Artificial tucker will be going to the dogs (and other pets) too

Robert Hickson, who says he has evolved from a Darwinist, looking backwards, into a futurist, has been looking into the future of lab-grown meats.

There is still a long way to go with them to become economically and gustatorily viable, he writes in a post to be found HERE on SciBlogs.

However, that’s not deterring expansion into the pet food market. And we aren’t talking chicken feed. There was around US$75 billion in sales globally last year (in the US alone the market pet food is worth nearly US$30 billion). NZ’s pet food sales are just under $400 million.

A company called Wild Earth is moving into lab-grown food for pets. They too want to make “ethical” fodder. That reinforces the trend that some owners consider pets are people too, and copy human food fads for their fur children.

At this stage the lab-grown product Wild Earth is working on is just a fungal derivative, with different added flavours to create a variety of high protein nibbles.

True food of the dogs though, if you believe that ambrosia, the food of the Greek Gods, was also fungal – derived from the fly agaric toadstool Amanita muscaria (the red and white one that will be popping up around pine trees fairly soon).

However, they are working on culturing mouse cells too, to eventually produce cat food. And then maybe move into the lab-grown meat for humans market.

Hickson cites an article on Neo.Life which sounds a caution. This approach could harm the reputation of lab-grown meat for human consumption if people start to associate it with pet food.

The bigger picture is that new technologies are increasingly being applied in the pet sector, a very lucrative market. Stem cell therapies and other advanced biotechnologies are already making their way into veterinary practices.

Hickson gives us a final thought. If we treat cats and dogs like humans, is it really a very much bigger step to treating robots in the same way?


Edible insects could supplement our diets and help reduce harmful emissions

Eating insects instead of beef could help tackle climate change by reducing emissions linked to livestock production, an Edinburgh University news item (HERE) says.

It cites research which suggests replacing half of the meat eaten worldwide with crickets and mealworms would cut farmland use by a third, substantially reducing emissions of greenhouse gases.

While consumers’ reluctance to eat insects may limit their consumption, even a small increase would bring benefits, the research team says. This could potentially be achieved by using insects as ingredients in some pre-packaged foods.

Using data collected primarily by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, the scientists have compared the environmental impacts of conventional meat production with those of alternative sources of food. It is the first study to do so.

Researchers at Edinburgh and Scotland’s Rural College considered a scenario in which half of the current mix of animal products is replaced by insects, lab-grown meat or imitation meat.

They found that insects and imitation meat – such as soybean-based foods like tofu – are the most sustainable as they require the least land and energy to produce. Beef is by far the least sustainable, the team says.

In contrast to previous studies, lab-grown meat was found to be no more sustainable than chicken or eggs, requiring an equivalent area of land but using more energy in production.

The team, which includes scientists involved in the N8 Research Partnership’s AgriFood programme, says halving global consumption of animal products by eating more insects or imitation meat would free up 1680 million hectares of land – 70 times the size of the UK.

Similar land savings could also be made by switching from the current mix of animal products to diets higher in chicken and eggs, the team says.

They found that the land required to produce these was only marginally greater than for insects and imitation meat.

As well as being a major contributor to human-induced greenhouse gas emissions, current livestock production has other environmental impacts.

Globally, pasture covers twice the area of cropland, and livestock consume around a third of all harvested crops.

The research, published in the journal Global Food Security, was supported by the UK’s Global Food Security Programme and the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme. It was carried out in collaboration with the University of York, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology and the Centre for Australian Weather and Climate Research.

New Zealand futurist Robert Hickson, on his Idealog blog, has written about changing dietary habits and trends and challenges associated with traditional western food consumption.

In a recent post (HERE), he noted:

Insects aren’t yet big on fancy restaurant menus in the US. But they are a gaining popularity in Japan. The UK has at least one restaurant specialising in our invertebrate friends. And Ikea has been thinking about introducing insect meatballs for a couple of years. A Swiss supermarket is planning to sell burgers and meatballs made from mealworms from next month.

New Zealand is no stranger to edible invertebrates, if only occasionally. I couldn’t find reports of insect meals being a staple in New Zealand, but at least two companies offer gourmet arthropod treats – Crawlers and Anteater. Some other food stores offer products containing cricket flour.

Hickson further noted that lab-grown meat prices are dropping rapidly and producers of meat-free burgers “are on a PR offensive”.

And the world’s largest pork producer, Smithfield Foods, is hoping to become a major supplier of organs for human transplants.

In short, agricultural and social changes will influence why and what we farm. It obviously will influence the relevant science, too.

The future of NZ science


The country’s brightest minds ponder the future of science in a special issue of the Journal of Royal Society of New Zealand, published on Friday.

The issue, which is accessible online for free during the month of August, presents a dozen articles examining what the future holds for science research in Aotearoa.

Will research funding be allocated by lottery? Can we expect an 18 month weather forecast? Are private companies like Weta Digital going to drive New Zealand’s innovation? These are just some of the questions grappled with by twenty authors.

Associate Professor Ian Yeoman, a ‘futurologist’ at the School of Management, Victoria University of Wellington, and David Bibby, Emeritus Professor at the university’s School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences, are co-editors.

Yeoman explains:

“The volume asks questions about the future, aiming to understand what might or could happen. We wanted to hear from experts in science, those that understood the bigger picture or those that could understand the dimensions and interconnectivity of science and how events could unfold.

“Fundamentally, we were curious with what the future may be and how others imagined it.”

Robert Hickson’s article ‘Four short science scenarios‘ certainly wasn’t lacking in imagination. The scenarios offer a slightly tongue-in-cheek, sci-fi look at New Zealand’s future, foreseeing a lottery system for Marsden funding, a single amalgamated University of Aoteoroa and a cybernetic South Canterbury farm network.

Other articles offered a more near term look at issues in the science sector. Drs Rhian Salmon and Rebecca Priestley, in their article ‘A future for public engagement with science in New Zealand‘ highlight the need for greater collaboration and suggest the establishment of “a brokerage that connects ‘everyday scientists’ with science communication outlets, products, programmes and opportunities.”

* A full media release from the Royal Society of New Zealand, links to all articles and a collection of expert commentary can be found at