Down on the funny farm: Thoughts on the fourth agricultural revolution by Manorial Meerkat

Yellow Cow, 1911, Franz Marc

In 2013, Mark Post, of Maastricht University, finished the first cultured-meat hamburger. It took $300,000 and 2 years to make, but it worked. An article by Forbes, posted on March 8 2022, stated the current cost of a similar hamburger was now $9.80. As the technology matures, that price is expected to go down.

Meat isn’t the only foodstuff getting down with the bioreactor revolution. According to an article on dairyindustries.com, posted March 22 2022, a company by the name of 108Labs is producing cultured dairy and dairy products, as well as cultured human breast milk made for mothers who can’t produce their own.

As of 2021, a Finnish company has managed to produce coffee from a bioreactor.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I think it’s time we as a civilization discuss the future of our most important industry, food production, and what we want that future to look like.

I could go all out on the technical and complex explanation of what cultured meat is and how it’s made, but I don’t want to, and it’s not relevant to the discussion. Suffice to say, you could take a tissue sample from a cow, and use those cells to produce a massive amount of meat. One cow or bull slaughtered and turned into tissue samples for meat culturing, produces an amount of meat equal to 440,000 cows or bulls slaughtered and processed normally; a truly mammoth increase in efficiency and output. Dairy made in a lab requires 60% less energy, and creates up to 97% fewer greenhouse emissions.

This will dramatically decrease the cost of meat, dairy, and whatever other foodstuffs we manage to synthesize.

Considering the amount of land the US uses for growing livestock feed, this could open up land for growing food for people, or even for rewilding and creating sprawling parklands.

Of course, most of the livestock will be slaughtered. There is no current economic format which would allow for us to just take the 70 billion animals we slaughter annually, and put them on those weird, hippie-dippie livestock sanctuaries you sometimes hear about in vegan circles. That’s sad, but think of it this way; in getting rid of the factory farm, we prevent the miserable lives of billions of animals who would exist in feedlots around the world. By culling 99.99% of global livestock, we prevent the suffering of their progeny. The life of livestock, especially modern livestock, isn’t pretty, and we should be glad that we prevent the suffering of who knows how many more conscious beings would have to live such a life.

Of course, there will be skeptics. Naturists and conspiracy nuts, who take issue with lab grown foodstuffs and/or those making it,  and who will most certainly be paying extra for the privilege of eating “real” meat, dairy, coffee, and whatever else we’ve synthesized by that point.

Bioreactor Blues

As of 2019, there are 276,724 ranchers in the United States. Ideally, before this technology takes off in the economy, we should plan out what becomes of them and their property.

I have an interesting plan. See, I am partial to an obscure, untested economic doctrine called Distributism. To oversimplify, and reduce to only the most relevant information: I believe that large conglomerates should be broken down into much smaller cooperatives, and worker co-op federations, whenever economics of scale allows.

Step 1. Re-educate and retool the rancher, so that they become a member of a local/regional cultured meat factory. It may seem a stretch to take a rancher, and turn them into a biotech worker. However, I ask this: how did Henry Ford take uneducated laborers, and have them make cars, which were rather high-tech for the time?

He divided the process into thousands of small tasks, had each worker do one or a few of those tasks, and got some college educated technicians and bean-counters to orchestrate the rest of the factory. In other words, give the farmer some free classes at a community college, and put them to work doing a few tasks in a complex assembly line. Of course, it couldn’t just be the former ranchers, other workers would be needed, and we could do the same process of education and assignment with them.

Step 2. Have the national government establish meat factory cooperatives in former ranching regions, to ensure a baseline of production and employment, while ensuring that the field isn’t dominated by the multinational conglomerates. Set up a govt service where these cooperatives can have experts in the process remotely guide and manage the facilities, and arrange for repairs whenever possible. It would also be necessary to educate thousands of experts and repairmen for this service. This would have the added benefit of providing even more jobs than previously thought.

Also, set aside government money to loan out to small-time investors, who would like to establish private meat factories, and for the love of Bastet and Hathor, don’t regulate the industry until it becomes impossible for new businesses to be established; that only helps the corporate giants.

I know that the idea of a locally owned, small-town, lab grown meat factory, sounds like something out of a Heinlnein novel; with that strange mixture of advanced technologies and old fashioned assumptions about society. However, I think it’s possible, and I think it’s for the better. It would show that high technology and industrial economics  don’t have to be cold and heartless things, and would also make it more likely that the profits of these local meat cooperatives would go to employees, maintenance, and improvements, not to fifth-yachts and hedge funds.

What about their land?

A lot of land used for ranching, is land that was useless for farming. Prairies, arid shrublands, and even deserts. I simply propose that the old structures be demolished, and the land be returned to nature, in the form of protected wildlands.

Similar arrangements will have to be made for coffee farmers, but since much of that business happens in the developing world, my outlook for those farmers and their families is grim. We shall pray for them, when the time comes.

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