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May 22, 2019

Synthetic food. Should NZ worry?

A scene setter.

In recent years recognition by governments and the public that environmental change is required has seen the signing of the 2015 Paris Agreement. In New Zealand the Labour-New Zealand First Government has in May 2019 introduced the Zero Carbon bill, which aims to reduce New Zealand’s net carbon emissions to zero by 2050.

The need to reduce our environment footprint has seen increased interest in synthetic foods, and as a result the number of synthetic food companies has increased. In addition these companies have been able to attract significant investments from big name investors and large food production companies in recent years. A significant factor in the rise of these synthetic food companies are promised improvements to the environment as synthetic foods require less land, water, and energy to produce, while also producing less greenhouse gases.   

In New Zealand meat and dairy industries generate around 40 percent of New Zealand’s total exports, and from the backbone of our economy, so the introduction of commercial synthetic meat and dairy products could seriously disrupt our international meat and dairy export markets.  

Given that in 2019 commercial production of synthetic foods seems inevitable as part of a global solution to the climate change crisis facing the planet, the question my research seeks to answer is:

Will the introduction of synthetic foods destroy New Zealand’s agriculture sector, or provide it with new opportunities?

See the attached report for detail on the following findings:

Potential benefits of synthetic meat replacing traditional meat include:

  • 99 percent less land use
  • 82-96 percent less water use
  • 78-96 percent less greenhouse gas produced
  • 7-45 percent less energy use
  • along with the synthetic meat being bacterial and chemical free.

Challenges still to be overcome for synthetic meat include developing: 

  • bioreactors at an industrial scale
  • animal-free growth serum/media
  • 3D structures for complex meat products
  • public acceptance of the products
  • a definition of the meat products
  • a regulatory frameworks (synthetic vs real vs mixed).

For synthetic dairy, when replacing traditional dairy it uses:

  • 77-91 percent less land
  • 98 percent less water
  • 35-65 percent less greenhouse gases produced
  • 24-84 percent less energy use.  

While the main challenges facing synthetic dairy are:

  • scaling up to an industrial scale
  • public acceptance of their products
  • developing a definition of the dairy products
  • developing regulatory frameworks (synthetic vs real vs mixed). 

You may also like to read about what we set out to achieve.