Hans Lovejoy, editor
‘Civilisation is in a race between education and catastrophe’, H. G. Wells once said.
One ongoing catastrophe – and there are many – is the uncertainty of food supply for the planet’s seven billion odd humans.
It might not be as important to a nation such as Australia, which produces more food than it consumes, yet it’s worth keeping an eye on technological advances in food production.
Journalist and author George Monbiot normally writes about gloomy matters, such as climate change, for the Guardian, but in January this year, he was full of praise for the potential to replace crops and livestock with food made from microbes and water.
He ate a pancake that was made from flour produced from a ‘primordial soup of bacteria, taken from the soil and multiplied in the laboratory, using hydrogen extracted from water as its energy source.
‘When the froth was siphoned through a tangle of pipes and squirted onto heated rollers, it turned into a rich yellow flour’.
‘It tasted… just like a pancake’, he said.
Monbiot enthused that lab-grown food by Solar Foods can be used for feedstock ‘for almost everything’.
‘In their raw state, they can replace the fillers now used in thousands of food products. When the bacteria are modified they will create the specific proteins needed for lab-grown meat, milk and eggs.
‘Other tweaks will produce lauric acid – goodbye palm oil – and long-chain omega-3 fatty acids – hello lab-grown fish. The carbohydrates that remain when proteins and fats have been extracted could replace everything from pasta flour to potato crisps. The first commercial factory built by Solar Foods should be running next year’.
He said, ‘The hydrogen pathway used by Solar Foods is about 10 times as efficient as photosynthesis. But because only part of a plant can be eaten, while the bacterial flour is mangetout, you can multiply that efficiency several times. And because it will be brewed in giant vats, the land efficiency, the company estimates, is roughly 20,000 times greater’.
While lab-grown food could provide a huge economic transformation, the obstacles will always be corporate concentration of the food market. In the financial and energy markets, for example, those big players undermine democracies with large political donations, employing former politicians and also employing political staffers.
Surely Monbiot knows that, but why get in the way of a great pancake where a cow wasn’t involved?