Nextbigfuture interviewed Tony Seba of RethinkX on their latest analysis of emerging global technology disruption. The new emerging technology is combining synthetic biology was fermentation to transform agriculture and many aspects of industry. In 2017, RethinkX and Tony Seba put out a report about the transformation of transportation into transportation as a service (Taas). The transportation vision is being realized by Elon Musk and Tesla, Waymo and ridesharing companies. Precision biology will displace, replace or transform agriculture by using designed microorganisms and adapting beer industry fermentation processes to produce food that is identical to milk and meat but without using animals. The first product we are seeing with mass impact is the Impossible Burger and Beyond Meat products that are impacting ground meat.
* This is taking processes from a $660+ billion beer industry and applying it to agriculture
* This transforms land, food, environment, our health and the economy
* Historical examples of less precise biology were already hugely impactful. Insulin was created with similar processes and the vitamin industry uses less precise version of these processes.
* First food products already have multi-billion companies
* We are domesticating micro and macro-organisms.
A number of vitamins and supplements are produced almost exclusively using PF. More recently, the process is being used to make collagen. Today, these products generate revenues of more than $100 billion worldwide every year.
The cost of PF is being driven ever lower by a steep decline in the cost of precision biology. As a result, the cost of producing a single molecule by PF has fallen from $1m/kg in 2000 to about $100/kg today. We expect the cost to fall below $10/kg by 2025.
The key is identifying and understanding the overall cost and technology disruption.
Impact of Food as a Software
Rapid advances in precision biology are allowing us to huge strides in precision fermentation, a process that allows us to program micro-organisms to produce almost any complex organic molecule. These advances are now being combined with an entirely new model of production we call Food-as-Software, in which individual molecules engineered by scientists are uploaded to databases – molecular cookbooks that food engineers anywhere in the world can use to design products in the same way that software developers design apps. This model ensures constant iteration so that products improve rapidly, with each version superior and cheaper than the last. It also ensures a production system that is completely decentralized and much more stable and resilient than industrial animal agriculture, with fermentation farms located in or close to towns and cities.
This rapid improvement is in stark contrast to the industrial livestock production model, which has all but reached its limits in terms of scale, reach, and efficiency. As the most inefficient and economically vulnerable part of this system, cow products will be the first to feel the full force of modern food’s disruptive power. Modern alternatives will be up to 100 times more land efficient, 10-25 times more feedstock efficient, 20 times more time-efficient, and 10 times more water-efficient. They will also produce an order of magnitude less waste.
Modern foods have already started disrupting the ground meat market, but once cost parity is reached, we believe in 2021-23, adoption will tip and accelerate exponentially. The disruption will play out in a number of ways and does not rely solely on the direct, one-for-one substitution of end products. In some markets, only a small percentage of the ingredients need to be replaced for an entire product to be disrupted. The whole of the cow milk industry, for example, will start to collapse once modern food technologies have replaced the proteins in a bottle of milk – just 3.3% of its content. The industry, which is already balancing on a knife edge, will thus be all but bankrupt by 2030.
This is not, therefore, one disruption but many in parallel, with each overlapping, reinforcing, and accelerating one another.
New technologies are driving the transformation of the food and agriculture sectors and the inevitable implications for the cattle industry in the U.S. The cost curves RethinkX hax produced are based on limited data given the early stage of the application of these technologies in food markets. These cost curves underpin the adoption and implications analysis presented in this paper. They should be seen as a ‘beta’ analysis or a ‘first pass’ and we will update them as more evidence emerges. We welcome feedback that will help in developing this analysis.
The cost of proteins will be five times cheaper by 2030 and 10 times cheaper by 2035 than existing animal proteins, before ultimately approaching the cost of sugar. They will also be superior in every key attribute – more nutritious, healthier, better tasting, and more convenient, with almost unimaginable variety. This means that, by 2030, modern food products will be higher quality and cost less than half as much to produce as the animal-derived products they replace.
By 2030, the number of cows in the U.S. will have fallen by 50% and the cattle farming industry will be all but bankrupt. All other livestock industries will suffer a similar fate, while the knock-on effects for crop farmers and businesses throughout the value chain will be severe.
“The cow has 4% feed efficiency. Fermentation has 40%-80% percent efficiency. This is a disruption waiting to happen.” -Tony Seba pic.twitter.com/1pWrtSrN1A
— RethinkX (@rethink_x) September 27, 2019
Modern foods will be cheaper and superior to animal-derived foods. The cost of modern food products will be half that of animal products and they will be superior in every functional attribute – more nutritious, tastier, and more convenient with much greater variety. Nutritional benefits could have a profound impact on health, both in a reduction in foodborne illness and in conditions such as heart disease, obesity, cancer, and diabetes that are estimated to cost the U.S. $1.7 trillion every year.
* Wider economic benefits will accrue from the reduction in the cost of food in the form of increased disposable incomes and from the wealth, jobs, and taxes that come from leading the way in modern food technologies.
* Environmental benefits will be profound, with net greenhouse gas emissions from the sector falling by 45% by 2030. Other issues such as international deforestation, species extinction, water scarcity, and aquatic pollution from animal waste, hormones, and antibiotics will be ameliorated as well. By 2035, lands previously used to produce animal foods in the U.S. could become a major carbon sink.
Interview with Tony Seba
Question How will this be different like prior generation manufactured food like twinkies or corn syrup?
Answer The proteins that are produced will be biologically identical to the products that we currently get from livestock. We will produce microbes via synthetic biology like producing yeast. This will be scaling something similar to beer industry processes for producing milk, meat and other products. The global beer industry is a $660+ billion industry.
The manufactured food of the food science of the 1950s to 1970s did not precisely replicate our food. This caused problems with public health.
Modern foods will not only produce food that is cheaper than animal-derived products, but superior in every conceivable way – in quality, taste, structure, nutrition, and impact on the environment and society. The improvements will ensure that adoption of new products begins before cost parity is reached, just as it has in some markets today. We see this with people paying more for Beyond Meat or Impossible Food products.
Question What is the timeline for this transformation?
Answer There will be four major waves of disruption.
What we eat:
1. Substitute ingredients. The one-for-one substitution of animal-derived ingredients. This is business adoption. Consumer preference is not a major factor.
2. Substitute end products. This is a business-to-consumer disruption:
The way we eat:
3. Fortification. The addition of ingredients made using modern production methods to existing food products.
4. Form factor. The replacement of existing forms of food with entirely new forms
The new industry only needs to disrupt 3.3% of the milk bottle – the key functional proteins – to bring about the collapse of the whole cow milk industry.
The $24 billion pet food market is where initial products and businesses will get scale.
However, this will completely transform the organization of our world and it will be driven by lower costing but better products.
SOURCES: Interview Tony Seba, RethinkX
Written By Brian Wang, Nextbigfuture.com
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
Known for identifying cutting edge technologies, he is currently a Co-Founder of a startup and fundraiser for high potential early-stage companies. He is the Head of Research for Allocations for deep technology investments and an Angel Investor at Space Angels.
A frequent speaker at corporations, he has been a TEDx speaker, a Singularity University speaker and guest at numerous interviews for radio and podcasts. He is open to public speaking and advising engagements.