The Emerging In Vitro Meat Industry

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The Emerging In Vitro Meat Industry

As we reported in the February 2008 issue of Trends, food prices are spiraling out of control, with global food prices soaring 75 percent between 2005 and 2007. 

This is one of the biggest threats to the stability of the world economy, and to the stability of the world's governments.  Riots over food prices have already broken out in several countries. 

Among the reasons for so-called "agflation" are the rising middle classes in countries like China, which are consuming more meat.  According to the McKinsey Quarterly,1 the Chinese middle class quintupled from 7.6 million in 1995 to 42 million in 2005, and is expected to quadruple to 199 million by 2015. 

Not only are there more people in China who can afford to add meat to their diets, but the per capita consumption of meat is accelerating as well.  The Economist2 reports that the average Chinese consumer ate 100 pounds of meat in 2007, up from 44 pounds in 1985.  Overall, the UN predicts that global meat consumption will double by 2050.

So why can't livestock producers simply raise more cattle, chicken, and hogs?  The problem is that, at the same time that consumption is growing, the cost of feeding livestock is skyrocketing.  Ethanol production now consumes 25 percent of the nation's corn crop, and the American Farm Bureau Federation expects that figure to increase to 30 percent by 2009.

In addition, according to the Associated Press,3 the U.S. government predicted that farmers would plant only 86 million acres of corn in 2008, which is 8 percent less than in 2007.  However, that estimate did not take into account the impact of bad weather during planting season.  Heavy rains in the Midwest kept 4 million acres from being planted, and flooding in the late spring destroyed countless acres that had already been planted.

As a result, corn prices have more than tripled in the past 30 months, hitting a record price of $6.67 a bushel in July 2008 futures, up from $1.86 at the end of 2005.4

What all of this means is that increased demand for meat and high corn prices will lead to stratospheric meat prices — unless an alternate approach to producing meat can be developed.  And now, it appears that just such an innovative approach is on the horizon.

Wired5 magazine reports that, within 5 to 10 years, supermarkets may be selling packages of meat that was grown in giant tanks called bioreactors...

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