used for cattle used to be forest; the global beef market is one of the main drivers for deforestation in the Brazilian rainforest.

There are second order effects, too. Cattle that's factory farmed in the developed world is raised on corn, wheat, soy, and other calorie dense foods. Those crops are grown with a large quantity of fertilizer, and for every calorie of corn, wheat, etc. grown, about one calorie of petroleum is used.

I don't think there's any doubt that beef, in particular, is only economical because of the negative externalities involved. Accounting for those externalities would probably go a long way toward making lab grown meat (more) competitive.

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/jul/02/revealed...

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cattle_feeding#Corn-fed


Not sure if you're intentionally trying to misunderstand to make some weird point. All I said is that there exists land that is not forest, and is not otherwise suitable for agriculture, but that can be converted by cows into food. This is not only not provably false, it's actually true.

The fact that a lot of cattle production does not do this is not proof that this is not possible.


You do understand that cows aren’t free energy generators from thin air ?

And as the big bag of calories they are, they need to be raised with huge calories intake, which is not exactly commercial TV ad grass.

So you need to raise food for your cows alongside your cows anyway.

You are just transforming energy from a medium to another and thermodynamics says that it’s totally inefficient.


Uhm......sure, but there absolutely are cows that are raised with very little maintenance on land that is otherwise useless. Here in UK farmers often raise cows on moorlands, which are mostly just a pile of rocks with a bit if soil on top to support minimal vegetation, that land isn't and can't be used for other types of farming - yet farmers happily leave cows on it in the spring and collect them for slaughter in autumn. They feed on what grows there and there's little need to supplement them. Then they are usually slaughtered locally too. I can't believe that this kind of beef farming is even 10% as bad for environment as the big factory farming elsewhere.


Sure it happens, but like others said, this is so low intensity (small scale), that it's basically an edge case.

We can/could raise mountain goats too.

If all meat were raised only this way the lab grown would be probably cheaper.


Have you got any numbers on what percentage of UK beef is reared like that?


It's probably reasonably high, anecdotally every time I got out walking in the hills in most parts of the UK there are large numbers of sheep and cattle grazing on basically unusable wilderness, often which is part of a national park so can't be built on much anyway. They seem to be pretty self sufficient eating grass unless there is a heavy snowfall, which is quite rare in England, farmers would then supplement with feed crops like turnips etc.


Thermodynamics says nothing about which plants can grow on which land. A lot of land in the world can only sustain grass. Letting animals graze on that land is as close to free as you can get


Is it possible on the same scale?


The real problem is that forest is not being economically valued for its carbon sequestration capability.

Solving that would require complex carbon cap & trade regulations to be enforced.


Forests have basically no continuous carbon sequestration capability. Most of the carbon they'll ever sequester is already there.

You'd get more by turning it into a tree farm, converting trees to charcoal and burying that.


I don't think you're right here. Forests form soil

https://www.wri.org/insights/forests-absorb-twice-much-carbo...


"But in general the point is that meat production does not have to be displacing other food production. Cows are actually a way to convert otherwise worthless land into food. And the grass they're eating is not going to typically store carbon otherwise"

Arguably that's a value judgement not everyone shares. For example, if you placed value on the carbon storage capacity and biodiversity contribution of the Forrest then replacing it with cows may not be an increase in efficiency of useful use of the land.

Arguably broad acre farming is currently getting a free ride on a number of external costs, if the math of that were to change meat grown on a small footprint would be much more competitive.


You're picturing a world where the only land that exists is forested land and you have to choose to either leave it a forest or cut it and use it for agriculture or grazing. But a lot of land is not forested, and not suitable for agriculture. But it is suitable for grazing. This is the otherwise worthless land that can be converted by cows into food.

As I said, land use issues where you replace forest with cows is a problem (though not in the US, it is a problem in the developing world).


It's not about replacing forest with cows. It's about replacing forest with cow-feed.

1% of US cows are grass-finished, the rest eat grain.

These grain-eating cows may be located in a place that has grass, couldn't be forest, and couldn't be agricultural land. And yet they eat grain nonetheless, from another place, that could be agricultural land, forest or otherwise nature that creates biodiversity.

The grain comes from somewhere. That creates land use issues. Not because of replacing forest with cows, but because 99% of cows sold in US stores are eating grain which must come from somewhere that is obviously not only useable for growing just grass.

Yes, in theory it's possible to have cows eat grass only, that's quite obvious. But if you were to limit beef in US stores to only those type of situations, you'd have to reduce the supply by 99% today and radically shift the way beef is produced worldwide.

And even that 1% / 99% isn't the entire story. That only tells you what is grass-finished vs cows that eat grain. An even smaller portion of that 1% are cows that are eating grass from a place that could solely grow grass and could not be used for other purposes such as forest.


Grass-finished. Think about what that means. Most (all besides veal?) eat grass. They finish them (fatten them before slaughter) with grain. That 99% isn't 100% grain. It consists of lots of grass.


> Cows are actually a way to convert otherwise worthless land into food

As someone who lived in a subsistence farm, that's absolutely not true, not on a large scale.

That is true in some places where the soil is not suitable for agriculture and the cows only eat grass, but that would be a minority of cows that exist today.

If that was even remotely true, there would be no cows raised by eating grain.


According to the Guardian almost all cows in the UK are raised on grass, I'd guess this is true for most of Europe

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/apr/17/the-eco-...


> Cows are actually a way to convert otherwise worthless land into food

This is completely false. Animal farming is entirely based on crop farming for fodder.

Farming crop for animal fodder, for human consumption and for biofuel are in direct competition with each other.


It's the same in the rural and semi-rural Northeast (I mean Vermont and upstate NY specifically), most of the cattle are raised for dairy.

Though a farmer in the area (an old neighbor actually) recently converted a good portion of his maize fields into a solar energy facility. I'm not sure exactly what his motivations were, but farmers are for the most part not stupid people, especially when it comes to maximizing the productivity of their land.


> It's important to note that almost all of the land that cattle are raised on is unsuitable for any other purpose

I'm not so sure about that. Brazil is the second largest producer of beef, and there have been huge outcries because large swathes of the Amazon are being cut down to facilitate beef production (as well as crops such as soya - which I should note is mostly used as animal feed - and palm oil).

Apparently the soil does soon become unsuitable for even raising cattle, so it does become land unsuitable for other purposes. But it certainly didn't start out that way.


Most of Brazillian beef came from natural grassland area, "Serrado"

Also Pantanal (a kind of swampland of sorts) create some awesome natural pastures, although raising cattle there is harder because of the floods.

Amazon Rainforest destruction has much to do with stupidity (the land there is sand actually, destroying the forest to plant ANYTHING there, even soybeans, is stupid idea), logging, illegal land grabbing, and issues related to certain US companies (Cargill in particular is a big offender).

Also there a lot of conflict is going on there, including political, that made the destruction faster, including destruction being sped up in name of conservation, for example worldwide media was all happy when a particular logger got arrested, only for the destruction to speed up after his arrest, because the people that kept calling the police on him were actually trying to use the police to push him out so they could squat the land, and indeed they did so, as soon he was kicked out, illegal loggers and miners moved in, and fortified, now THOSE people can't be kicked out because they are heavily armed and the police fears the political fallout of that. Meanwhile the area they squatted had logging sped-up a lot, and trees that previously were being preserved as seed stock got cut down, ruining the management work being done there.


According to this paper 70-80% of Brazil's deforestation begins as pasture creation:

http://www7.nau.edu/mpcer/direnet/publications/publications_...


It can both be true that deforestation isn't important to Brazils meat industry but that people mostly burn down forests to create meat. Just means that we could stop the deforestation without much consequences, which is a good thing.


You are correct. Most of the deforestation issue could be fixed with better law enforcement, mind you not just "harsher" enforcement, part of the problem is some previous governments went overboard with it, bothering people that weren't doing anything illegal. Sadly the current government fixed it by doing the opposite (enforcing too little).


Excellent comment.


Except it's not true - all sources say that the primary reason for deforestation in brazil is cattle grazing. Wikipedia [0] has numerous sources that say the exact opposite of what OP has said.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deforestation_of_the_Amazon_ra...


No- large swathes of land are being cleared because it's one of the few resources available to locals to climb out of poverty.

If they weren't cutting it down for beef, they'd be cutting it down for something else, like the palm oil mentioned.


Really moving the goalposts there


If it wasn't as economical to do it because you couldn't sell the meat produced that way, less of it would be cut down because they couldn't make money that way. In other words, it's their only resource, but it's only valuable to destroy if there is something they can sell, i.e., meat. (Or palm oil)


No- this isn't US economics where there's a cost below which land use doesn't make sense for them.

These people were cutting and burning these forests just for timber and firewood, and have been for decades.

Even in places where it's banned to do so, and they risk jail.

A smaller profit margin isn't going to prevent them from utilizing the one resource at their disposal.


That’s kind of a wacky argument. It’s like saying that they wouldn’t need money if only these people wouldn’t eat.

The fake meat story is a fraud - if you care about pollution, like every other industry yu can regulate how they handle waste products and other operational practices.

Fake meat is just a consolidation play, which happens to be the factor that made meat production a horror show in the first place. Instead of cutting down rain forests for pasture, we’ll cut them down for more protein sources to manufacture fake meat. Ditto with palm oil, which will drive some apes to extinction because there is a marketing problem with selling lard and a health problem associated with selling hydrogenated oils.


Always come with citations.


> It's important to note that almost all of the land that cattle are raised on is unsuitable for any other purpose.

This is blatantly false. It might have been true 70 years ago, but not since the rise of CAFOs or a large international beef market.

* ~70% of US beef comes from a CAFO (where the primary feedstock is corn) [0].

* In the US alone the amount of corn diverted to livestock feed (predominantly beef) could feed 800 million humans [1].

* Brazil produces ~15% of the world's beef (2013) and much of this land (65 Mha) was reclaimed from the Amazon [2].

[0] https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1iUpRFOPmAE5IO4hO4PyS...

[1] https://news.cornell.edu/stories/1997/08/us-could-feed-800-m...

[2] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S026483771...


Corn is heavily subsidized. Is it a surprise that this ends up as animal feed?


> It's important to note that almost all of the land that cattle are raised on is unsuitable for any other purpose

The land used to grow the food used to feed most cattle most definitely could be used for other purposes or just left alone.

The vast majority of cattle aren't grass-fed on the high plains just before slaughter. Sustainably produced beef like this simply can't scale and is too expensive for mass consumption.

Most cattle are fed in feedlots using grains produced en masse for that purpose.

That is why beef production has such a huge carbon footprint - because of the massive crop fertilizer inputs needed to feed massive quantities of cattle.


I recently watched a documentary that really called to question this common wisdom. https://youtu.be/SdrhpThqlCo For context, I was vegan from 2006-11, and the environmental reasons were my primary motivation. Now it seems obvious that the numbers couldn't have been what I thought. Put into context that "carbon footprint" was a slogan invented by the fossil fuel industry, and its clear who is served by shifting the blame to cows.


> Put into context that "carbon footprint" was a slogan invented by the fossil fuel industry, and its clear who is served by shifting the blame to cows.

We should absolutely be scrutinizing the fossil fuel industry. There's also no reason to _shift_ blame; both can be blamed at the same time. Ulterior motives behind the origin of carbon footprints does not negate the impact of our diets - particularly animal agriculture.


Willpower is finite, political will is finite, social capital is finite. We really can't afford to squander those things on low-impact high-pain measures. Farm bills and government subsidies to fossil fuel make your diet not even noise. Its not detectable at any scale. The only way to change diets at scale is price and availability.

Electric cars are sold to wealthy people so they can maintain their lifestyle with a fresh narrative of being the solution. Meanwhile, a few meters of road being built releases massive amounts of crap to the air.

Lab-grown meat is the same. Bioreactors taking resources from states away to pump out goo for people to eat states away is not sustainable and will never be sustainable.

We need to return to the land, but governments work hard to ensure every last human is a citizen, and produces wealth for someone else. People who resisted were met with violence and their land seized. The system is going to collapse, I really don't have hope. But the least you could do is spare people the party line of blame and shame. /doomer-rant


Analysis claiming that beef production at large is not the major source of CO2 emissions among livestock is ignoring the supply chain CO2 of beef production - ignoring the CO2 emissions of the food produced to feed the cows.

This is pretty well documented:

http://www.fao.org/gleam/results/en/

Also, whether one is a vegan or not is irrelevant to the question. These are systemic issues based on, as you yourself say, the lack of price put on CO2 emissions to account for their externalities.

However, the lack of political will to do so up to this point doesn't mean we can or should end industrial society and return to the land. There are less dramatic solution paths, but they will need time to acculturate.


Today's latest from Kurzgesagt is also relevant: https://youtu.be/yiw6_JakZFc


That's only a portion of it, though. That area could be used for something other than agriculture, and a significant portion of arable land is used for growing crops that go exclusively toward animals that are later slaughtered, e.g. soybeans.

Moving away from meat is the right way forward - ethically, ecologically, and economically.


A lot of the land used in the US for raising cattle was previously the habitat of wild bison, who were themselves the primary food source of the indigenous people who lived on that land. Cattle ranching in the American Great Plains is just a domesticated and industrialized version of what the Great Plains have been doing all along.


But are you overlooking different scales?


Maybe. Maybe not: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=28622417

> I always like to point out that before the Europeans decimated the American bison, there were more head of bison roaming the west than there are head of cattle today. Just turning our monocrop soy and corn farms in the midwest back to prairie (by actually doing nothing to the land - just leave it alone), we could have regenerative ranching and cows and more food for less energy input than we do today.

I don’t know for sure if that’s true, but it sure as hell wouldn’t surprise me.


Yeah there's almost no way that's true. Maxmimum bison population in North America was never more than 50 million. US alone has 90M head of cattle, Canada and Mexico have ~10 million each.

Also Bison grew at natural rates and lived for 20+ years... Beef cattle are slaughtered around 2/3 years - so you're turning over ~2,000lbs of mass per head every few years. Just an unfathomably massive industry.


So that's about twice the population for about 1/10th the lifespan, so about a 20x increase in scale. Which seems...not entirely unreasonable compared to near-complete wilderness supporting a hunter-gatherer population?


You're saying ~1 billion freely roaming bison in the US seems like a manageable and reasonable solution?


No; I’m saying it seems reasonable to get 20x the bovine field from the same land through active ranching and agriculture than it would naturally support.


Who doesn't love a good bison burger? Let's do this.


Realistically, though, it isn't used for other things. Lack of infrastructure is a decent barrier for many things.

Not that I disagree with the last bit - I'm mostly vegetarian save for an occasional fish dish.


If not used by cattle ranching it would be used as a natural preserve - there are huge chunks of the country that aren't fit even for ranching and in those chunks of the country you'll see... nothing. Except a biome that's doing its thing without human intervention. If this land is good for nothing but cattle rearing and we stop cattle rearing then we can return big chunks of it to nature.


You can do cattle ranching in a regenerative way that would be better than doing nothing and making a place a national park. [0] Are there problems with current chicken, pig and some ruminant ranching? Yes. Does it have to be done this way? No. Are there major environmental issues also with monoculture plant farming that nobody seems to bring up? Yes.

[0] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vpTHi7O66pI&t=1s

Getting rid of ruminant cattle farming will just make the world worse off as food demand gets redirected to a smaller amount of arable land and missing cattle would accelerate climate change and desertification. Humanity does not have a lack of land to live on, there is plenty to go around. City land is expensive because everyone wants to be on small space.


> Getting rid of ruminant cattle farming will just make the world worse off as food demand gets redirected to a smaller amount of arable land and missing cattle would accelerate climate change and desertification. Humanity does not have a lack of land to live on, there is plenty to go around. City land is expensive because everyone wants to be on small space.

Wouldn't getting rid of ruminant cattle farming reduce the amount of arable land required since so much of it is used to grow animal feed?

"If all the grain currently fed to livestock in the United States were consumed directly by people, the number of people who could be fed would be nearly 800 million,"

https://news.cornell.edu/stories/1997/08/us-could-feed-800-m...


> Wouldn't getting rid of ruminant cattle farming reduce the amount of arable land required since so much of it is used to grow animal feed?

I think this is exactly the point missed by the people in this thread saying that a lot of cattle are raised on otherwise useless land. The presumption is that if you got rid of cattle farming you'd have to replace the lost calories for humans by growing other food on that land or cutting down more forests.

But this presumption is false. Even if every bit of land used for raising cattle turned out to be worthless for doing anything else, you'd still have an overall environmental win by getting rid of cattle. Convert not the land used to raise cattle directly but the land used to grow the food they eat to producing vegetables and grains for us.


I don’t understand your last sentence. Get rid of cows and then give people what?

I also think vegetables are very energy inefficient compared to for example potatoes. Not sure how we can defend growing anything with such a minuscule calorie count given the impact of pesticides and herbicides on the environment.


> I also think vegetables are very energy inefficient compared to for example potatoes. Not sure how we can defend growing anything with such a minuscule calorie count given the impact of pesticides and herbicides on the environment.

Cattle are herbivores, so we're feeding _them_ plant matter for them to convert to meat for us to eat. We're also growing massive amounts of soy and corn just to feed those cattle already, when we could be growing substantially less than that to feed ourselves.

> Not sure how we can defend growing anything with such a minuscule calorie count given the impact of pesticides and herbicides on the environment.

Not sure how we can defend the current status quo when we're growing many times the amount of crops to feed the animals using those pesticides and herbicides, _and_ pumping said cattle full of antibiotics, but yet here we are.


Livestock overgrazing is one of the leading causes of desertification. Can you explain how removing them and simultaneously making the food chain more efficient could worsen the situation?

I'm aware that you linked the Allan Savory TED talk, but that's been heavily controversial and many of the studies on it find limited effects beyond any other reasonable strategy.


The area on which is cattle ranching is better than nothing is a very small portion of the world. People loves to bring this argument, but it is order of magnitude lower than area destroyed by cattle ranching (farms for feeding beefs lead to deforestation, badly managed water leads to desertification).


Yes, here in Australia we have other uses for north-western land that's primarily used for raising cattle. We dig it up for ore.


A mine is much more profitable than a cattle farm. If the land has provable minerals beneath it, it will not be used for farming cattle.


Interestingly, several of the sites I work with do both. Pretty surprising when you're heading back to camp in the LV and suddenly a cow steps onto the road


> That's only a portion of it, though. That area could be used for something other than agriculture,

Like what? What do you propose as a better use of the high plains? (Let’s define this as land west of 100 degree W to Rocky Mountains) There are no natural resources, no large cities, lack of infrastructure, etc. Other than wind farms, what can you do with grasslands that receive less than 10” of rain a year that sits on top of a rapidly depleting aquifer?


Most of the farming on the high plains depends on fossil aquifers which are being depleted, or snowmelt-fed rivers. The snow is increasingly falling as rain and/or melting in a big rush in early spring, leaving the rivers dry for more and more of the year.

Farming on the high plains mostly isn't sustainable. Certainly not the way it's done now. Not in the context of climate change.


WeWork co-working spaces. There's a slight infrastructure situation, which you mentioned, but nothing a ton of money won't fix. What're you doing the next couple months? I have some money I'd like to invest. I hope you good with construction!


Compared to the scale of bioreactor construction proposed in the article, this is actually a attractive investment.


Yeah, maybe land wasn't the best thing to call out as it's not particularly scarce in the US. Water, on the other hand...

California uses more water to grow animal feed (Alfalfa + irrigated pasture) than it does for all residential and commercial uses combined.


Here in the Netherlands it's the exact opposite. We have infinite water, just not a lot of space.


Manatee farms when?


And then in Germany... Fly over with Google Earth or similar.

It's basically all farms and cities now. Several of the forests left are mere tree plantations.

Perhaps one day the yearly reminder that our forests are dying will stop because there's none left.


European forest area has actually increased as modern farming made land use more efficient so we could reduce farm area. The forests were cut down centuries ago. All farming in Europe has to be sustainable since there is no farmland left to expand into.

https://ourworldindata.org/exports/forest-area-as-share-of-l...


Given the satellite pictures I'm looking at, that graph cannot really comfort me, but thanks for trying.


Water isn’t particularly scarce in the US either. Just because a handful of states are managing their resources sub-optimally doesn’t mean the whole country has a shortage.


> They aren't grazing cattle in Manhattan, it's in places like rural Australia or Texas where there is no infrastructure, no arable land, and no human population that is competing with the cattle population for resources

Nasa [0] claims that the single biggest reason for deforestation is conversion to cropland and pasture, and Vice [1] says that 80% of the deforestation is for cattle in Brazil. Meanwhile, in the US almost 70% of all crops grown are used as animal feed [2] (e.g. all that midwestern corn and soy) - and the efficiency of that is staggeringly low; Only about 3% of the calories used for beef feed translate into our human food,

> They aren't grazing cattle in Manhattan,

They're not because it's a concrete jungle, and land is expensive in the immediate areas.

[0] https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/features/Deforestation/def...

[1] https://www.vice.com/en/article/bjwzk4/feeling-sad-about-the...

[2] https://www.vox.com/2014/8/21/6053187/cropland-map-food-fuel...


That just isn’t true. Most arable land is used to grow animal feed. And maybe the Brazilian rainforests can’t be used for much which has economical value, only things like producing oxygen and being one of the richest and biodiverse ecosystems on earth, but I still think it would be better to try to preserve them instead of converting them to land for grazing.


This is a good point until you recognize that you need vast resources beyond "unsuitable land" to raise cattle, let alone raise cattle at scale. Water, food (big one), medicine, manpower, infrastructure, transportation, and all of the subsidiary requirements therein all come into play.

When you properly recognize this your reduction disarms nothing.


Not in sweden. 70% of arable land is used for feed production. These are numbers from Svenskt Kött, a lobby organisation for meat producers, in swedish:

https://svensktkott.se/om-kott/miljo-och-klimat/hur-mycket-m...


> It's important to note that almost all of the land that cattle are raised on is unsuitable for any other purpose. They aren't grazing cattle in Manhattan, it's in places like rural Australia or Texas where there is no infrastructure, no arable land, and no human population that is competing with the cattle population for resources.

Traditionally yes, but my understanding is nowadays, at least in America, a lot of cattle are fed grain in industrial feedlots.


Some of that land historically was inhabited by relatives of current herbivores (bisons) so some of the land is feeding herbivores as it did historically.

Now, there are places where forest was cut down for grazing. Thats true. We also have experience where leaving the land alone a few decades reverts it back to forest (this is seen in forests in the eastern US which were once grazing lands for domesticated herbivores and now are back to being mature forests.


I'm not convinced that cattle ranching is always or necessarily the best use for much of that land, but I think the second point made was the more impactful one -- "growing animal feed." Much of _that_ land is either land that would be better suited for other purposes, or is land that we're intensely farming at high costs to the environment.


I hear this statement all the time, it is never sourced.

If Jews can grow tomatoes in the desert, then what land could possibly not used for agriculture?

Besides, the majority of the land use that is used for growing animals or growing animal feed is in the lather category.

So as it is a statement that is always asserted without evidence, it can also be dismissed without evidence.


I'm a little confused; why is rural Texas less able to support human life than Manhattan? Other than the infrastructure that was built by humans, I assume the primary advantage of Manhattan is protection from human invasion and easily accessible water?


If a cattle farm isn't built in Manhattan, a thousand other people will be lining up to turn it into office, residential, or retail space.

If a cattle farm isn't built in Erath County Texas, that land is going to sit there doing nothing. It has no other productive use case.

The point of this is that pointing out how much land beef production uses isn't as insightful as it may at first seem, because that land isn't being taken from another economic activity.


There are, in fact, dairy farms in New York state.

Also, the DFW area is the 4th largest region in the country - proving that you CAN put people and cows on the same land


> Erath County Texas

That looks like prime wind turbine power generation country.


True, but a wind turbine can sit on a cattle pasture without causing issues, so that's immaterial to the arguments here considered.


I was pointing it out purely as a reference to the utterly enormous scale of the industry.


The Amazon rainforest is being slashed and burned to make way for land for raising beef. Rainforest is a good alternative use of the land.


How isn’t this downvoted into oblivion? It’s the falsest shit ever


Optimizing and subsidizing. And that’s to say nothing of the cost of the negative externalities.


> current meat industry is only cost effective because we've spent the last few millennia optimising the everloving hell out of it

My dad is a veterinarian and i went to some of the places where cattle is grown for meat.

I can assure you, it's not optimized except the species.

( We have "Belgisch witblauw" everywhere, that has been bred with great success since 1770. )


One thing to keep in mind is that lab-grown meat would still need to be "fed".

The conversion from feed to useable meat may be more efficient but we would still need to grow animal feed and to actually process it more than we do now: A cow can eat hay, but lab-grown meat will need that to have been digested to ready to use at cellular level.

I can imagine than lab-grown meat will always be more expensive than 'normal' meat because of the tech involved and because animals grow themselves but I don't think the aim of lab-grown meat is to be cheaper.


"I have no idea whether lab meat will ever come to pass. I suspect it will eventually, but probably take longer than expected."

Since we humans always overestimate what happens in 2-3 years and underestimate what happens in 10 (because we are so poor with exponential functions), you're saying it will be about 10 years then ;)


This.. I have neighbors who just clear cut large swaths of forest just so they can raise more cattle.


A significant proportion of the Earth's land surface is currently dedicated to either growing animals or growing animal feed.

If those stats include wild areas double-used as grazing land, then "dedicated" is too strong of a word.


Maybe.

I raise cows for myself and "F&F" consumption. In our case, they are sustainable: I own the land they graze on and the economics of raising them is quite simple. It's no more complex than balancing one's checkbook to show this.

Most other things are far less sustainable when you consider the industrial supply chains and the environmental impact of those. E.g. ANYTHING coming from manufacturing in China is already far, far worse.


[flagged]


The white man!? There is a global question of high meat consumption.


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Western meat production isn't unsustainable, at least not the one run in Europe. If the production method used in USA is unsustainable then it is only because you have so much space that you have more environment to ruin, if it looked like Europe where you don't have more nature to ruin you'd adapt meat production to become sustainable. It makes meat a bit more expensive in Europe but people still happily pay and eat it.


> Western meat production isn't unsustainable, at least not the one run in Europe.

More land is used to raise animals for consumption in the UK than exists in the UK. https://pbs.twimg.com/media/E6XE2_qVUAAPuOg?format=png&name=...


I don't see the problem? UK is a densely populated island. Mainland Europe has way more land, it makes sense for them to import. Or do you argue that UK shouldn't eat meat since they don't have enough land for it while mainland Europe can eat meat just fine since they do have that land? We trade between nations for precisely this reason!


Well, in that case there’s no reason to bother with lab grown meat in the first place.


The reason is animal suffering.


That's an entirely different issue, then.


I work in industrial biotech, read the entire article and found it mostly compelling, aside from lacking discussion of the reasons meat production might increase in cost over the time frame of the analysis.

The fundamental challenge is not a lack of understanding - it seems to be mostly centered around keeping bacteria out of giant 100,000 Liter vats, and out of all of the smaller upstream processes.

Think of biotech as happening in successively larger tanks. Start in a vial, go up to a flask, go up to a tank fermenter, go up to a bigger and bigger vat. If competing bacteria get into your process at any of these steps or the transfers between them and start winning, you kill the batch and start over. And you probably take down your equipment for a deep clean as well. This takes you offline for some time. This is already a problem for fermentation of other bacterial cultures, but it’s an even bigger problem for animal cells because they grow so much slower. So there’s some lack of fundamental understanding on animal cell growth mechanisms.

Given how much attention has been focused during the pandemic on understanding how to limit the spread of germs, it seems to me that there may be some synergistic advancements in keeping large scale processes contamination-free. A lot of it is human factors.. operators using proper PPE etc. Now we have a global population that understands all of that better.. maybe that moves the baseline.


If rapid sterilization is a requirement of the process, than it makes sense to embedded it into the design. The 100 ton reactor could have electric heating elements surrounding it on every side, or magnetic loops that induce heating to the stainless steel vat. Do a dry pre-heat at 500K to vaporize any leftovers then fill it with clean water and bring it to a boiling point, establishing slight positive pressure against any pores or leaks. And voila, you have a sterile 100 ton reactor with zero bacteria.

Similar sterilization systems would be installed on all ingress ports, using heat, ultraviolet or gamma ray, depending on the nature and heat sensitivity of the input, with slight overlap between the different systems.

Since you are culturing organic life from dead raw materials, and life is so sensitive to heat, gamma rays etc., it seems relatively simple to make sure nothing alive enters other than what has been grown in upstream reactors. Recursively apply these principles down to the last cell inserted into the process inside a (small) clean room.


What you’re describing (at least the heat aspect) is referred to as “Sterilization in Place” and it is standard practice to design into bioreactors already. Contamination still happens. In general you’re right though, the concept of continuous automated sterilization will need to be reimagined, but like many of the topics addressed in this article, a lot of the low hanging fruit has been picked.

https://www.flottweg.com/wiki/separation-technology/steriliz...


The description linked talks about a distinct sterilization phase, where hot steam is passed trough the installation prior to use. It seems exactly like the type of situation described in the article, where small welding gaps allow bacteria to stay alive - I would imagine, especially if the surrounding metal has enough thermal mass. My suggestion was a bit more nuanced, heat the very body of the reactor + reaction medium; but I could be venting hot air.

Nonetheless, it's not a fundamental, thermodynamic limit, it's not like bacteria spontaneously materialize inside vats above a certain volume. It's a technical problem to solve, it seems solvable and once you solve it, all 100 ton reactors can use that design.


It seems like it should be possible, eventually, to use a bioengineered organism to grow the tissue (and just cut down on unneeded things like extra brain matter, or eyes, etc), and let immune systems deal with bacteria and infections.

I mean, that's what evolution has already come up with as a solution to this problem. What we would need though is an organism that's far more symbiotic, where we provide security, and food, and protection from the elements, and it provides lots of tissue and hopefully at a good rate if return for input calories (and why not flavor while we're at it).

It's not that far a stretch from some of our domesticated animals, at least with the symbiotic relationships involved. We would just need to ramp that up to 11 and optimize out the parts that we can do more efficiently at scale or that we don't want (like cognitive function and much more than a pain response to keep it from hurting itself).


Huh. Fascinating line of thought. What if we genetically engineered a cow that basically had no brain besides what was necessary to be alive? Would it be more ethical to kill it? Would it even be an animal?


It'd be nice to have something like lab-grown unfertilized chicken (or other bird) eggs. Not the same as meat, but it's kind of close to the goal: a biological protein source that's completely unconscious and doesn't require any death to create. It'd be very difficult, but nature already did a lot of the work there.

I imagine it might be much tougher to design a full animal without a brain. You'd always be on the line between it not being able to stay alive due to loss of functionality, or, in the other direction, possibly having some degree of thinking/consciousness. This on top of the fact that we'd need a far better understanding of brains and genetics to ever hope to engineer such a thing.

If it did exist, I think it'd not only be more ethical to kill it but that it'd be (hypothetically) completely ethical. I don't think it would be an animal. It gets a little weird, though, because one would have to also accept that you could hypothetically use a similar process to create brainless humans and that it'd be fine to kill and eat them if you wanted to. Or do whatever else you wanted to them. That human also wouldn't be an animal.


It may not be that we'd have to design the full animal, and it may not be it has to not have any brain.

Modifying an existing organism might be much easier, and removing higher functions might be enough, depending on what we know now or later about the brain.

Is what makes eating an animal and a plant different for most people what constitutes their mass, or how we perceive them to think and feel? Making them not think and feel (and at the organism level, not the removal of that potential in an individual after birth) may be a path forward.

As a hypothetical, to bring it back to humans, and divorce it from reproduction which might have emotional baggage in many peoples reasoning, imagine a person with a tuberous growth that was removed, but we can cause it to continue to grow outside the body. If it's confirmed safe to consume, are there ethical problems with that person eating their own cells? What about other people?


>As a hypothetical, to bring it back to humans, and divorce it from reproduction which might have emotional baggage in many peoples reasoning, imagine a person with a tuberous growth that was removed, but we can cause it to continue to grow outside the body. If it's confirmed safe to consume, are there ethical problems with that person eating their own cells? What about other people?

I don't see why there would be. I think there'd just be psychological (perhaps biologically/socially-ingrained) "disgust" problems. It's not unethical to eat your own skin tags or to eat other people's skin tags, but most people won't find the idea appetizing (unless they're on the brink of starvation, perhaps).

>Modifying an existing organism might be much easier, and removing higher functions might be enough, depending on what we know now or later about the brain.

It still sees like it'd be very hard to know for sure, though. Obviously I'm no expert, and perhaps no one, including experts, can say such a thing with confidence, but I suspect that consciousness is integrated way too deeply in animal brains to the point that you can just remove some of the more modern/advanced parts and get rid of all of it.

For example, if you lobotomize a human (i.e. sever many/most connections between the prefrontal cortex and the rest of the brain), you remove most of the higher functioning capability, but they're probably still conscious.

I think you'd either have to change so much of the brain in so many ways such that it'd be very easy to mess something up and prevent it from staying alive for long, or you'd have to risk that you're just making dumber/less sensitive and reactive yet still possibly conscious beings.

I'm way more optimistic about the dead tissue growth idea (unfertilized eggs, tumors, etc.), or perhaps some other route entirely that hasn't been discovered yet. Maybe in a few centuries they'll devise a way to make humans fully autotrophic, with some layer of cells injected into the skin + some mechanism to use photons and air molecules as fuel to generate needed compounds, so you'd just need an hour of sunlight exposure per day to get all the energy and nutrients you need.


In The Restaurant at the end of the Universe, Douglas Adams envisaged a genetically engineered cow that was intelligent enough to tell the restaurant-goers that it wanted to be eaten.


This is exactly what I thought of! To quote:

“You mean this animal actually wants us to eat it?” whispered Trillian to Ford.

“Me?” said Ford, with a glazed look in his eyes, “I don't mean anything.”

“That's absolutely horrible,” exclaimed Arthur, “the most revolting thing I've ever heard.”

“What's the problem Earthman?” said Zaphod, now transferring his attention to the animal's enormous rump.

“I just don't want to eat an animal that's standing here inviting me to,” said Arthur, “it's heartless.”

“Better than eating an animal that doesn't want to be eaten,” said Zaphod.

“That's not the point,” Arthur protested. Then he thought about it for a moment. “Alright,” he said, ``maybe it is the point. I don't care, I'm not going to think about it now. I'll just ... er ...”


Ethical or not, that sets off my creepiness meter to the max level so I imagine it would be hard to market that.


I don't think we need to go as far as to remove the brain.

But let's say we map all the pain receptors and pain-like receptors(like loneliness) and engineer a chicken without those or with them blocked ?

It's a doable thing with today's tech,similar things are already been done to lab mice. hopefully that chicken lives.

Would it be ethical to kill such a chicken?


I think I read once that blind chickens get less stressed in a factory farm environment, so would it be more ethical to develop a strain of blind chickens?


Blind, deaf, with no pain receptors. Better not let consumers find out heh


Ethics are only part of the equation. In terms of energy use and carbon emissions, such a system would not be a big improvement. Though I personally would find it valuable just for the ethical reasons.


It might be a large step up. Not devoting calories to systems that aren't needed because of symbiosis could yield a large gain, and depending on the calorie input feedstock and waste output, carbon emissions might look very different. What does the carbon output of a whale or large fish look like in comparison to cattle?

Ultimately, with an approach like this it might be best bit to think of it as "modified cow/chicken/pig" but instead survey different animals to find some that already have fast and/or efficient growth phases that might already have some benefits.

I understand this is a hard sell for a lot of people, even if you just look at swapping out staple meats which this might require. Ultimately, we're probably served better by a bunch of different options than one giant monoculture of meat production, so there may be a place for everything.


I suppose that true breakthrough would be a development of a plant or fungus "base" that would be able to create animal cells.

So something like bamboo rhizome constantly growing an meat trunk, using either photosynthesis & minerals (plant-based) or plant mush (fungus-based) as source materials.


Does it have to be a batch process? Can you have a continuous flow system where pathogens rate of travel is lower than the flow of nutrients and cells?

Does the system have to rely on vats of cells? Can you make a believable meat substitute with GMO plants producing the raw materials which are constructed with bioprinters?

Can we genetically engineer, say, a cow with a functioning immune system but with no brain or other un-consumed organs such that it is amenable to mass culturing? (Edit: Sorry, just saw sibling post says exactly this)

I feel like the article is well informed and mostly correct. It's also the type of thinking that, while correct 99% of the time, prevents innovation by focusing on what can't be done. I think every engineer knows cynicism is correct 99% of the time. It's that rare chance when it's not, when you push against what seems like a law of reality and break through, that we achieve what we didn't think was possible.

I have no doubt, given this article, that the current approach to lab grown meat will fail. I am not so sure about artificial meat in general, however.


its typical though to spike cell culture media with antibiotics to avoid bacterial contamination. i did a ctrl-f within the OP article as well as the 50 page pdf but i haven't seen 'antibiotic' mentioned at least. I suppose its always possible you get some bateria thats resistant to your antibiotic, but people have been using penstrep in their media for decades now and that hasn't been a huge concern thus far at least in lab environments following sterile technique.


Agreed, this was one of my first thoughts as well and it’s not discussed at all. Why not just dose with antibiotics? Too expensive? Regulatory issues (seems unlikely as all our livestock are already hopped up)? Consumer groups will balk?


Antibiotics don't help with viruses or resistant bacteria. In live animals the antibiotics are applied on top of the immune system.


I don't think resistant bacteria is going to be an issue if you switch to other antibiotics. People have been using these antibiotics in media for decades and decades in cell culture already and this hasn't been a huge issue in this setting at least.


All advanced technology looks like a "wall of no" until someone finds a path through. Or doesn't. The only way to know is to throw dollars and smart people at it until one's appetite for risk is spent, or one hits it big.


A lot of the points here seem to revolve around the physiology of animal cells. All the "extra" energy that's supposedly being saved by lab-grown meat is what's used in real animals to do things like drive the immune system, maintain boundaries around cells that lack walls, regulate growth and toxin removal, pump oxygen, etc. An "efficient" approach is impractical to scale with animal cells, because of the unrealistic cleanliness and nutrient purity requirements of growing animal cells without any of these things.

I think the article's main point is that a breakthrough is unlikely to come from the usual culprits when it comes to economies of scale (larger tanks, greater nutrient production, etc.). Indeed the smaller scale operations are the only ones that seem likely to be able to sell meat at realistic prices in the near future. Something would most likely have to be done at the level of animal cell physiology, and we have no real idea of how to do that while still making what we're growing "meat." And none of the companies involved seem anywhere close to an idea that should work--not even a promising approach that hasn't been tested yet. It's essentially further from reality than something like energy positive fusion is, something that gets treated with great skepticism every time there's an article about a breakthrough posted to HN and which depends on government and university funding for grants--yet we're treating it as though it's imminent or inevitable technology, and investment funds are pouring billions of dollars into these companies as though they're expecting to see returns on investment relatively soon.


Don't warm-blooded animals spend 90% of our energy keeping ourselves at the same temperature? That's major low hanging fruit. Cleanliness and purity failing to scale sounds like something specific to an approach rather than something fundamental.

I think you and the article make good cases that the current approaches won't work out and that a lab-meat winter is imminent. Fundamental limits, though? Not so much.


Firstly, thermogenesis is only about 10% of our total energy expenditure (and it's not like organisms floating around in a tank don't need to regulate their temperature either!).

Secondly, even with the tank model we're talking 3 or 4 calories in/calories out vs. 10/1 (for chicken; you may of course choose some other animal as your baseline if you want to make things look better for lab meat). It's an improvement, but not as significant one as you might think.

Thirdly, there's lots of evidence that the processes I mentioned (oxygen pumping and blood circulation, filtering out toxins from incoming nutrients, filtering out waste, and the active immune system) are a huge percentage of animal energy expenditure. The Wikipedia breakdown of our BMR shows that the liver (responsible for flushing out toxins from incoming nutrients) represents about 27% of the BMR, the kidneys (responsible for filtering out waste) another 10%, and the heart (responsible for pumping blood and oxygen) another 7%. Even if you assume "other organs" (taking up another 19% or so) represent inefficiency here, and the brain (another 19%) isn't needed, that still means that in humans, about 45% of our BMR are devoted to these three functions (18% is used directly by skeletal muscle and is presumably also required in a lab setting). Additionally, from what I read elsewhere, the active immune system represents a remarkably large proportion of animal energy (some 25-30% of our basal metabolic rate!); there may be some overlap with these other organs, but I suspect this reflects a substantial portion of the remaining energy use.

So now we're at somewhere between 50 and 70% of the energy use in comatose animals being taken up by exactly the processes outlined in the article as being challenging for lab meat, not far off from the 50% - 75% reduction we are supposed to get from growing meat in a lab. I somewhat doubt this is a coincidence! It's true that there's extra unnecessary stuff animals do (such as growing bone, physical activity, and thinking), but there's a reason the BMR is such a high percentage of our overall metabolism--this stuff is all really important, and trying to do without it leads to the kinds of issues discussed in the article.

Moreover, even if you disregard the energy expenditure requirements, I think oxygen transport not scaling well with increased container volume (given the physiology of animal cells) is pretty fundamental. AFAIK it is one of the things that historically has made it difficult for animals to get too large. Yeast or plant cultures can get around this because they don't all need oxygen to metabolize in the first place, and have cell walls that can filter out byproducts more much effectively than animal cells can. Animal cells do not, and as noted in the article the lack of cell walls also makes aggressive mixing a no-go. That to me is a big reason for pessimism that I don't think is easily resolvable without significant changes to their cellular anatomy.

All that being said, I'm not saying to give up--I think everyone would love for lab grown meat to work and be at least competitive (on both a cost and energy basis) with "regular" meat. And of course it's possible that we can find more energy efficient solutions to all of the problems I outlined than animals do. But I do think that we should be realistic about the fact that we have no good reasons to think current approaches are going to work, and lots to think they won't, and therefore treat claims of near-term improvements in this field with appropriate skepticism.


Bigger tanks allow for economies of scale to make the product for less money, but there are lots of other things that can be streamlined in production.

A building with 10,000 vats and 50 workers. If you can reach that point and the factory has low opex and expected lifetime of 50 years: is that really still not considered "good enough"?


Exactly. Putting folks on Mars is very difficult too, yet we’re still working on it.


We haven't done it yet, but even if we had it's not a comparable analogy. We have a plan to get a few people to Mars that (while not exactly cheap) could conceivably happen. Similarly we already have lab-grown meat at very small scales, at a fairly high markup.

What would be a comparable analogy would be maintaining a stable, economically sustainable colony on Mars with similar population growth to what we might experience on Earth. Nobody has any remotely realistic proposal for how we are going to get there, just as no one has a remotely viable proposal for how to scale up current lab grown meat production to even an appreciable fraction of current meat consumption.


The article is as hand wavy with defeatism as enthusiasts. Mars would never support current levels of population on it, it’s too small and tech can’t change that.


They said population growth like we see on Earth, not the total population. It's only too small for the total population if we assume the current inputs and outputs of humanity on Earth.


Not a useful distinction.


How is it too small?


Size affects everything. Area, gravity, atmosphere, radiation, all related.


"According to the article, the barriers to cost-efficient manufacturing of lab-grown meat at large scale are fundamental, e.g., impossible to overcome according to the Laws of Thermodynamics and our current understanding of cell biology and chemistry."

I came away with the opposite understanding. I don't understand why lower cost lab grown meat would be fundamentally impossible. At its theoretical best, lab grown meat takes the existing non-lab grown situation and improves on it in two very important ways - less energy wasted growing non-meat, and less land required due to vertical farming capabilities. Rather, the issues I saw that the article talks about, such as issues maintaining sterile environments, aren't things that are theoretical limits, but are practical problems that might or might not have an eventual answer.


According to the article there are no economics of scale. A ten times larger facility would cost more than ten times as much to run. This is apparently a very difficult problem: "But the truth is this: For cultured meat to move the needle on climate, a sequence of as-yet-unforeseen breakthroughs will still be necessary. We’ll need to train cells to behave in ways that no cells have behaved before. We’ll need to engineer bioreactors that defy widely accepted principles of chemistry and physics. We’ll need to build an entirely new nutrient supply chain using sustainable agricultural practices, inventing forms of bulk amino acid production that are cheap, precise, and safe. Investors will need to care less about money. Germs will have to more or less behave. It will be work worthy of many Nobel prizes—certainly for science, possibly for peace. And this expensive, fragile, infinitely complex puzzle will need to come together in the next 10 years."


> A ten times larger facility would cost more than ten times as much to run.

This is an impossibility. You can just build ten smaller factories to scale up and get at least a linear gain. No economics of scale just means that you can't get much better than linear, but in nearly all cases you at least get linear scaling.


That is assuming that there is an elastic supply of needed materials. There may be bottlenecks in supplies that drive costs up.


Is it easier to keep a city of 10k or 100k disease free? If both get "contaminated", which is the bigger cost?


That's a false analogy. 10 separate factories in their example would be 10 separate cities each with 10k people, not 1 large city with 100k people.


That's not how you reach economies of scale.


We all know that. Their point was that you get linear scaling using that approach, which disproves the notion that you can't get linear scaling.


Linear scaling of any project large enough to disrupt an industry (as is being suggested here) is a pipe dream.

When you are trying to scale up something that big, you eventually get beyond economies of scale for the required infrastructure and feedstock, and as a result, increase overall demand, which raises prices.

You only get near-linear scaling for a very short, initial "ramp-up" period.

Beyond that, you start cornering markets, which makes prices spike, not decrease or even hold steady.


>> A ten times larger facility would cost more than ten times as much to run.

> This is an impossibility. You can just build ten smaller factories to scale up and get at least a linear gain.

No it isn't. Your "solution" is a different thing. A collection of smaller facilities is not the same thing as a larger facility.


You can have a large facility with 10,000 automated lines.


> You can have a large facility with 10,000 automated lines.

Read the article. IIRC, it's talking about the limits of how large you can practically scale a clean room.


Environmentalists often have a bias for small scale operation. They just really like the idea of everyone having their own bioreactor in their closet powered by their own rooftop solar panels. I think it may be simply an aesthetic preference that they then try to rationalize, facts be damned.


It depends, if they share some facilities with other functions that pay parts of the bills then those parts wont scale up. Like lets say you rent out part of your capacity to a nearby lab that pay research lab money for it, that could cover most of their expenses for a small facility. I wouldn't be surprised if that is how they are running things right now.


The article says you need 40 000 of these to replace our meat consumption:

> Each of those facilities would also come with a heart-stopping price tag: a minimum of $1.8 trillion, according to Food Navigator.

You know what the total value of the entire worlds meat industry is today? Less than a trillion. So if we could run those labs for free, it would only take a bit over 80 000 years to for them to pay off. But of course they can't run for that long and they need manpower etc. Now if we mass produce those labs it might become cheaper, but will it really get ten thousand times cheaper?

Now, you could say that costs go down with scale. But we also know that projected costs of large projects rarely stay that low, likely those facilities would cost way more than that at first. And price would have to go down really quickly, as just building the first 10 would cost the equivalent of 20 year of meat production.


Correcting my comment here, the article apparently have a huge error: The 1.8 trillion would be for 4000 facilities, not per facility.. The article says this:

> If cultured protein is going to be even 10 percent of the world’s meat supply by 2030, we will need 4,000 factories like the one GFI envisions, according to an analysis by the trade publication Food Navigator. To meet that deadline, building at a rate of one mega-facility a day would be too slow.

> Each of those facilities would also come with a heart-stopping price tag: a minimum of $1.8 trillion, according to Food Navigator.

However, the link it is refering says this:

> According to CE Delft's techno-economic analysis, each factory could cost around $450m. A quick calculation suggests 4000 factories at this price would cost an eye-watering $1.8trn.

So the 1.8 trillion would be for 4000 facilities, not per facility. At that cost the investment to replace the worlds meat production would be worth 20 years of traditional meat farming, and then running cost above that. Significant but not unsurmountable as the article wanted to claim.


Your proposal only works if the production equipment will have a greater than 20-year life. All available evidence says it wont, so the ROI is not 20 years, but practically infinite — and hence insurmountable.


for perspective thats 500B less than war in Afghanistan.


There is the relatively free transformation of solar energy into meat when done naturally. Lab grown meat would seem to require a lot more process to turn that free solar energy into a consumable product.


For certain definitions of "free" and "naturally". But certainly not free of side effects on the environment: land and water use with deforestation and water crises, pesticide runoff, pesticide resistance, increased transportation costs and pollution for supplies and feed, increased transfer of disease (swine flu), increased CO2 and methane production. And also increased animal suffering.


those are process problems that already have solutions (which reduce profit somewhat). the biotech process has a bunch of unsolved scale problems, will likely have it's own externalities, and cost significantly more.


I agree that the likely result is that lab-grown meat will most likely cost more. I'm just not sure that not-lab-grown meat will stay cheap. The unseen environmental costs of raising livestock are not currently well-represented in its price, which is also heavily subsidized (both financial subsidies and unhandled environmental externalities). And there's not enough land in the US to put all of its livestock to graze. There's water supply problems for livestock and feed (which takes 10x resources to grow compared to simply growing plants). So if, on top of that, you introduce mitigations that reduce profit somewhat, the price will have to go up even more.

Factory farms are also currently benefitting from economies of scale, something that plant-based meat manufacturers are only now catching up to. Plant-based meat's ingredients are generally pretty cheap compared to the cost of raising livestock, so theoretically they could potentially beat the cost of meat.

My non-expert hunch is that its externalities of lab-grown meat will be somewhat different from factory farms. Time will tell if they're better, more sustainable trade-offs.


Regenerative agriculture uses livestock to increase viability of soil. If used correctly theyre already a sustainable ag tool that uses waste and grazing as a benefit to plant production and carbon sequestration, not just a meat generation source. Lab meat will become less efficient at high scale not more efficient according to the history of previous biotech scale up attempts, most of which use more viable organisms than animal cell culture.


I'm thinking of the solar panels and batteries that would be needed and the environmental costs tied to creating them. They may be better allocated to replacing other sources of energy consumption in the near term.


If we can assume that the meat labs could overcome all their serious challenges if only we tried hard enough, ISTM certain problems related to traditional livestock agriculture could also be solved with some effort. Vote with your meat-purchasing dollars!


My main reason for staying with meat is that we evolved to eat it and not these plant based or lab grown alternatives. There is a very complex biological process in nutrition that we probably don't understand barely at all.


> we evolved to eat it and not these plant based or lab grown alternatives

Can I ask if you avoid soda, beer, cheese, every vegetable oil, artificial sweeteners, cookies, pastries, cake, pasta, and so on? Many plant based meats come from protein extracted from peas, wheat, soy, plus some oil, binders (that generally are also used in non-plant-based foods), and seasonings.

Do you avoid soy- and wheat-fed meat? Doesn't that affect the nutrition of the meat, since the animal had not evolved to survive on this diet?


Which ungulates have such delicate constitutions that they can't eat soy or wheat or (what they actually eat) corn?


I didn't say they can't eat it - obviously they can. The post I replied to specifically called out that they were sticking with meat because humans hadn't evolved to eat plant-based or lab-grown meat, and then implied their nutrition would suffer if they gave up meat. If that's correct, it must also then affect livestock's nutrition, since they didn't evolve to eat a soy/wheat or, as you correctly call out, corn diet. So I asked if they avoid meat fed on this "not evolved to eat" diet as well.


Certainly their outcome does change based on diet. You can compare corn fed, grass fed - corn finished, grass fed and finished, and wild game.

In all cases, there are nutrients and proteins that you cannot find in plant based alternatives. If you are vegetarian or stronger, you have to supplement with pills to get the things that are not in your diet. It is unclear whether lab-grown will lack nutrients found in natural meat, or if artificial supplementation is really equivalent.

Hence the desire to stay close to our evolutionary roots. Same idea as walking a lot and squatting to duce.


Can we assume that? And if we can, can we assume that the kinds of problems lab-grown meat has are the same problems as factory farms?


My phd is in the physics of complex systems, so its not exactly this area but the arguments in the engrxiv paper linked in TFA seem robust to me. In my mind there is an abstract question and a concrete question which illustrates the hardness of the problem.

The concrete question is, were there historical examples which showed the feasibility of this kind of endeavor? I dont think so. In fact there is a recent counterexample. Biofuels. They were big in the last hype cycle. George Church, the Tom Knight of Harvard, got involved in Joule, which is now dead. Biofuels was a much simpler pipedream than todays lab grown factory and yet… we are back to designing batteries, which are far simpler than algae.

So after this bubble bursts, I predict that we will be putting our money in making jellyfish tasty. it will be a step up from making yeast or algae tasty for sure.

Another prediction would be uh the second coming of 6502… of amino acid manufacturing.

The abstract question is, is it possible to design a large scale self replicating machine that runs more efficiently than evolution can give us? Again, no historical examples.. but I see the current deep learning “success” as a victory for evolution, not design…

My guess is, if we want to make lab grown meat work we might as well solve the easier problems of immortality and general AI, first.


> is it possible to design a large scale self replicating machine that runs more efficiently than evolution can give us?

Transistors miniaturization may fit under that category. We created something that every year doubled down the scale, augmented performance and reduced energy costs; and for that we needed those previous transistors. I don't think natural evolution has done any other process that fast.

I may be wrong...


Well, there's always the big bang.


Chinese cuisine already includes jellyfish. A bit bland, but not bad, and surprisingly good texture. Make them more tasty and you might be onto something. No idea bout nutritional value though.


Haha based on your tip I went for a wikipedia dive.

“ The Japanese company Tango Jersey Dairy produces a vanilla and jellyfish ice cream using Nomura's jellyfish.[12][13] Consuming echizen kurage is potentially dangerous if the toxic part is not thoroughly cleaned and cooked.”

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nomura%27s_jellyfish


Bug meat, but it would be challenging to sell.

Worms can be grown by the billions incredibly economically and efficiently, all while still being meat.

I could see GM worms having a better flavor profile, and boom, "lab" meat.


"Fly larvae farming" periodically makes the rounds as a "get rich quick" scheme. I saw someone selling setups in the 80s, and some old dude came up and told him how they did it in the 30s.


If you use current technology for growing cells I can easily believe that it will never be competitive. Even with economies of scale that is rather sensitive work that is very easily spoiled. Unless you figure out how to ensure clean-room conditions for low cost this part alone might make this too expensive.

But I don't see how there could be any kind of insurmountable problem here. Animals "solve" this problem for us right now, so there is a way. I just think that the solution has to be quite different than how we grow cell cultures in the lab right now.

Short term I'd be really skeptical on the prospects of replacing meat in this way. But long term is an entirely different question.


It's like looking at the Wright Flyer and saying that it is neat proof of concept, but that affordable transatlantic flight will simply never be possible. Prescient at that point in history, but myopic over a long enough time frame.


I'm surprised it was downvoted. It was a good point. Those of us in the computer industry can well remember when "640K should be enough for anyone."

We literally cannot imagine what the future will bring. I'm still waiting on my flying atomicar.

I think it will end up being necessary to make food this way, and that we'll figure out how to do it (Soylent Green, anyone?).


These sorts of things look like inspirational posters and suffer from survivorship bias. Many more ideas failed than succeeded.

We also seem to think that no one learned from all that experience. We can see the things that made something once thought impossible work at scale. We all know these stories. So we’re more primed to be wary of just being negative.

I’m all for spending money on this, but it could turn out certain breakthroughs are needed and we don’t know when or if they will come.


I do have times when I look at my phone and think about the first "computer" I touched. I'm still amazed sometimes of how tech changed since I was 6-7 years old(talking almost 40 years)

I'm no fan of lab growing anything because or banning people from raising animals or having food plots because those that make the food make the rules. That being said... I wouldn't be suprised to see, in 2-3 decades, something taking off in that regard. All it takes is one stroke of genius and a ton of elbow grease to change it all.


> Those of us in the computer industry can well remember when "640K should be enough for anyone."

I can remember the urban legend, but there seems to be no solid evidence that it was ever actually said, let alone believed by anyone. The saying is normally attributed to Bill Gates, but he denies ever saying it, and tells how he was pushing computer makers to include even more RAM.


That’s why I didn’t attribute the quote. I’m quite aware that the attribution is probably B.S.

There’s no question that the attitude was prevalent, though; whether or not Gates said anything like it.

“Don’t believe everything you read on the Internet.”

—Abraham Lincoln


When 640k was all you could reasonably buy as a consumer, it had to be enough for anyone if you wanted to own a computer at the time. It was never thought of as some fundamental limit that could not be broken or utilized in larger quantities, however.


Most things people said wouldn't happen didn't happen though. Some remarkable things happened, yes, but you can't count on remarkable breakthroughs happening in any specific area.

People looked at past results and thought we would live forever by now, but we still die and there is no end in sight of that.

People looked at past energy use and saw the future of fusion solving all human energy needs, but energy use has been flat for the past 50 years as no new efficient enough energy sources was found.

People looked at the innovations of transportation and assumed we would all have flying cars today, yet we still drive cars on the ground just like 70 years ago. They are a bit safer and more efficient today, but they are still just cars.


Fwiw, net-positive nuclear fusion now legitimately looks to be less than 5 years out. See Commonwealth Fusion. Here's a technical deep dive:

https://youtu.be/rY6U4wB-oYM


Those slides was 2.5 years ago, there ought to have been some very interesting development since then if it is just 5 years away, right? Can't you link something more recent?


Most recent advances: https://news.mit.edu/2021/MIT-CFS-major-advance-toward-fusio...

I just figured the physics symposium lecture would be more interesting given the deep-dive details and allusions to why ITER "failed" to achieve the desired breakthroughs.


(Just to elaborate on ITER. It's the classic too big to fail project, not to mention it has basically one feature: it's so over-engineered that it can't fail. It's almost the equivalent of the LHC. Built to "prove" a theory. Of course almost everyone wished some beyond the standard model physics to pop up at the LHC, it didn't as far as I know. Almost nobody wishes for unexpected things to happen at ITER, so it's supre boring. With a really eye-watering price tag. But at the same time it is a big umbrella project to get the necessary components designed, built, and tested for fusion. It's accumulating know-how, training experts, it's literally paving the fucking way. Hence the name. And in that context it's basically free. Companies spend more on filing and litigating dumb parents, and those are obvious too.)


Thanks, that looks cool. Just that a professor with slides is rarely a good sign that something is soon production ready, but them meeting production milestones is a good sign.

Still I wont bother to check the physics, if they are right it is great, but I wont change my life based on them making it. I know the problems with ITER, it will be too expensive to really revolutionize much, but I haven't done physics in a while and wont bother with more now.


Agreed. Skimming Humbird's analysis, he mentions concentrations of catabolites as a significant limit on cell density, and points out that their removal is usually the job of the kidneys. To me that immediately raised the question of how to design an artificial kidney-like structure that can also live in solution. Similarly, the cleanroom conditions are very difficult to sustain, but what if we could engineer a replacement for the immune system to police the reactors?

Both of those are of course complete science fiction currently, but they're not "thermodynamically impossible" like he seems to suggest. They're 'just' conditioned on a significantly deeper understanding of biochemistry and genetic engineering than we currently have.

Given the current state of the technology and the implications of meat for global warming, I suspect that meat might just become more expensive until it stops being eaten entirely. And when the technology exists to produce it artificially, there won't be a market for it anymore. Speaking as someone who eats meat regularly, it's mostly a matter of conditioning. I don't think I would have independently invented the idea of killing and consuming an animal if other's hadn't taught it to me.


If you solve those issues cost efficiently enough to grow meat cells you basically also solved all human blood and heart diseases. Just run your artificial kidneys to clean the blood etc. It isn't impossible to solve as you say, but solving it would basically revolutionize all of medicine.


"Engineer a replacement for the immune system" sounds insanely hard. Problem statement: "constant incoming stream of incredibly diverse unknown bacterial and viral invaders that you have to recognize and kill before their replication overwhelms your systems, but make sure you don't attack any of your own extremely diverse tissues, oh also those bacteria and viruses are constantly evolving to bypass your defenses". Natural immune systems are incredible biotech and it's a miracle we're not all dead.

> I don't think I would have independently invented the idea of killing and consuming an animal if other's hadn't taught it to me.

If you were really hungry I think you'd figure something out.


I completely agree on your first point. I was going for a bit of understatement, but to be clear, doing any of that is firmly on the other side of many revolutionary breakthroughs in our understanding of biology. But that being said, the standard for success isn't to have an immune system that can protect a complete animal for its entire life. The standard is to put up a nonzero amount of resistance to the reactor getting colonized by opportunistic bacteria (yeast etc), and not attack the one specific cell type that you care about. It's about pushing the requirement for sterility down from 100% to 'only' 99.99%.


> Agreed. Skimming Humbird's analysis, he mentions concentrations of catabolites as a significant limit on cell density, and points out that their removal is usually the job of the kidneys. To me that immediately raised the question of how to design an artificial kidney-like structure that can also live in solution. Similarly, the cleanroom conditions are very difficult to sustain, but what if we could engineer a replacement for the immune system to police the reactors?

But then you're talking about re-engineering complex animal life, which is nowhere close to happening any time soon. Plus once you add those systems back in, you may loose most of the energy savings that make "lab grown meat" look attractive. This comment when into more detail and did some back of the envelope calculations: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=28623349.

> Speaking as someone who eats meat regularly, it's mostly a matter of conditioning. I don't think I would have independently invented the idea of killing and consuming an animal if other's hadn't taught it to me.

To be fair, you're a human: you had to learn all your survival skills. You wouldn't have independently invented the idea of eating plants either, let alone picking the ones that would give you a nutritionally complete diet without poisoning you.


> how to ensure clean-room conditions for low cost

Maybe rather than chlorine or UV or whatever, give the clean rooms immune defenses?


There's UV light in sunshine. Maybe they should grow the protein outside.


The article is nothing but a hit piece, very likely funded by meat industry. I don’t see any theoretical reasons argued here. You cannot write off future potential based on current state of technology. It’s like you will look at mainframe and say that there will never be a computer in every home. The thing that matters is rate of change over time.

Write’s Law dictates that as the total production capacity increases, cost exponentially declines. This law is the driver of Moor’s law and it is exactly why we can enjoy so many modern conveniences ranging from TVs to refrigerators that was initially affordable to only ultra rich. The cause of this law is believed to be the fact that far many more brains looks at various parts of production pipelines and optimizes it relentlessly. Cultured meat factories may look expensive today but over next couple of decades, they can become norm compared to traditional industry.


If it's a hit piece it is easily the longest and best researched hit piece I've ever read. It's mostly a summary of Humbird's report and the people it's "hitting" end up agreeing with basically everything in it by the end of the article, only arguing that where there's a will, there's a way.

The idea that any imaginable technology will become efficient enough to be competitive on useful timescales is wrong. In my lifetime battery storage for the grid and nuclear power are all examples of technologies that were once predicted to become highly efficient and widespread. Flying cars and moon bases are examples of tech people in the 60s and 70s frequently assumed were just around the corner but which never even got off the ground. Decades on nuclear is being killed by massively increased costs, and batteries have become more efficient but the gains have been incremental rather than exponential. They are still nowhere near being cheap or abundant enough to switch the grid to windmills.

Engineering challenges are real. Improvements are usually not exponential. Computers are an exception, not a rule, and even there the exponential growth story is complex and not ideal: the era of big chip performance improvements stopped decades ago and since then it's all been incremental improvements for anything that doesn't trivially parallelize, which is most stuff.

Finally, you're comparing lab grown meat to TVs and refrigerators. That's not a valid comparison. Those machines had no competition, they enabled huge, immediate quality of life wins that couldn't be obtained in any other way. Lab grown meat is - in the absolute best case - identical to normal meat. It doesn't improve quality of life in any way. It's basically an indulgence, a psychological prop that rich people can pay for to feel virtuous. For everyone who already feels virtuous enough and isn't interested in charitable giving, lab grown meat has no purpose, and especially, it's easy to rationalize away any small amount of guilt felt (e.g. better for the cow to have had a nice life in a field than never having lived at all, nature is full of predators that are nastier than us, scientists are lying about climate change, etc). So there just isn't the growth market that benefited things like TVs.


I know this was mostly an aside, but the comment on grid battery storage isn't quite right. This hasn't been widely publicized beyond people working in the industry, but the efficiency of battery storage actually has improved exponentially in the last 20 years. The cost of leading edge NMC battery packs has fallen from $1000+/kWh in the mid-2000s to around ~$100-150/kWh today. Most industry insiders believe grid-level battery storage can be cost effective somewhere in the $50-100/kWh range. So, pretty close.


Reminds me of all those articles from ~20 years ago saying that solar power will never be cost-effective [0].

There'll be a series of incremental improvements, a couple of sudden "aha" shifts in thinking, and suddenly it's not only cost-effective, but massively better.

[0] searching for one now, I can't find an example, which is interesting. Did I mis-remember, or have they all been pulled down?


Serious critics of solar (and wind) power where never about price[1], they were about about availability and, as expected, with the growing share of wind and solar in the electricity mix the grid is getting more and more disturbed when the wind doesn't blow or the sun doesn't shine for a few days.

[1] in fact, price is a terrible metric when talking about electricity because you can't (realistically) store it, even today. Price only make sense when you have a bunch of fossil fuel power plant sitting idle, waiting for the break-even price to happen before adding their power to the grid.


Solar power isn't cost effective, which is why there's now an energy crisis in Europe ... it became a lot cheaper, but it didn't reach the point of making economic sense for it to replace other forms of power at scale, largely due to fundamentals outside of the semiconductor industry: lack of reliable sunshine, lack of sufficiently cheap batteries, etc.


I used to live in Western Australia. Vast areas of land with extremely reliable sunshine, and very little other uses [0].

The storage problem is being solved, battery tech is hot and getting hotter (kinda pun intended).

The transmission problem is still being worked on - there are unconventional options for cheap, plentiful solar power, like extracting hydrogen from seawater and then shipping the hydrogen to power plants near where the power is needed.

The costs used to be prohibitive because the panels were so expensive. But the tech for solar panels has progressed hugely (and quickly) and this is no longer a factor.

Solar power plants will never be a drop-in replacement for fossil fuel plants, for the reasons you describe. But that doesn't mean we can't replace fossil fuel plants with an energy system that uses solar power for generation.

The same will happen with vat-grown meat. One by one the difficulties will be overcome and the commercial problems will be solved. What we end up with will probably not look anything like our current meat industry. But it will replace our current meat industry.

[0] apologies to the indigenous people who have "used" this land for tens of thousands of years and would probably disagree with this statement.


Western Australia is the absolute best case possible for solar panel cost effectiveness though. You can't generalize from that to it being cost effective everywhere. Lots of people live in places like Europe where there often isn't strong sunshine, and there isn't a lot of available land. And as for being solved, well, that's my point. Batteries have been around for over a century. They haven't gone through some sort of exponential progress explosion that renders them "too cheap to meter". They improve but only incrementally and it's simply not enough.


off the cuff claims made by executives, like "there will never be a need for more than, like, 5 computers in the whole world" are different from calculated engineering limits though. While faster-than-light travel may be possible someday, it's beyond our current technology (though there are some interesting theories at the edge of physics). Fundamental engineering limits tend to be harder to work around. eg despite all our scientific advances, cars engines are still lmited by the Carnot cycle. Moving to electric cars doesn't get rid of that limitation, just makes us subject to other limitations (currently, battery technology).


I'm imagining a conversation:

Scientist: We need a machine that can cheaply and efficiently cultivate animal protein at scale.

Universe: We have one. It is called a cow. It took me a few billion years to make an auroch, and you tuned it for your purposes and called it a cow.


Scientist: We need a machine that can fly so we can travel faster.

Universe: You have feet. It took me a few billion years to craft the perfect long distance running machine, and tuned it for your purposes and called it human.

In other words, what the are you even talking about? Naturalism is stupid. If we were to rely solely on what "God", err rather "universe" has "created" for us we would have been stuck in a stagnant evolutionary pool with little of the modern conveniences most of us enjoy today.

Forget spacefaring civilizations, forget even planetary civilizations, actually forget even nation-states we would be happily meandering about the Sahara with little care save for your typical eat-sleep-fuck routine.


Scaling up and replicating the digestive tract and metabolic processes of a cow is so much more complex than a plane, that's a terrible comparison. Continuing with your naive reasoning, let's make synthetic corn instead of farming too, because why not needlessly maximize complexity of the systems that we have to maintain?


> Continuing with your naive reasoning, let's make synthetic corn instead of farming too because why not needlessly maximize complexity of the systems that we have to maintain?

Sarcasm aside, it is worth exploring. The typical photosynthetic efficiency of crops is only in the 1-2% range.

Modern solar panels reach 20%. The electricity can be used to produce hydrogen at 80% efficiency. The hydrogen could be used as energy input for an engineered yeast to produce proteins that we need.

I don't know about the efficiency of that last step, but it is at least plausible that the overall process could be more efficient than photosynthesis. Solar Foods[1] is betting that it will be.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_Foods


That is actually very cool and a much more promising path than animal cell culture, but tbh even with 10+ years of sustained investment I have serious doubts about whether it would compete with lower yielding sustainable ag efficiency at scale. Glad someone is doing the research though.

Seems like there is a two step conversion, step 1 is 40-50% efficient in mass conversion H + co2 to acetate by Clostridium ljungdahlii, then a 25% efficiency conversion by yeast to biomass. So that's already down to 2% overall for .07g/L/h at lab scale. Then additional losses in down stream processing to remove the water. The output is more of a yeast protien meat replacement.

https://www.chemistryworld.com/news/microbes-and-renewable-e...


It's extremely, extremely unlikely that we're going to beat plants on efficiency of biomass production, on either a per unit solar energy or per unit resources basis (there are two general photosynthesis pathways that optimize for each of these two endpoints). That doesn't mean we can't beat them at other things, of course (as solar panels demonstrate) but this is what they are optimized for, and the competitive advantage of finding a better way to synthesize biomass is huge to the point that it only needs to evolve once to take over a large fraction of the Earth.


> It's extremely, extremely unlikely that we're going to beat plants on efficiency of biomass production

I'm not so sure this is true. If it turned out that a more efficient pathway is possible with solar energy collection via sheets of extremely pure crystalline silicon (i.e. solar panels), then I would not think that it's strange that evolution didn't come up with it first. Some solutions simply aren't accessible to evolution.


Update: a relevant article appeared on phys.org this week about starch synthesis.

https://phys.org/news/2021-09-chinese-scientists-starch-synt...


> "According to the current technical parameters, the annual production of starch in a one-cubic-meter bioreactor theoretically equates with the starch annual yield from growing 1/3 hectare of maize without considering the energy input," said Cai Tao, lead author of the study.

It sounds like they're trying to save on land and freshwater, not energy or raw materials.


> In other words, what the are you even talking about?

I'm not talking about naturalism. I'm talking about economics.

We're trying to grow muscle tissue without the rest of the organism present, and now we're finding out that you need basically the entirety of the rest of an organism in order to support growing vast quantities of muscle tissue.

Read the article. The exact problems that need to be solved -- supply nutrients and fluids, protect the tissue from infection, allow the tissue to be grown as large as the food supply that is available for it, etc. -- are exactly the same problems that an animal already has to solve in order to survive long enough to reproduce.

We're not talking about taking what a bird does and scaling up the concept to something large enough to carry a human. We're talking about taking what an organism does and replacing everything except the muscle tissue with an artificial replacement. You need a circulatory system, immune system, digestive system, respiratory system, temperature regulation system, waste removal, etc. It's not a bigger version of what nature has to do. It's identical to what nature already has to do. They're the same problems on the same scale. It doesn't really matter if we're talking about scaling to massive 100 ton batches. A blue whale is 200 tons.

That's why it's so hard to create something artificial to compete economically with animal husbandry. Evolution has already had to solve the identical problems, and it's already done so with the requirement of selecting for efficiency of resources. All we did with animal husbandry was also select for optimal growth and domesticity. And the scales that nature already operates at are already within the range of what is logistically workable for human industry.

It's not that nature does it better. It's that nature's been solving this problem since abiogenesis and it wasn't particular about the flavor of the muscle tissue it got. It shouldn't surprise us that it's solution is cheaper cheaper or more efficient. It has over 3 billion years of a head start.


The universe is of course amoral and wouldn't observe any satire in Jonathan Swift's A Modest Proposal

Spoiler alert: impoverished Irish families should be encouraged to sell their surplus children to wealthy Englishmen, as food.


The universe would be equally happy if we ate humans instead.


This doesn't detract from the argument, this is just highlighting a different shade of gray


We also have pigs and poultry, which have much smaller footprint than ruminants.


I'll try to answer as best I can. I have done cell culture in a research lab, specifically mammalian cells (human and mice), which is what's needed for meat. Typically, the cells get fed with nutrients, but also something called FBCS, fetal bovine calf serum. This is the blood of unborn cows, and it is required because of a mix of growth factors and hormones the cells also need (the article mentions this too). Now imagine doing this for growing meat, it does not make sense to me, since you'd need the calf serum to begin with. Maybe today the required factors have been defined, but would have to be made with biotechnology, prohibitively expensive (think insulin and cancer drugs). So just from this perspective, it sounds like a no-go. Mammalian cells have to be babied, unlike yeast (beer, bread) or bacteria (yoghurt). Yeast genome = 12 Megabases, Human genome = 3 Gigabases, vastly more complex and difficult to grow.

Pat Brown, the founder of Impossible foods, who was trained as an MD and clearly has the background to judge this is also pointing out the fundamental issue [0]. Anyone who says that he has a vested interest I can just tell that I have worked with Pat, and the first thing I was told about him was that "he's the real deal.". He really is.

[0] https://www.eco-business.com/news/economics-of-cell-based-me...


I don't have any expertise here, but I don't really see anything in the article to support the idea that the problems are fundamental. That's certainly the conclusion their experts come to, but it all seems to be based on looking at the proposed technique and poking holes in the assumptions. There are all these problems, and while they have solutions, the solutions are expensive. Ok, but maybe there's another technique that's better. We can't think of one right now, and maybe we never will, but it's not in the same class of impossible as faster-than-light travel. It's more like fusion power: the engineering is too hard.

The article is pretty persuasive on the lesser claim though - all this enthusiasm is unwarranted, and we shouldn't invest heavily.


The obvious alternative to meat long term is plant protein. That cuts out an entire stage in the food chain, which is obviously going to be more efficient (about a factor of 10 more is the usual rule of thumb). The key is to make sure the plant protein is complete, which is why pea protein and legumes are preferred over things like soy.


That's the Impossible Burger. The process for making that is reasonably simple and scales well. Part of the trick is that they add heme, made via fermentation of genetically engineered yeast, to produce the "bloody" taste people want in meat. So the only part that requires a bioreactor is no more complicated than a small brewery. The other part of the trick is some clever extrusion technology to get a meat texture.

It's not bad as a burger. Go to a Burger King and get a beef Whopper and and an Impossible Whopper and compare. Even with no condiments they're pretty close.

Now if they can get the excessive salt content down...


> Now if they can get the excessive salt content down...

As I understand it, that's not a necessary part of the process, it's just what fast food places like Burger King do to all their meat. I don't see why something like ground Impossible Burger meat substitute that was sold in a grocery store would need to have the same salt content that the BK version does.


Eh, I hope the person you're responding to clarifies whether they meant the BK burger(s) or store options, but I wanted to chime in.

I was in the store just a day or so ago looking at alternative meats and I _also_ found the sodium content to be a bit high in some (though offhand, I can't remember if it's Impossible specifically). A frustrating aspect of some of these alternatives is that they overload on this stuff to get around taste differences - many of the coconut yogurts have more sugar than their dairy counterparts, for instance.

I generally prefer these options but it's frustrating that they have these caveats. Would be nice if we could learn from the mistakes made in the existing products.


For yogurt at least, the casein yeast will hopefully give rise to yogurt that is much closer to cowmilk yogurt. We’ll probably see a formulation that uses yeast-derived casein in the next 5 years.


I hope they can scale up. I used to see Impossible Burger at Costco earlier this year but haven't been able to find it for months now.


> The key is to make sure the plant protein is complete, which is why pea protein and legumes are preferred over things like soy.

1. I thought we were done pushing the complete protein thing? All the essential amino acids are essential (duh), but don't need to be consumed together like once thought. 2. With that said, soy is a complete protein. 3. Soy is also a legume.


> I thought we were done pushing the complete protein thing?

By "complete protein" I just meant that you need to have all the essential amino acids in your diet, not that they all need to be contained in the same dish. However, AFAIK all animal proteins do contain all the essential amino acids in a single dish, which makes it a lot easier to make sure you are getting them all. So any plant protein that is going to be a good meat substitute should have that same property.

> soy is a complete protein. 3. Soy is also a legume.

Agreed, that was a mistake on my part.


The day that this complete protein tastes, looks, and behaves exactly like meat..might be the day it's accepted as a substitute, otherwise it's a lost cause. and before that one has to factor in the effort to make that change to the plant protein.


> The day that this complete protein tastes, looks, and behaves exactly like meat..might be the day it's accepted as a substitute

While I'm sure there are people who won't accept anything less than that, I suspect there are many more who, like me, would be quite happy with "fairly close" to meat instead of "exactly like". There are plant protein products on the market now that already meet that goal. Even if such products don't displace 100% of meat consumption, they might still make a huge dent in it.


You're not wrong. I'm still very much a fan of meat, but have swapped out most of my consumption for plant-based versions. Mostly from the Linda McCartney brand. It feels much better post-meal digesting the lighter alternative and the flavour and texture is very comparable imo. The sauce and sides carry most of the flavour in our case anyway. Which is I guess why the "tastes like chicken" line became so widespread.

Haven't found a steak replacement yet, but we eat vanishingly few of those so it's not much of an issue. Will jump on a healthy, eco alternative that's full of iron though.

As it stands, I'm really not interested in labmeat. I'll just save my meat consumption for "special occasions", while using plant-based as the daily driver.

They say they could feed the world on plant-based food, if only they'd give it a fraction of the subsidies meat gets. I think it's an avenue worth taking seriously.


> They say they could feed the world on plant-based food, if only they'd give it a fraction of the subsidies meat gets.

Or just stop subsidizing meat and make it compete on a level playing field with other protein sources.


If you include external costs, how much should suffering of mammals cost?


I don't know of any way to answer this question. The only question I know of a way to answer is, how much will animal food cost if it has to compete on a level playing field with other protein sources? We can answer that question by simply having a free market in food. If enough people's preference is to not eat food that involves animal suffering to produce, then the free market will result in that kind of food not being produced any more.

(Btw, it's not necessarily true that animals raised for food will suffer. It's perfectly possible to raise them humanely and kill them when the time comes in a way that causes no suffering. In a free market that might not even cost more than factory farming of animals does today, since animals raised humanely are generally healthier and require much less artificial intervention such as antibiotics, which are routinely fed to factory farmed animals because of the artificial environment they live in.)


For market forces to work, we need to attribute some monetary value to the quality of life of animals.

Eggs from chicken that have more space and can go outside suffer less but are more expensive to produce.

Ignorance or questionable ethics should not be rewarded by monetary gain. That is why relying on consumers to "vote with their wallet" is a fundamentally broken design.

External costs should always be included in the price of a product.


> For market forces to work, we need to attribute some monetary value to the quality of life of animals.

In a free market, there is no "we". Each individual decides what to buy at what price based on whatever criteria they like, and each seller decides what to sell at what price based on whatever criteria they like. They everyone continually adjusts their choices based on what results they observe. There is no central authority that decides what anything is "worth".

> Eggs from chicken that have more space and can go outside suffer less but are more expensive to produce.

Generally, yes, which means you, as a buyer, have to be willing to pay more in order to provide a positive incentive to producers that do this. Which is exactly what my wife and I do when buying eggs (and many other things); we choose to pay more to reward producers that do things in a humane way and thus incur higher costs.

> Ignorance or questionable ethics should not be rewarded by monetary gain.

You are perfectly free to not buy from producers that don't do things the way you think they should be done.

> That is why relying on consumers to "vote with their wallet" is a fundamentally broken design.

If other consumers disagree with you, then the way for you to "fix" that "problem" is to convince them to change their buying decisions. Trying to get a central authority to dictate who can buy and sell what does not work; no central authority can aggregate all of the necessary information. It's mathematically impossible.

> External costs should always be included in the price of a product.

In general, the only viable way to do this is to not have externalities: to allow property rights to be traded so that all externalities get internalized, i.e., they are explicit costs or explicit benefits to one of the parties to the transaction. That ensures that they get properly taken into account.


> about a factor of 10 more is the usual rule of thumb

That's often a dishonest figure which ignores how land is actually used, such as:

- Much of the land used for animals (for grazing etc) is not suitable for growing human edible plants.

- We feed animals with plants that would otherwise go to waste. When growing corn, we only use the seeds. The whole rest of the plant (i.e. most of it) is feed to animals.


> Much of the land used for animals (for grazing etc) is not suitable for growing human edible plants.

I wasn't talking about land use. I was talking about energy. Plants capture solar energy directly. Animals capture it indirectly, by eating plants. That extra stage in the food chain decreases the available energy to humans eating animals instead of plants by a factor of about 10.

Also, if plant protein largely replaced animal protein in human diets, the land now used for animal grazing could be used for wild animals that weren't raised for food at all but just allowed to exist in their natural habitat. So the fact that that land is not suitable for growing human edible plants does not mean the use of that land is irrelevant to the choice between animal and plant protein in human diets.

> We feed animals with plants that would otherwise go to waste.

No, they would otherwise go into the food chain somewhere else, most likely by being eaten by microorganisms and fungi. That's not "waste". It's a natural part of the cycle. Whether or not animals eating the plant material is a stage in the cycle does not change the fact that the cycle is there.


Sauce?


What comes most to mind is the impossibility of flight and the mortal peril of traveling at speeds above 60 mph.

I.e., "never" is a lot longer than hyperbole allows for; and, it's easy to poke holes in a selected straw-person, a lot harder to anticipate the manners in which someone might change some of your axioms out from under you.

One off the cuff example: actual-whey-protein non-animal ice cream is now available down the street from me. Is it "vat milk"? Well, no; it's a novel solution that marries the actual protein in cow milk, with fats from vegetable sources.

They didn't violate thermodynamics to produce an interesting middle ground between cow-milk and plant milks (oat, almond, soy, coconut, whatever).

Similarly, it's a lot easier to tsk tsk about some arbitrary idea of what cultured meat is,

than to anticipate the ways in which it might be grown which have nothing to do with your tidy model.

As an aside, I'm interested to look in who is funding David there.

The American industrial farm meat industry has a LOT to lose if we get vat-bacon. Certainly enough to fund some opposition research water-muddying, eh?


The article says this:

> To be fair, the traditional meat industry already benefits from enormous direct and indirect government subsidies

and then ignores the impact that that has. In the EU, CAP subsidies are absolutely enormous [0], and are only slightly smaller in the US [1]. - Between the two, that's $115 billion dollars per year on farming subsidies, which is roughly 40% of farm income in both the EU and the US.If it's acceptable to prop up the farm industry, why isn't it acceptable to prop up the manufactured meat industry?

[0] https://theconversation.com/eu-subsidies-benefit-big-farms-w... [1] https://www.agriculture.com/news/business/record-high-ag-sub...


It is hard for me to fully buy into this too. I feel like the same was said for electric cars...


It's the treadmill of solving previously thought to be unsolvable problems. Each step is going to be more "See it's impossible", until it's not.


It's like saying that it's impossible to climb a mountain because, from a mile away, you can't see any handholds.

Obviously thermodynamic arguments that conclude with, "And so, we see that it's actually more efficient to house, feed, water, and slaughter real, live animals for meat," are ridiculously invalid. The same will eventually become true for the economic arguments in the article. It's 'just' a matter of asking how we get there from here, and putting in the R&D work necessary to make it happen.


And it was true, until cheap LI ion batteries became commercially available because they have the required power density to make it viable. From there it was just a matter of the economies of scale.


I think the thing to keep in mind is that this is very specific to the concept of growing meat using a cellular culture. This in no way invalidates other methods of replicating meat.


Late to the party but:

"Is there anyone on HN with deep expertise in this area who can comment on this article's scientific accuracy?"

Yes, I do. But I wont do it since beside me expertise I would have to take at least several weeks of full time to dig through the scientific literature and potential patent situation.

"Most of us have a limited appetite for 50-dollar lab-grown chicken nuggets."

This is where I become skeptical. We are not talking about fusion energy, something that does not violate physical laws but has not been able to work net energy positive in a man made setting. We are talking about something that has been shown it can be down.

50 USD per nugget? What immediately comes to mind is the BCG Experience Curve: https://www.bcg.com/publications/2013/growth-business-unit-s...

Hence, gut feeling without literature research: He is wrong.

Prediction:

1. We will see commercially lab grown meet bigger than lab scale within the next 10-20 years.

2. It will still be a minority market in the next 10-20 years

3. First products will be chicken nuggets, Hamburgers and (surprise) pet food.


I've no expertise on the technical area, but if the headline says "will never be cost-competitive" in a climate change related story then that pretty much means that it does make sense economically, but that it requires taxes/subsidies to price in externalities.

Because, if it just plain didn't work, the headline would say "This just plain doesn't work".

If it was so inefficient in terms of carbon input/output that it would a net-negative, then the headline would say "This would work but not be helpful to climate goals"

So by a process of elimination, the headline indicates that it does work, and it does make economic sense, but that government intervention in the market will be required to get the best outcome for everyone.

Some people see this and think "okay, lets write some legislation to fix that", while other people see it and think "oh, well I guess the human race will just have to die out in some kind of mad-max apocalypse, because that's better than regulations that ensure the free market actually works as promised".


While all the problems presented in the article are true, none are fundamental.

What is true is that there is no chance of sustainable production of lab-grown meat in 10 years and it is doubtful whether 20 years might be enough.

All the problems described just show that the current approach of trying to grow isolated muscle cells in an artificial device does not have chances to be efficient.

While most parts of an animal are not needed to grow meat, there remains a need for some simplified circulatory system, excretory system, respiratory system (this is the easy part) and digestive system (e.g. to transform the proteins from food into the amino-acids needed by the cells).

Currently the functions of these missing systems are implemented by extremely expensive and inefficient artificial devices.

As the article says, it is very unlikely that these bioreactors could ever be improved to have performances similar to a living animal.

So what is needed is not an artificial bioreactor with muscle cells, but a genetically-modified simplified animal, something worm-like made mostly of beef-like muscle but containing the required systems for feeding and growing.

Even better would be a plant growing some muscle tissue instead of fruits, but designing something like that would become possible only even further in the future.

Currently we do not know enough to modify an animal to grow only the organs that we want and in the shape that we want.

Nevertheless, there is no doubt that sometime in this century and probably in its first half, we will reach the point when we will have this ability (unless humanity destroys itself before that, which unfortunately is something that cannot be completely dismissed).


> Nothing on this scale has ever existed—though if we wanted to switch to cultivated meat by 2030, we’d better start now. If cultured protein is going to be even 10 percent of the world’s meat supply by 2030, we will need 4,000 factories like the one GFI envisions, according to an analysis by the trade publication Food Navigator. To meet that deadline, building at a rate of one mega-facility a day would be too slow.

Optimistically it seems even according to this article that most of barriers for affordable cultivated protein are with high capital costs and once the factories are built, you can eventually amortize a lot of the costs aka how solar/electric cars did so. Also they are aiming for a self-imposed 2030 deadline, sure it might take until 2040/2050 but nothing the article says it won't eventually be built. (Unlike say the water/housing/ education/healthcare crises with bottlenecks of land/regulations/labor)


> If cultured protein is going to be even 10 percent of the world’s meat supply by 2030

Why do we need protein from meat? The money to engineer cultivated protein could be directed to educating simple americans on the fact that they're consuming way too much protein already. Most americans consume twice the daily protein they need.[1][2]

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/28/well/eat/how-much-protein...

[2]https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/how-much-protein-do-you-...


Might want to actually read your second reference. It doesn't agree with your claim.


The summit was organized and sponsored by beef, egg, and other animal-based food industry groups

No conflict of interest there.

I've long heard that most Americans eat too much meat/protein. My understanding is that's a completely reasonable claim, citations or no citations.


I'm amenable to the idea that the typical American gets sufficient protein to fulfill their needs.

Referencing an article that doesn't support one's argument is nonetheless silly.


It's a nit and harms the signal to noise ratio. There are good kinds of pedantry and bad kinds.


People want it. Who cares about eating the exact minimum.


Cutting out something you don't actually need rather than inventing lab grown meat is an elegant answer to a complex problem.

It isn't like asking people to be vegan or something extreme like that. Just be aware of what your body actually needs and don't go overboard or be wasteful.

Why would that be some kind of controversial message or idea?


Inventing lab grown meat is a good way to make the problems of scaling the raw inputs for custom grown human organs to be sufficiently cheap that everyone can have them.

Building a factory to make aluminium foil is extremely expensive if that's all you're trying to do: it's a lot cheaper if there's already a global mining industry producing aluminium in many near-finished states.


I loathe the idea that everyone getting replacement organs is some kind of good thing to be shooting for.

I have a condition where organ replacement is fairly common. I very much wish the world invested more effort in keeping people like me actually healthy rather than celebrating the macabre prospect of giving more of us replacement organs.

So this is a problem space I've thought about a fair amount and I have zero sympathy for an argument for engineering organ replacement for everyone.


You seem unaware of the many and myriad reasons organ transplants are performed. Like you get that by the time doctors are considering it, it's because the alternative is they think you're either (1) going to die soon when it becomes necessary or (2) is necessary right now.

Did you know there are people who survive COVID and wind up in kidney failure from the stress on their body? What's your answer to them? Oh right: hope you can get a kidney and then enjoy life on immunosuppressant drugs.

But you know, go tell those dialysis patients on the waiting list that actually they're not that important.


You seem unaware of the many and myriad reasons organ transplants are performed.

I'm not. I'm just skeptical that putting more time, energy and money into headline grabbing "heroics" actually makes people healthier and I am very concerned that it only turns people like me into guinea pigs for people who want some limelight more than they want (people like) me to experience some kind of reasonable quality of life.


> it only turns people like me into guinea pigs for people

Did you also know that you are legally allowed to decline medical procedures? You can even sign yourself out of a hospital AMA ("Against Medical Advice") if you don't like what's happening.

You are also completely free, and generally advised, to seek alternate medical opinions.

The existence of a medical procedure or option has not, and never does, obligate you to take it.


The absence of alternatives is my concern. If we optimize for better organ replacement instead of optimizing for how to help people keep their existing organs functional, it's really an asinine thing to pretend they have some kind of meaningful choice.

"Oh, well, now that we've let your organs decline this far, you can get a transplant and maybe live. Or you are free to decline it and almost certainly die." is not a meaningful choice.

I've gotten ridiculous amounts of flak for making real choices about my health. Much of the world would like me to know I'm evil incarnate for doing prosaic things like eating better as a first line of defense.


I guess you could say this, but given that the planet is essentially burning it seems like we're getting way ahead of ourselves with this type of "solution" when we could be working on more important problems.


There's no way we can't genetically engineer a solution to this problem. Maybe not today, but certainly in the near future. I'm surprised he seems so pessimistic.


We did genetically engineer a solution to this problem, the program was called "selective breeding" and it was first practiced by the group called "early pastoralists" who published their findings in the journal "ancient history"


True, but wouldn't lab grown meat be better? It's a more ethically sourced protein, and can be tailored to the individual for optimum health


How are you proposing to create individually tailored meat products when they are concerned that the process doesn’t scale in the mass-produced first place? Personal bio-reactors?


I had a friend who made one, he lovingly coined it "the farm"


The same issues happen with most biotech production. As you try to scale you need different bioreactor geometry bc the amount of heat, co2/o2 distribution, and waste build up in proportion to side wall area of the vessel changes drastically. Also genetic drift increases as you increase the population of microbes, making it difficult to keep your target organisms on the right metabolic path. Amyris biofuel is a good case study for why biotech fails during the scale up.. https://www.fastcompany.com/3000040/rise-and-fall-company-wa...


Manufactures and researchers/professors have been trying to push bioreactors onto civil engineers for wastewater treatment for years, because they're infinitely configurable and admittedly are neat, but they can't come remotely close to scaling up like a traditional WW treatment plant or even an activated sludge plant.

It's always seemed to be an inherent limitation of bioreactors.

Which tells me that the solution these people need to be looking for will resemble something between a wastewater treatment plant and an oil refinery, but in any case, steady state manufacturing, not bioreactors and batches.


I agree about WW design being the current scalable form of bioreactors. There are steady state type designs of bioreactors - called chemostats.


I think this article is more clickbaity than it should be. From a physics perspective, of course you should be able to grow meat, because we do it now with a bunch of other unnecessary things like thoughts, nerves, behaviors, etc. There is no reason in principle that it cannot be done.

But it's a lot of work, which everyone agrees.

I personally think a blend of lab grown and veggie (Impossible/Beyond) will be the first "killer app": tastes better and costs less than traditional meat for most applications.

IMO impossible is close now for some cases, cost is probably the main issue with some extra flavor that I think may need to be synthesized.


> I personally think a blend of lab grown and veggie (Impossible/Beyond) will be the first "killer app": tastes better and costs less than traditional meat for most applications.

Well we have seitan which, when prepared, can get very close to a meat-like texture. So I think it will be some lab grown meat and gluten abomination.


I'm reminded of the patent officer in 1910 who said everything that's possible has been invented. Or Malthus.


> Is there anyone on HN with deep expertise in this area who can comment on this article's scientific accuracy?

Yes but that's not me. Instead, if we skip the biology stuff because our technology there is still in its infancy (CRISPR is utterly amazing, but rather limited, compared to things we can build in the varios engineering disciplines.) And also because I didn't study advanced biology in college.

Okay, so if we take 800 million acres used for animal feed and actual grazing land[], and a heavy approximation of a total 4.8 kwh of energy from the sun per square meter for a single day, and plug in a 1200 calorie diet, we get 110^13, or that the land can support 10 Terahumans, assuming 100% efficient conversion from sun's energy to human calories. Which is ridiculously wrong. (That would be the "impossible to overcome according to the Laws of Thermodynamics and our current understanding of cell biology and chemistry." bit referenced, plus human diet is a bit more complex than pure number of calories.)

So if we can get humans to photosynthesize directly instead of having to eat food (along with the resulting efficiency losses) the Earth can support another few orders of magnitude more humans than there are today by reusing the land that's already being used support cattle. (It's only a small if*. Totally feasible. I only need a few million dollars in funding but we'll have that figured out in a couple years, tops.)

[] https://www.treehugger.com/land-contiguous-us-used-feed-live... [] http://zebu.uoregon.edu/disted/ph162/l4.html


Some people confuse energy efficient with market viable

Many products are way more expensive than the energy required to mine them. Gold, Bitcoin, Kobe Beef, etc. etc. etc. Science is not economics. You need to create a market for cruelty free meat.

200 years ago, slave labor would have been the most "cheapest option" and any system to replace it would have been economically unviable.

The point of veganism, vegetarianism, or animal rights in general at any level is a moral issue, not a utilitarian one.

If it costs more to be a more moral society we will do so.


Not having a deep expertise on the technical difficulties of cultured meat, but let me point out something obvious: farmed meat is usually heavily sponsored by the public through taxes and it's toll on the environment, on healthcare, on the future, etc. is paid for by others.

The true cost of meat is far, far greater than what you pay for it. If this cost is ever charged to the consumer, then the comparison with cultured meat will look very different.


I wouldn't call myself an expert, but I'm somewhat familiar with the principles. In general, I think the article is correct in most of its claims, however, I also think it's a bit too pessimistic and narrow-minded.

I agree that the bioreactor model is probably not going to scale well, the requirents are simply too extreme for it to be affordable. However, there are other methods that could hypothetically be developed. As the article points out, contamination is a huge problem because cell cultures don't have immune systems. But who is to say we can't create an immune system.

I've never been too optimistic about the prospects of cell cultures for meat production. However, perhaps with more advanced cloning and genetic engineering techniques, we won't need to rely on cell cultures.

One greusome, but potentially workable, solution might be to create "deconstructed animals". That is to say, harvest entire organ systems from live animals, or clone artificial ones, and use them to support muscle tissue that is periodically harvested. This way, you have all the necessary biological functions, including an immune system. Certainly, developing such a system at an industrial scale would be incredibly difficult, but probably still easier than getting cultures to work.

Another potential model, which has already been explored somewhat, "meat doping" where you take a substrate derived from plant matter and dope it with animal stem cells. Getting this to produce a meaty texture would be tricky, but in terms of flavor and nutritional profile it should work. This gets around the problem of muscle cells growing too slowly, and reduces the duration for which the a given batch must be kept sterile.


>As a big fan of the idea of manufacturing meat in an environmentally sustainable way (and without having to resort to raising and killing animals), reading this article felt as if someone was throwning a bucket's worth of ice-cold water on my face.

Indeed. But the problem isn't that lab-grown meat is too expensive. It's that the industrialized murder of hundreds of millions of sentient beings EVERY SINGLE DAY (and that's only counting the land-based animals!) for the pleasure of our taste buds has been made cheap.

Eating meat should be at least 1000x more expensive than it currently is. Or more correctly, it should be exactly as illegal as killing a human being and eating them currently is. But more expensive would be a fine starting point -- it would work better with the principles of human freedom, and it would make it possible to make the living conditions of our food better. Plus it would make lab-grown meat more viable.

As it currently is, we are forcing these sentient beings into horrible conditions, and committing genocide every day. If we count sea-based creatures, we are killing a number equal to the total human population every 2-3 days.


Why shouldn't we kill sentient beings for the pleasure of our taste buds?


It's unfortunate that you're being downmodded for bringing forth the best argument for eating meat.


How do we know it's the best argument?


It seems to be the only argument that makes any sort of sense. Do you have better ones?


Discussing computing pre-transistor must have been pretty similar.


Indeed. Back when dialup internet was the norm I had the opinion that after the 57k6 faster access at home would take ages and require new infrastructure to the homes since the phone system was build for low bandwidth voice. With 4kHz bandwidth and 45dB Shannons theorem didn't allow for much more. Understandably I was really amazed at the first ADSL implemenations I saw. Felt a bit like they were cheating. Yeah if you just bypass the exchange and use the raw last mile sure it's possible.


I've been on the other side of this - going more toward regenerative ranching as the other way away from the industrial food supply. I can't really beat Diana Rogers on explaining this, so I'll just point you here.

https://sustainabledish.com/fake-burgers-make-no-sense/

Also - before folks say that we couldn't feed everyone that way, I always like to point out that before the Europeans decimated the American bison, there were more head of bison roaming the west than there are head of cattle today. Just turning our monocrop soy and corn farms in the midwest back to prairie (by actually doing nothing to the land - just leave it alone), we could have regenerative ranching and cows and more food for less energy input than we do today.


This is an incredibly unconvincing article that flat out misrepresents facts or didn't do enough research to actually understand what happened.

Most of it complains saying that Impossible Foods went to market without being approved by the FDA and implies it's unsafe, but that seems to be literally 100% false and completely misrepresents the facts from my basic research on it.

They received FDA approval in Oct 2019 [0]. The Center for Food Safety filed a lawsuit against _the FDA and Impossible Foods_ later that year saying they didn't think a strong enough standard for approval was done. Earlier this year, the court ruled in favor of the FDA and said they did have enough reason to believe it was safe. [1]

[0]: https://impossiblefoods.com/media/news-releases/2019/07/fda-...

[1]: https://www.theverge.com/2021/5/3/22418036/impossible-foods-...

I had some more written about this but it doesn't even explain the method it claims is better, provides no scientific evidence for them, and ends by saying things like "WILL NOT SAVE US" and "NOT MORE HUMANE" bold and in caps. You can make up your own mind on how trustworthy this is.


>I always like to point out that before the Europeans decimated the American bison, there were more head of bison roaming the west than there are head of cattle today.

I don't think that's true. Most estimates of the peak Bison population I've seen put them at about 30 million. Some estimates are as high as 60 million. Today, we have about 94 million head of cattle down from a peak of 104.

Additionally, your linked article is incredibly unconvincing. It's riddled with Appeals to Nature and attempts to use a single instance of questionable behavior by a single company to poison the well for all alternatives to raising animals for slaughter.


Regenerative agriculture is not a sustainability solution [1]:

    Written by FCRN’s Dr Tara Garnett in collaboration with Cécile
    Godde of CSIRO and a team of international experts, this report
    dissects claims made by different stakeholders in the debate,
    and evaluates them against the best available science. This report
    finds that better management of grass-fed livestock do not hold a
    solution to climate change as only under very specific conditions
    can they help sequester carbon. This sequestering of carbon is even
    then small, time-limited, reversible and substantially outweighed
    by the greenhouse gas emissions these grazing animals generate. Dr
    Garnett explains the key takeaways from this report:

    “This report concludes that grass-fed livestock are not a
    climate solution. Grazing livestock are net contributors to the
    climate problem, as are all livestock. Rising animal production and
    consumption, whatever the farming system and animal type, is causing
    damaging greenhouse gas release and contributing to changes in land
    use. Ultimately, if high consuming individuals and countries want
    to do something positive for the climate, maintaining their current
    consumption levels but simply switching to grass-fed beef is not a
    solution. Eating less meat, of all types, is.”
[1]: https://www.oxfordmartin.ox.ac.uk/news/2017-news-grazed-and-...


How can't it be a sustainable solution? Cows doesn't magically generate carbon out of nothing, it comes from the plants they eat. If you have a stable farmland area like Europe and keep raising and slaughtering cattle on it then the carbon footprint is net 0.


Methane has more than 10 times the warming potential of carbon dioxide.

That means if the grazing plants capture 1 mol of carbon dioxide from the air, and then is consumed by cows who turn some of the carbon into methane, then the warming potential of the system has increased even though it's still carbon neutral.


Methane breaks down though, it only gets worse if we scale up production. Basically eating meat forever is equivalent to a year or so of other carbon pollutants. I'd rather we regulate other emissions a year or so early than ban all meat forever.


You are right on the money here and I wish more people understood that there is a sustainable path forward using animals as part of the carbon capture solution. When you say you are on the other side do you mean actively working on ranching? It's something I'm very interested in myself.


Decimate means to kill 1 in 10, thus the 'deci' part.


As a chemical engineer, what I can comment (without having enough time to read the whole report) are the following short facts:

We cannot continue our uncontrolled population growth without increasing the effect our average lifestyle has on the environment.

Whether lab based meat is attainable or not, (currently, and at this scale) we cannot continue to eat a meat-centric diet without impacting the environment much in the same way that we cannot have a chocolate-cake based diet without gaining weight or eventually having malnutrition.

In order to have more average 'freedom' of choices when it comes to our diet and lifestyle, we need to agree to decrease the population so we can lessen or revert the impact we have.

Some may snarkily say that if we don't do it, mother nature may do it for us.


> actual-whey-protein non-animal ice cream is now available down the street from me. Is it "vat milk"? Well, no; it's a novel solution that marries the actual protein in cow milk, with fats from vegetable sources.

In what sense is cow milk derived whey protein non-animal?


The use of anti-biotics as a growth agent is probably not taken in to account for the cost of doing our current meat business.

This is a big one, IMHO! The cost of this will be for my children to deal with.

Also - a normal adult, not pursuing an athletic career need about 120g of meat protein A WEEK.


I'd say it's likely and not surprising.

NO ONE, in my experience, who is pushing any number of "radical improvements" (EVs, plant-based foods, etc.) has EVER TAKEN a thermo class or econ class to even being to grok reality of it. (I'm an engineer with an MBA who's founded 5 tech companies including roles of CTO and CFO)

Most propaganda spewed by the MSM doesn't even pass the simplest thermo or econ litmus tests of viability.

Far too many startups these days don't either.


I too plead guilty of not having at all a deep expertise in this area.

But this makes me think of the myth of AI achieving "General Intelligence", ie an intelligence adapting to life and all its messy complexity, like humans do.

Everybody thought it would be a piece of cake in the 1970s, and then the science just didn't followed.

Now with neural networks, and GPUs, this myth is back on the table, but all researchers in the field continue to claim "AI is nowhere near General Intelligence"


A little off topic but people like Kurzweil and Moravec have always made fairly sensible predictions that we'd get AGI around 2030 plus or minus a bit. The fact that some fools said it would be a piece of cake in the 70s or whenever doesn't really prove it's a myth.


Neural networks are decades and decades old.


I wonder if we would have heard similar analysis decades ago in regards to solar panels or other technologies that have surprised us as they’ve scaled up.


When we remove subsidies and start pricing in the negative externalities (water, soil, carbon) of raising animals for meat, the calculus will certainly be different. It may well be different enough to make lab-grown meat the more cost-effective option.

The field is also remarkably young, and scientific innovation has a pretty robust history of being non-obvious until after it has happened.


But that's the thing, who will price those negative externalities?

Anyone in a poor country (with access to fertile land and water of course), with little to no education, will always be able to raise animals without a lab.

Basically for it to have a real impact over plant based meat, it will have to be cheaper then cattle meat - else it will just become luxury food for those who can afford it.


Getting rid of subsidies would be a very good start, and I suspect farmers in poor countires don't get subsidies.


Most definitely, but again I think that would just render meat more expensive. You need to get rid of subsidies and help the shift to something else, that something else needs to be more attractive.

This should have been going on for the past decade or so.


I personally think that "vegan meat replacements" will only get better. We may never beat a rare veal steak but we'll get close. I like hamburgers and hot dogs more than most big hunks of meat anyway :) . I've replaced at least half of my meat intake with vegan version. I'll probably never be a full on vegan though.


A lot of people won’t be, but it’s probably a good idea to get prepared for a less-meat future because of the lack of sustainability at scale.


> For cultivated meat, though, FBS is anathema. Cultured animal protein can’t really be “meat without slaughter” if it’s dependent on an ingredient that’s intertwined with the current, grim realities of commodity beef production.

Meat with LESS slaughter would still be better than the current situation. Numbers matter.


how about everyone convert their lawns into gardens. have a few chickens too, feeding them with kitchen and garden waste

then you dont have to truck everything around, or use huge amounts of fuel to work the land.

oh wait that takes effort, everyone wants a low effort, idealistic (yet unfeasible), solution to the food problem.


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