Creating sustainable, delicious meat alternatives

By guest contributor and TEDMED 2015 Speaker Patrick O. Brown, MD, PhD of TEDMED Hive Organization, Impossible Foods

The horse was a brilliant transportation technology until we developed the automobile. The typewriter was a wonder in its time until we invented the personal computer. The carrier pigeon was the state-of-the art in mobile communication, until radio communication was invented. Now it’s the cow’s turn to be replaced by better technology.

Cows, and the other animals we cultivate for food, have, for millennia, been our state-of-the-art technology for turning plants into meat. But we need to do better, and we can.

Cattle Farm - An inefficient source of meatAccording to a recent estimate by the International Livestock Research Institute, 45% of Earth’s dry land — a land area greater than North and South America, Australia and Europe combined — is currently being used to support livestock production. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, animal farming uses and pollutes more water than any other industry and generates as much greenhouse gas emissions as the entire global transportation system. And it is the major driver of deforestation and an unprecedented collapse of wildlife populations around the world.

The world is on a headlong quest to produce ever-greater quantities of meat in the belief that we need a growing supply to feed the world. We don’t. The plant crops harvested in 2015 contained more than enough of every essential nutrient to meet the nutritional needs not only of our current population but the 9 billion people who will share the planet in 2050.

Yet people love, and demand, meat; it is both unfair and unrealistic to ask people to change the diets they love. Fortunately, the problem isn’t that people love meat – it’s how we produce it. And that’s a solvable problem.

We simply need to replace the inefficient, unsustainable animal-based technology we’ve used for thousands of years with a better, more efficient and more sustainable way to transform plants into the meat and dairy foods the world loves.

Five years ago, I founded Impossible Foods, assembling a mission-driven and supremely talented research & development team to take on this challenge. They’ve been developing the know-how and inventing technology for transforming simple nutrients from plants into uncompromisingly delicious, nutritious, affordable and sustainable meats and dairy foods. Our first product, the Impossible Burger, will be available to consumers this summer.

A lifecycle analysis shows that producing an Impossible Burger requires less than 1/12th the land and 1/9th the water and emits only a quarter of the greenhouse gasses, compared to producing the same meat from a cow.

The cow is not getting any better at turning plants into meat and it never will. But with an entirely new approach, we are getting better at it every day, and we’ll keep getting better. And we won’t stop until we’ve made all the foods we currently get from animals — chicken, fish, milk, eggs — directly from plants.

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Pat Brown of Impossible FoodsIn his TEDMED 2015 talk, renowned geneticist and founder of Impossible Foods Pat Brown explains how he uses biochemistry to trick plants into producing the same protein as meat – all while tasting just as delicious – in his quest to eliminate the need for animal harvesting.