Bill Gates, one of the world's richest people, has long been working on strategies to fight climate change. This is one of the core issues for his charity organization, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Recently, he suggested that rich countries switch to consuming synthetic beef. The change would significantly reduce food-related greenhouse emissions.
From Beef To Synthetic Meat
In a conversation about his latest book, How to Avoid Climate Disaster, the Microsoft co-founder shared his views on the food sector.
The interviewer from MIT Technology Review asked him:
"Do you think plant-based and lab-grown meats could be the full solution to the protein problem globally, even in poor nations? Or do you think it's going to be some fraction because of the things you're talking about, the cultural love of a hamburger, and the way livestock is so central to economies around the world?"
To this, Gates replied:
"For Africa and other poor countries, we'll have to use animal genetics to dramatically raise the amount of beef per emissions for them. Weirdly, the US livestock, because they're so productive, the emissions per pound of beef are dramatically less than emissions per pound in Africa. And as part of the Foundation's work, we're taking the benefit of the African livestock, which means they can survive in heat, and crossing in the monstrous productivity both on the meat side and the milk side of the elite US beef lines."
Different Approaches For Different Countries
Improving the efficiency of African beef, Gates hopes to keep emissions low in developing countries. These, in fact, already contribute very little to climate change. He continued:
"So no, I don't think the poorest 80 countries will be eating synthetic meat. I do think all rich countries should move to 100% synthetic beef. You can get used to the taste difference, and the claim is they're going to make it taste even better over time. Eventually, that green premium is modest enough that you can sort of change the [behavior of] people or use regulation to totally shift the demand. So for meat in the middle-income-and-above countries, I do think it's possible. But it's one of those ones where, wow, you have to track it every year and see, and the politics [are challenging]. There are all these bills that say it's got to be called, basically, lab garbage to be sold. They don't want us to use the beef label."
Reducing Methane Emissions
As cows produce huge quantities of methane gas while digesting grass, beef consumption is a challenging problem for the climate. Therefore, synthetic proteins need to replace beef, Gates said. He explained:
"In terms of livestock, it's very difficult. There are all the things where they feed them different food like there's this one compound that gives you a 20% reduction [in emissions]. But sadly, those bacteria [in their digestive system that produce methane] are a necessary part of breaking down the grass. And so I don't know if there'll be some natural approach there. I'm afraid the synthetic [proteins] will be required for at least the beef thing."
Gates also has in mind some companies that already show promising results in this field. He concluded:
"Now the people like Memphis Meats who do it at a cellular level - I don't know that that will ever be economical. But Impossible and Beyond have a road map, a quality road map, and a cost road map that makes them totally competitive."
It is not clear yet whether the billionaires will be switching to synthetic beef, too, or if they will keep enjoying burgers.