Topic: What now glass cow? Biosynthetic protein and the impact of the post-animal bioeconomy on European agriculture.
Keywords. Synthetic protein, lab-meat, agriculture
In 1987 David Goodman and colleagues published the book “From farming to biotechnology” which asserted that substitution of GM based biotech within the food chain would create entirely new platforms for agricultural production and, in the process, threaten whole sectors of agricultural production. Shortly after, Frederick Buttel (1989) criticised this conclusion, suggesting that biotech was not revolutionary, or “epoch making” but simply an evolutionary part of agricultural development. The subsequent failure of GMOs to revolutionise agriculture seemed to indicate Buttel’s conclusion was correct. However, 21st century developments such as CRSPR and optical gene sequencing technology have revolutionised the position of biotech in society by making it available for a far wider range of applications and at a heavily reduced cost. The 2013 demonstration of a lab produced hamburger by Mark Post inspired numerous scientists employed in the medical and pharmaceutical sectors to begin work on the production of synthetic animal products to address many of the major concerns about contemporary industrial agriculture, for example, greenhouse gas emissions, water consumption, land use, animal welfare, antibiotics, food security, and shorter and safer value chains for meat. On the other hand, the establishment of a synthetic meat and milk industry could devastate conventional agriculture and thereby rural communities across Europe. Currently over 20 start-up companies are focused on producing synthetic protein products ranging from milk to leather to cat food produced from mouse cells. But will this technology lead to a true revolution in agriculture or simply be part of the evolution of agriculture as Buttel asserted? This paper explores the potential of biosynthesis technologies to revolutionise agriculture and discusses the impact they may subsequently have on rural regions in Europe.