It is likely that the emergence of cellular agriculture, which produces food in factories from cells or yeast, depending on how it occurs, will either increase socioeconomic inequality or provide beneficial alternatives to the status quo.
Researchers at Penn State have assessed the potential for a new technology that synergizes computer science, biopharmaceuticals, tissue engineering, and food science for growing cultured meat, dairy, and egg products from animal cells and/or genetically modified yeast. Agriculture and Human Values published the study today. Researchers Robert Chiles, associate professor of rural sociology at College of Agricultural Sciences, says large companies, currently, have the best prospects for capitalizing on these innovations.
Meanwhile, he added, new technologies are also being used to decentralize and personalize food manufacturing, including artificial intelligence, smart agriculture, bioengineering and synthetic biology. The platforms offer the potential to democratize ownership and mobilize alternative business models and regulatory structures focused on open-source licensing, cooperative member ownership, social finance, and mobile platforms.”
Though cellular meat is not currently available to consumers, its proponents believe it could reduce land, water, and chemical inputs, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve food safety, and optimize nutrition without requiring animals to be raised and slaughtered in large numbers. In addition, cellular agriculture can also cause food ownership and power to be concentrated in a few hands, displacing ranchers, farmers, fishermen, and ancillary industries.
Many have expressed concerns about cellular agriculture’s potential to increase concentration of wealth and decrease participation of the public in agriculture, while offering fewer health and environmental benefits than intended.
Chiles, who is a research associate at Penn State’s Rock Ethics Institute, noted that scholars have explored a broad spectrum of socioeconomic and ethical issues related to this technological approach over the past decade. However, he explained, this scholarship has done little to explore what kinds of mechanisms might lead to more just and equitable development in this sector.
During the past two years, Chiles and colleagues attended 11 cellular agriculture and alternative economic organization events throughout the United States, interviewing key experts at conferences and summits about how the industry will develop and how it should develop. The researchers also collected data from 21 additional conferences online.