Catherine Tubb of Re-thinkX is the lead author of “Rethinking Food and Agriculture 2020-2030. The Second Domestication of Plants and Animals The Disruption of the Cow and the Collapse of the Industrial Livestock Farming”.
Catherine’s work focused primarily on disruption in the agriculture and food industries. She is the co-author, together with Tony Seba, of “Rethinking Food & Agriculture 2020-2030: The second domestication of plants and animals, the disruption of the cow and the collapse of the industrial livestock industry”.
The report shows how the modern food disruption, made possible by rapid advances in precision biology and an entirely new model of production, will have profound implications not just for the industrial agriculture industry, but for the wider economy, society, and the environment.
This interview with Catherine might be uncomfortable for some in the regenerative food and ag space, who will struggle to call this real food. Regardless if this is happening as RethinkX claims, I think we need to pay attention to the developments, investment flows and potential impact on industrial animal farming (which would be great), farmers (not so great) and agriculture land (mixed prospects).
I had and still have a lot of questions about nutrients, hormones and healthcare implications of these developments. But I also have them about industrial animal farming. So I invite you to listen to the interview, read the report and share your feedback!
Full RethinkX report on
TEXT SUMMARY OF THE INTERVIEW:
Catherine Tubb: Our report looks at how technology is going to converge and basically become cheap enough and good enough to transform how we produce protein. So this report is really about protein disruption driven by economics and essentially we are going to produce these same proteins found today in livestock by a method we call precision fermentation. And by 2025, this technology will be able to compete cost wise with bulk proteins. And this is the point where adoption is going to be a tip and accelerate exponentially. And all that time cost is going to continue to improve and ultimately we see proteins as being five times cheaper by 2030 than existing animal proteins.
Catherine Tubb: And I guess the other point is not a single disruption, but multiple parallel disruptions across every single part of the cow from the milk, the meat, the leather, the collagen. And these are all going to impact each others. And it doesn’t depend on a kind of one for one substitution of the end product. This is an ingredient business-to-business lead disruption.
Catherine Tubb: Yeah. So the best example of this is really milk. So if you think about, if you take milk from a cow, only 3.3% of it is the protein. And I think another couple of percent is the fat. And if you think about how milk is actually used globally, a lot of the milk actually kind of put down into the solids, the milk solids, and that’s what’s exported. So, for example, New Zealand export 70 percent of their milk as these solid exports.
Catherine Tubb: If you can make that at the same cost anywhere in the world, that’s going to completely obliterate New Zealand’s export milk industry and therefore obliterate the dairy industry. And that’s will obviously have huge knock on effects. And once you take out the dairy industry, you take out kind of cheap meat, and that’s going to increase prices in the meat. And then that’s going to kind of drive investment and into the further kind of PEF for precision fermentation, for meat, then that’s going to kind of basically disrupt the whole cow.
Catherine Tubb: So, I mean, in particulary the cow industry is operating on very thin margins. As I’m sure people are aware, there’s a lot of subsidies going on. So it’s kind of very knife edge industry and that makes it very kind of susceptible to disruption. And that’s something we’ve looked at, as you mentioned, our previous report. And this is kind of our bread and butter. This is what we look at. We look at disruptions, technology driven disruption.
Catherine Tubb: So precision fermentation is when you take microbes and basically kind of program them to produce anything you want. Mainly proteins. So things like yeast fungi, you’ll be able to just program, just as we do fermentation, just as you do to make beer or sugar, kimchi or ketchup or wine or yoghurt, you know, you’re going to harness these microbes to be able to make any protein you want.
Koen van Seijen: And what does it use as feed? Because these microbes need to eat. So what do we need to feed them basically to create these proteins?
Catherine Tubb: It’s mainly sugar and then nitrogen sugar from anything. We eventually think that they’ll be able to get carbohydrates from kind of bio matter.
Koen van Seijen: And does the the quality of this sugar of material, because I think for now it will be mostly sugar, influence the outcome of the protein?
Catherine Tubb: So yeah, I mean I know a lot of microbes at the moment like to kind of bathe in the best possible sugar, the purest glucose, but that can change. It’s just an efficiency question on a programmable question.
Koen van Seijen: And the big question on health, like what comes out of this process? I think we all know the incredible health issues of the industrial factory farming system and what comes out of that.
Koen van Seijen: I don’t think we can even call it meat, but what comes out of this? Probably it will be a big fight if we can actually call it legally meat. I mean, that’s for a separate discussion.
Koen van Seijen: But in terms of health, what do you see where we’re now and where we’re looking in five years compared to the meat products you can now buy in the supermarket or the protein products? Because it could be milk as you said before.
Catherine Tubb: I mean, it is a disease and nutrition question on health. So disease, obviously, you’re not going to have those kind of issues that you get with factory farming and then the slaughterhouses where you get a lot of contamination of the food.
Catherine Tubb: So, you know, they’ve done some tests, I think, on the meat produced by a kind of which slight different precision fragmentation. But you can produce meat, it doesn’t get the same bacteria and microbes that you have an issue with. But then on the nutrition side, obviously, there is a bigger kind of question and people are still looking into that a lot. But on nutrition, I think the ability to kind of build up the products, you know, very personalizable. Nutrition questions that you need based on the particular proteins that you may or may not need, it’s going to be extremely valuable. You know, we definitely say that it’s going to be better because you’re just not going to have that contamination that you get in the current system.
Koen van Seijen: How do we prevent this enormous concentration that we have now, especially in the CAFO industry, in the US, where I think there are just a few producing all porks and just a few producing all chickens and actually mostly the same companies and also in the beef industry. There’s an enormous concentration. Is there anything to say on that as a potential danger? And what this movement could do for that?
Catherine Tubb: Yes. This is really part of the point of our report. We want to kind of alert people that there are going to be choices to be made with this technology destruction. And we really kind of advocate to ensure an open and transparent competitive market you know, because we think that’s critical to ensure competition.
Koen van Seijen: You’re basically unpacking the cow products coming out of the car and taking obviously the most interesting ones first. And that’s not the meat part.
Catherine Tubb: Well, another interesting example, which I probably find, as a mother, more interesting is the fact that for formula milk for babies, instead of using cow proteins, you could use human creature proteins. Which might sound a little bit icky, I guess, in some ways. But if you had the choice, you know, everyone has a choice of how they feed their baby. But if you decided to feed them formula milk would you prefer them to have formula milk with human proteins or cow proteins.
Koen van Seijen: You specifically look at factory farms in the US. What does this mean for, let’s say, the farmers and workers in these industries?
Catherine Tubb: Yeah. I mean, it’s it’s hugely disruptive. And again, you know, we don’t want to soften this if what we say is true, then essentially, you know, there’ll be millions of jobs lost because essentially a factory farm, as we know it won’t exist.
Catherine Tubb: We say that this disruption is coming. It’s inevitable and you need to get on top of this and think about how you can support the farmers and workers.
Koen van Seijen: And what does this mean for the farmers that are actually mostly growing? If you look on average in the U.S., crops for animals. So what does it mean for rural, rural America?
Catherine Tubb: I mean, there are huge impacts we think we forecast something like almost 500 million acres of land will not be needed in the way that it is now to produce crops. So it’s going to create huge opportunities for farmers. I mean, this is massive impacts such as land values could be decimated. Right. They’re gonna be disproportionately affected by this impact probably a likely rapid collapse in value.
Koen van Seijen: Which is something investors should take note because a lot of their models are based actually on land always as their real assets. They always have value.
Catherine Tubb: Exactly. You know, we’ve seen a precedent for that land drop as well. Value dropped by more than 50 percent. I think in the 20s and 30s and then also another 40 percent in the 80s. So this has happened. So you can see a kind of disproportional effect of land values.
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