According to a new report by the Farm Animal Investment Risk & Return (FAIRR) initiative, a global investor network that aims to put factory farming on the environmental, social and governance (ESG) agenda, animal agriculture is deeply unprepared for the transition to a sustainable food system. But there is one interesting silver lining: 28 out of 60 publicly-listed animal protein companies – almost half – now have some involvement in animal free proteins, which includes seven in cultivated meat.
The shift toward animal free proteins even from within parts of the existing agricultural system is a signal of what’s to come: Precision Fermentation (PF) will disrupt the food industry – a process Catherine Tubb and Tony Seba describe in detail in the RethinkX report, Rethinking Food and Agriculture (2019) – and contrary to prevailing myths, it is already on track to become cost-competitive and eventually cheaper than the conventional livestock industry over the next decade.
But the disappearance of animal agriculture is just the beginning. According to Tubb and Seba, PF means that we will be capable of producing all kinds of different molecules from fats and oils to pigments and vitamins, and will open up endless possibilities for new products in the future. This will bring about profound change to the food system as a whole. And while each class of molecule is important the most important, the one that will drive the disruption, is protein.
The information here contains a summary of Rethinking Food and Agriculture, 2019 by Catherine Tubb and Tony Seba.
What is a Protein?
Proteins are a class of biomolecule that execute an immense number of functions to make life happen. They are found throughout nature, in plants, animals, fungi, and so on, and are responsible for the many key processes that keep them alive. The ability to manipulate proteins confers the ability to manipulate life itself.
There are many different types of proteins:
- Structural proteins (keratin, collagen)- Provide structure and support for the cell and the body and allow the body to move.
- Antibodies (immunoglobulin G) – Help protect the body against foreign particles such as viruses and bacteria.
- Enzymes (Amylase, Lactase) – Assist with the formation of new molecules by reading the genetic information in DNA. They speed up reactions and carry out almost all of the thousands of chemical reactions that take place in cells.
- Messenger proteins (Insulin, Growth hormone) – Transmit signals to coordinate biological processes between cells, tissues, and organs.
- Transport proteins (Hemoglobin, Ferritin) – Bind and carry atoms and small molecules within cells and throughout the body.