21st-Century Farming: A Manifesto
Four guiding principles for the future of animal agriculture
Since the beginning, humans have depended on plants, animals, and mined resources for our survival. The agricultural revolution and later, the industrial revolution radically changed our behavior, from that of adaptation to that of disruption.
Over the last century, this trend has accelerated and led to the birth of the modern consumer. Today, we consume with little regard for the impact it has on our world and ultimately ourselves. We’re over-farming our natural resources to a point where our way of life has become unsustainable.
We’re at a crossroads as a species. As with any crossroads, we have a choice on how to move forward — but we must make this choice together. Unlike generations before us, we have the technology to choose a path that protects not just ourselves but secures the environment for future generations.
The threat of Climate change is global, with dire direct and indirect consequences. One major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions is the livestock sector. Livestock is also a leading cause of deforestation, water and air pollution, and biodiversity loss.
But it’s not all bad news, there is a growing movement to modernize farming and reimagining the way we source our precious resources. Through Cellular Agriculture, agricultural products like insulin, vanilla, meat, and leather, can be created without the negative impact of traditional sourcing and production methods.
Here’s how we at VitroLabs see the world of cultivated animal products and how we see our journey forward, as a company, and, hopefully as a broader movement and mindset.
1. Traditional ≠ Natural
One of the loudest oppositions to cultivated (cell-grown) animal products is that they are “unnatural”.
The majority of livestock, a staggering 99% of farmed animals in the US, come from factory farms. Let’s look at the factory farming process, which is the standard of today, through the lens of something you’re likely familiar with — steak:
The steak on your dinner plate comes from a cow who is part of a line of cows genetically selected by humans over hundreds of years for certain characteristics. To maximize meat output, people have systematically bred the cow to be larger and more muscular than her ancestors.
To maximize efficiency, she is confined in a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) also known as a feedlot with anywhere from 2,000–100,000 other cows.
She is fed a diet of corn and grain, instead of her ‘natural’ diet of grass. While corn and grain accelerates weight gain, it also leads to diseases, which are compounded by the sheer number of cows housed together.
To keep her illnesses caused by her living conditions and diet at bay until she is large enough for slaughter, she is injected and fed antibiotics, hormones, and other drugs.
While her life would ‘naturally’ span 20 years, she is taken to slaughter at 3 years old.
The tendency to interchange the words ‘natural’ with ‘traditional’ or ‘the way it has been’ runs counter to the progress that’s required to overhaul today’s outdated systems. Animal agriculture today is the result of a traditional, antiquated system, scaled to meet growing demand. There is nothing ‘natural’ about Factory Farming.
Cellular Agriculture makes it possible to harness nature’s, by definition, natural processes to make the same tasty burgers, creamy cheeses, high-quality cow-hides and leathers that you are used to, without the cruelty, slaughter, or environmental degradation that come with today’s ‘traditional’ processes.
2. Alternatives are good. Replacements are the future.
We’ve had no-kill alternatives to many animal-derived products for decades now. Every year more environmentally friendly alternatives emerge.
With food products, there are vegetarian burgers made from beans, soy, and other plant-based ingredients. In dairy, there are nut- and soy-based alternatives. In leather, there are plastic-, plant fiber- and mycelium-based alternatives.
Why haven’t more alternatives gone mainstream? Alternatives haven’t gone mainstream because they offer options but ask for compromise in return. For example, people who care about animal welfare can opt for plastic-based leather alternatives but have to accept inferior quality and the negative environmental impact that plastics have.
Alternatives can be a great step forward. For example, Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat have managed to create a flavor similar enough to meat to appeal to a broader audience but they are still far from replacing meat and the meat industry.
What if we didn’t have to compromise? To stay with our food examples, the next step in this evolution comes from companies like Memphis Meats, Shiok Meats, and others who are culturing real meat without raising or slaughtering animals so consumers will no longer have to choose between the environment, animal welfare, or the animal-based materials and foods that they love.
Consumers will no longer have to choose between the environment, animal welfare, or the animal-based materials and foods that they love.
At VitroLabs, our leather, grown in the lab, offers the same product people have come to love but grown in a new way. We are not replacing leather itself, but instead, we are replacing environmentally destructive farming as the source of leather.
We are not replacing leather itself, we are replacing environmentally destructive farming as the source of leather.
We believe that in order to make substantive change, replacements not alternatives, are the solution. We must find better sources for the environmentally damaging animal-derived products that exist today, and replace the destructive processes that make them.
3. Long-term impact over short-term gains
Embodied by mantras like, “Move fast and break things”, we as a species have barreled forward with disruptive ‘progress’, oftentimes without considering consequences and costs.
As Yuval Harari said, “Humans were always far better at inventing tools than using them wisely,” and today, we’re seeing and living the unintended consequences of some of those technologies — from the impact of fossil fuels on the environment to misinformation running rampant across social media platforms.
“Humans were always far better at inventing tools than using them wisely.”― Yuval Noah Harari
We understand that our technology, like so many others, has the potential to have negative consequences if we make the wrong decisions on how we use it.
We believe in a world where science and technology are used responsibly to provide a positive impact for business, the planet, and all living things. We reflect on this vision as we make decisions and prioritize long-term, positive impact, over short-term gains.
We believe in a world where science and technology are used responsibly to provide a positive impact for business, the planet, and all living things.
4. Adaptation over Disruption
The word ‘disruption’ has become a badge of honor for many, with companies in the last few decades coveting ‘disruption’ as the ultimate goal.
This journey of ‘disruption’ started long before becoming a buzz. During the Neolithic Agricultural Revolution, humans unintentionally started to change the environment to fit our needs — disrupting our hunter-gatherer roots.
After thousands of years on this ‘disruptive’ trajectory, we can now look back and see the consequences: our activities of clearing land, raising animals, and burning fossil fuels, have brought on climate instability within a shorter time span than we’ve ever seen.
But this trajectory has also enabled us to look ahead and make different choices. As Charles Darwin said, “it is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.” To outrun the consequences of our disruptive past, we must adapt ourselves and our systems — quickly and boldly.
“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.” — Charles Darwin
The journey ahead
We’ve seen the consequences of prioritizing disruption, profit, and efficiency over sustainability.
Our oceans are being depleted at an unprecedented rate. Our topsoil is being eroded at an increased pace partly due to monocultures such as grains and soy used in animal feedlots. The feedlots themselves are polluting our waterways leading to contamination of our groundwater and algal blooms in fresh and coastal waters.
We have the benefit of hindsight, insight, and data that previous generations didn’t have. Armed with this knowledge, it is up to us to choose our way forward, knowing that our choices today are choices that impact future generations.
At VitroLabs, we’ve made our choice and we join many others in the decision to move forward sustainably for our collective future. We invite you to join us on this journey — our collective future is shaped by all of us.