Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Synthetic Protein & Pastoral Farming

Unless you've been living under a rock, you'll have noticed that wealthy investors are pouring money into R&D projects to grow meat and milk in laboratories using genetically engineered yeasts. The financial dream is that these labs will morph into factories and the wealthy investors will get wealthier. 

Good luck to them. Perhaps these technologies can indeed "feed the world" (as if that line is anything more than marketing spin). If we're going to have GMOs, then lets keep them indoors rather than allow them to interact and propogate in our biota/plant/animal ecosystems. To my eyes, this is yet another argument against outdoor GMO release in NZ: now we obviously don't need it to "feed the world": grow your protein in the lab.  

Less clear to me is the reasoning behind arguments like this and this which are basically berating NZ's pastoral farmers for the fact that synthetic protein is being pursued. Yeah, we know, and we also know we can't stop it.

Missing from all this vapour-ware, is any analysis of costs, pricing and demand which depends on pricing. The talk is of devastation to our markets, which implies that these are these going to be mass-market commodities. If that turns out to be the case then New Zealand's largely grass-feed and gmo-free products will continue to have a niche market, though we'll obviously need to push on with further environmental and management enhancements to secure that niche.

More generally, production decisions change with demand. If these synthetic protein dreams start gaining market share you'll see a response from farmers. Until then, pimp the synthetic products by all means, but don't berate us farmers for not responding to vapour-ware.

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