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Billionaires see value in plant-based foods

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  • Alex@FARM
    http://www.vancouversun.com/business/Billionaires+value+plant+based+food+technology/8092832/story.html The Vancouver Sun - March 13, 2013 Billionaires see
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      The Vancouver Sun - March 13, 2013

      Billionaires see value in plant-based foods

      By Peter Fricker

      Animal activists have for decades railed against the meat industry for
      its inhumane treatment of animals on factory farms. More recently,
      environmentalists have attacked intensive livestock farming because of
      its contribution to global greenhouse gases and its degradation of soil,
      water and air. Health advocates have piled on with warnings about the
      serious detrimental effects of the overconsumption of meat.

      Yet, despite all the protest campaigns, all the alarming scientific
      reports and all the worthy editorials in respected journals, no one,
      least of all government, seems willing to restrain the relentless growth
      of the factory farm model, which has been adopted around the world. With
      global meat consumption projected to increase 73 per cent by 2050, any
      effort to curtail the negative consequences of meat production seems
      ultimately hopeless.

      But maybe not.

      It appears someone has been listening to all the evidence accumulating
      against meat production and has seen not only the threat it represents,
      but also the opportunity. That someone is billionaire Bill Gates. And
      he's just one capitalist entrepreneur whose not-so-invisible hand is
      behind an embryonic high-tech industry that might help save billions of
      animals from suffering and slaughter.

      In February, Bloomberg BusinessWeek magazine reported that Gates is
      among several investors and venture capitalists supporting Silicon
      Valley startups working on "sustainable food innovation" --- new firms
      creating imitation meat and eggs that are not only animal-friendly, but
      are also cheaper, better for the environment and just as tasty.

      Referred to as eco-food innovators, the companies are using plant-based
      ingredients to mimic the texture and taste of animal products, along
      with their properties in food production. For example, one start-up,
      Hampton Creek Foods, has created a product called Beyond Eggs, which
      performs the same function as eggs in baking without compromising the
      taste or quality of mass-produced baked goods. What's more, the company
      says the product will be about 19 per cent cheaper than real eggs, is
      healthier and has a longer shelf-life. In a taste test, Gates reportedly
      could not tell the difference between a muffin made with real eggs and
      one made with Beyond Eggs.

      A reduction in the need for mass-produced eggs would decrease the need
      for millions of hens raised in cruel battery cages, one of the worst
      examples of factory farm cruelty.

      Other new firms are focusing on meat replacements and have also
      attracted venture capital. One, Beyond Meat (backed by Twitter founders
      Biz Stone and Evan Williams), is already selling faux chicken that has
      fooled food writers in blind taste tests. Another, Sand Hill Foods, is
      using novel technologies that it claims will make products
      "substantially cheaper and every bit as good and essentially
      indistinguishable to a consumer who loves meat or dairy."

      These companies, which use plant-based ingredients, are in a race with
      another methodology aiming to replace at least some conventional
      livestock production. Known as in vitro meat, the process involves
      "growing" meat from animal cells. One start-up, Modern Meadow, has taken
      the concept further, proposing to use three-dimensional bio-printing to
      literally print meat from cells, layer by layer.

      The new eco-food innovators come after already successful producers of
      meat alternatives, such as Turtle Island Foods (Tofurky) and B.C.'s own
      Gardein. The newcomers, however, claim their products will be so close
      to the real thing they will win over meat-eaters, as well as vegetarians.

      Clearly, all this investment in alternatives to meat production is not
      being driven purely by altruism or a soft spot for mother hens and
      doe-eyed calves, but there is an understanding that factory farming is
      unsustainable. As one investor, Amol Deshpande of venture capital firm
      Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers, told media: "We have to find a way
      to replace animals as a source of protein. I don't think the climate can
      subsist ... with the amount of livestock that we have."

      And Gates clearly understands the need for the food industry to change.
      Last year, in a video interview he told venture capitalist Vinod Khosla
      (in whose fund he invests): "To make these things that are cheaper,
      probably more healthy, less cruelty involved, less greenhouse gas
      emissions --- it's quite a phenomenal thing ... The fact that innovation
      will give (us) equivalent (food) without those negative effects at lower
      prices is an amazing example of how linear projection misses what
      innovators using science will be able to do." When billionaires see
      "less cruelty" as a good investment, animal advocates have reason to be

      /Peter Fricker is projects and communications director at the Vancouver
      Humane Society./

      © Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

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