Milk and meat manufactured in a laboratory was here to stay and farmers needed to view them as a serious challenge, according to Silicon Valley think-tank Singularity University’s regional ambassador Kaila Colbin.
Ms Colbin, speaking at the annual Australian Dairy Conference, Melbourne, said the price of artificially produced meat had dramatically dropped in price very quickly, and now stood at $80 a kilogram.
Scientists had also “grown” milk in the laboratory.
“Chemically, molecularly, genetically it was milk – it just hadn’t gone through a cow,” Ms Colbin said.
She said her first reaction was “that’s disgusting, who is going to want that?
“But they don’t care about farmers, they are targeting industrial caterers,” she said.
Food processors, which used milk ingredients, had to declare dairy on product labels, because of allergies.
“All of a sudden, they can get completely around that and have the same net result,” she said.
“I think people might be surprised at how large the retail sector will be for this.
“I know milk alternatives, like soy, rice and oats compete for the same market share, but it never really becomes a threat.”
Her message to the conference attendees was: “Take it seriously.
“The easy thing to do, the kneejerk reaction is that people are always going to want real milk and I am not worried.
“I think that would be a mistake.”
She said wholesale transformation from the horse to the car to autonomous vehicles, showed people did change.
“We saw it with the shift from radio to television, we saw it with shift from newspapers to internet; these shifts do happen,” she said.
Ms Colbin said the “poster child” for milk replacement was Perfect Day, which used to be called Moo Free.
“They are not yet commercially viable, but they are about to launch," she said.
“There are a whole bunch of people working on it, there is a lot of money flowing into it and it is an absolutely solvable technical problem.
“And it is coming.”
The first stage was acceptance that artificial dairy was coming and that it was a real thing.
“There are very valid reasons why people will buy these things and those reasons can represent a significant market share,” she said.
Farmers would need to differentiate themselves and “go hard out", with concepts like regenerative farming to making milk a super premium “almost like an artisan product.
“What may happen is market share goes way down, but profits are up, because you are filling a higher-end niche market.”
Milk manufactured in a laboratory would follow the trends set by artificial meat, created by companies such as Impossible Foods.
“It’s not that they created a burger a vegan can eat, it’s that they created a plant-based burger that a meat eater will eat and that’s what we are going to see in the dairy sector, as well,” she said.
Impossible Foods had made a burger that “sizzles and bleeds".
“They have identified the haem molecule, which creates that kind of blood flavour, texture and smell," Ms Colbin said.
“And they sell out, everywhere they go.”
Memphis Meats meatballs were on sale in general supermarkets, across America, and the company could not make them fast enough.
“One of the things they have done really well, and they have been really smart about, is their channel to market," she said.
“I think, when they first started working on these things, the idea was the wealthy would get the real meat and the great unwashed would have the bioengineered meat, and it would be terrible.
“But they have put this stuff out to the highest end chefs in America.
“When they first launched these plant-based burgers were $40 and you couldn’t get ‘em because they were in the most expensive restaurants you could find.”
While laboratory-grown meat was a little further off, China had recently invested $300 million in Israeli start-ups looking to create it.
“Is the technology there, is the investment there, is the market appetite there, is the regulatory environment there,” Ms Colbin said.
“Certainly, with bio-engineered meat and plant-based meat we have three out of those four there, is investment there, is the market appetite there, and is the regulatory environment there?
“If the regulatory environment becomes friendly to it, you have a perfect storm and it’s going to explode.”
Why farming is facing disruption
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