Within the last 10 years the synthetic production of meat and other animal products has gone from science fiction to reality. Everything from burger meat to egg whites can now be produced without the involvement of a living animal, with many products likely to become commercially available in the next decade.
This technology has the potential to enhance food security, reduce the need for industrial agriculture, lower climate gas emissions, promote environmental sustainability, and create new knowledge-based industries for food production around the world.
The Protein 2.0 project is based at Ruralis, Trondheim, Norway and funded by the Norwegian Research Council.
One of the objectives of that project is to examine the extent to which synthetic proteins are potentially likely to prove extremely disruptive to existing bio-based industries. For example, start-ups are already working on on the production of synthetic salmon and other fish, while the synthetic production of milk and meat is likely to eventually represent a direct challenge to agriculture and aquaculture sectors around the world.
In July 2019 "Perfect Day" produced the first synthetic animal protein to be sold commerically as a food product. Its 1000 units of synthetic ice cream – made with cow milk proteins produced by a yeast – sold out within 24 hours.
Although synthetic production facilities are currently too small to challenge conventional animal protein industries, research is underway to both improve manufacturing processes and increase the scale of production. Most startups working in the area predict synthetic meat, fish and milk will be with us in the next decade.
One of the international case studies being undertaken in Protein 2.0 is Aotearoa New Zealand where there is strong potential for substitution of both dairy and red meat production and markets.
Researchers at the Centre for Sustainability – working with Project Leader Professor Rob Burton in Norway – are examining the way that technology disruptions in the wool, meat and dairy industries have historically had huge effects on those sectors in Aotearoa New Zealand. In the same vein, synthetic proteins might have the same disruptive potential.
Protein 2.0 Host Project in Norway
PROTEIN 2.0: The biosynthetic protein transition: assessing impacts, outcomes and opportunities for Norways post-animal bioeconomy
- Emerging Proteins NZ Project: Interim Analysis of Round One Delphi Interviews (Sinclair-Thompson) (PDF)
- The Lab of Milk and Honey: Discourses in Aotearoa New Zealand Media that Envisage a Synthetic Protein Future (Sinclair-Thompson) (PDF)
- Technology Crises in Primary Production: The Transition from Wool to Artificial Fibres in New Zealand. (Kemnitz) (PDF)