Green meat: The next climate-safe proposal facilitated by Bill Gates


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Bill Gates in conversation with The Times of India.

In 2021, progressive ideas that push the limits of the perception of practicality regarding climate-safe practices are a dime-a-dozen. When a bonafide billionaire and tech-giant takes a jab at one though, the masses take notice. 

In February, during an interview with MIT Technology Review promoting his new book, “How to Avoid a Climate Disaster,” Bill Gates was asked if plant-based and lab-grown meats could be a solution to the protein problem throughout the world. His response was eye-opening. 

“I do think all rich countries should move to 100 percent synthetic beef,” Gates said. “You can get used to the taste difference, and the claim is they’re going to make it taste even better over time.” 

While some may assume this proposal is another publicity stunt by a powerful individual with the intent to garner attention and market a book, to the most avid supporters of the Green New Deal, Gates’ agricultural conquests legitimize his desires to make synthetic beef a reality. 

Bill and Melinda Gates rank as America’s largest private farmland owners, amassing what is now an estimated 269,000 acres, according to The Land Report, a U.S.-based agriculture magazine.

The acquired land is not regionally consolidated either. The Gates’ three largest statewide land holdings are in Louisiana, Arkansas and Arizona. Furthermore, the effort to drastically reduce methane emissions via elimination of cattle farming has taken root. 

With this plan, the question is, how can plant-based synthetic meat be sold competitively in a market that has thrived from the majority American consumer’s almost habitual love for beef? 

Recent evidence suggests that Americans in a food-consuming setting are drawn to the idea of eating plant-based meat for environmental reasons, depending on the similarity of taste. Ironically, Burger King proved this when they went public with the advertisement of the Impossible Burger in 2019. 

“Locations in Burger King’s test market, St. Louis, outperformed the chain’s national foot traffic average by 18.5 percent,” according to inMarket inSights. If advertising plant-based meat alternatives in fast food markets is economically successful, the possibilities of synthetic beef could soar. 

DePaul freshman Jana Kunz, echoed this sentiment when describing her feelings about the proposal. “I think I would eat it if [it] tastes the same with all the benefits with the environment and if it’s sustainable and ethical,” Kunz said. 

Data from the Environmental Defense Fund suggests that methane, which can be produced and emitted into the atmosphere by cows through digestion of plants, and as a greenhouse gas, traps heat into the atmosphere and has 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide over the first 20 years after it reaches the atmosphere. 

This means that fewer cows being raised to cater to the beef industry will likely have a great environmental impact in the short term as well as the long term, considering cows also produce a significant amount of carbon dioxide which has a more sustained effect.    

It’s unclear where the line is drawn between sacrifice of satisfaction of taste and nutrition versus environmental protectionism in the minds of consumers. This is mostly because recently, vegetarian and vegan options have resembled natural foods in taste because of lab technology. 

Global veganism is up 580 percent from what it was five years ago, and currently 14 percent of the global population practices vegetarianism, veganism or a variety of both from time to time, according to BBC. 

While the enthusiasm for lifestyle change is undeniably rising everywhere, the sentiment for plant-based alternatives seems to lie more so in the camps of animal rights and environmental activists rather than nutritionists. 

Rachael Costello, clinical supervisor in Harper College’s nutrition department and president of the North Suburban Academy for Nutrition and Dietetics, believes there are a lot of similarities between real and synthetic meat, but the mere fact that something is plant-based doesn’t necessarily make it healthier. 

“In general, we know that foods created to mimic another food must make up for whatever they are lacking to create a palatable product,” Costello said. She likened the potential for lab-grown meat to resemble other processed forms of fatty snacks that have been marketed for decades.  

“In the example of low-fat snack foods, we see fat replaced with other ingredients like sugar and salt,” Costello said. “These ingredients are not necessarily a healthier replacement for fat.”

The ingredients that will be supplemented into the synthetic meat to make it “taste better over time,” as Gates put it, are still unknown. What is known is the methodologies of how it will be produced texturally. 

“It is made by growing muscle cells in a nutrient serum and encouraging them in muscle-like fibers,” according to India-based magazine Swarajya. 

Furthermore, lab-grown meat can be mass produced in a way that is satisfactory to animal rights activists, ensuring that animal cruelty and slaughtering can be avoided while the marketability and factor of taste catch up to its environmental benefits. 

In a global market that has increasingly thrived off production of processed food, a plant-based alternative makes up for what it may lack nutrition-wise by its obvious appeals to progressive-minded people. 

“In my professional experience, patients have generally switched to a vegan lifestyle for either animal rights or climate change concerns, and not for improved nutrition,” Costello said. 

With any big proposition presenting widespread change, there is always pushback. Particularly, the undeniable deletion of the cattle farming industry is a cause for concern for many. 

As of the 2017 U.S. agricultural census, there were 2.1 million livestock farms in America and the cattle industry had its highest value of production at roughly $50.2 billion. Those farms, many of which are family owned, would need to acquire new skills or be replaced if this were to be enacted. 

The forced purging of an entire industry can only be done legislatively. If the people who contribute to that industry, like cattle farmers, feel they are in danger of losing their livelihood, the embers of this proposal could die out as quickly as they ignited with a scarcity of favorable votes. 

Additionally, questions regarding whether the proposition will infringe on religious traditions is a huge obstacle in the future of this proposal.

For instance, the corned beef and cabbage tradition that Irish Americans and other Catholics practice on St. Patrick’s Day is a situation where tradition could stifle innovation in the future. 

Particularly tormented over the idea of synthetic beef are prominent members of the GOP who have taken to social media and used this as a talking point of another overzealous step to try to change American tradition. 

This includes Reps. Lauren Boebert and Thomas Massie and Sen. John Cornyn, who have all expressed vehement opposition. 

Some even resorted to comedic and satirical digs to stymie the plan. Boebert tweeted a picture of a cut of a raw butchered steak with text saying, “Come and take it, Bill.”

With political and ideological opposition to this plan, it leads to the question, to what extent will people give up things they potentially love, or are used to, in pursuit of environmental protectionism and halting climate change? 

DePaul junior Leslie Williamson believes that real change starts from the top down and that while herself and others have made strides to pursue environmentalism within their lives, more must be done. 

“I’m always trying to think about how I can be mindful of what changes I can make like reusable straws,” Williamson said. “There shouldn’t be this guilt pushed on to individual consumers when the root of the problem is big corporations and industries.” 

As climate activists have promoted their agenda in a new age of the expression of importance in global awareness regarding human initiative towards progressive change, what once would have been an outlandish proposal is now gaining traction. 

If anyone could transform such a wildly transcendent idea into reality, it may be the Harvard dropout who co-founded and eventually became the head of the eventual largest computer software company in the world at the age of 23.