The dairy and cattle industries will have collapsed by 2030 and the rest of the livestock industry will follow, according to a new report.
The report, by independent think tank RethinkX, also predicts that by 2030, modern food products will be higher quality and cost less than half the price of animal-derived foods.
The food and agriculture research fellows who wrote the report emphasized that although the industrial livestock industry is one of the oldest and largest in the world, it’s also one of the most inefficient food-production systems. This analysis focuses on the new technologies driving the transformation of the food and agriculture sectors and the inevitable implications for the cattle industry in the U.S.
Modern ingredients, such as plant proteins and engineered foods, are about 10 times more efficient across the board—from land, energy and water use to feedstock consumption.
“We are on the cusp of a protein revolution that is driven by economics, such that the cost of manufactured proteins will be five times cheaper by 2030 and 10 times cheaper by 2035 than existing animal proteins,” says Catherine Tubb, senior analyst for Rethink X, who co-wrote the report. “These cheaper and cheaper proteins are just going to make industrial animal production method obsolete by 2030.”
That means important decisions regarding the environment, jobs, education, politics, and land use need to be made sooner rather than later.
“The whole food system will change and the new production system will allow for food to be produced anywhere, so we expect to see more of a local production, just like beer is brewed now,” Tubb says. “That means less time to move food, supply chains will completely change, and food won’t need to move through different continents as much.”
For this consumer-driven market, product quality, safety, and sustainability are of utmost concern. A more localized food source should mean better safety, as it’s less likely that food gets contaminated or spoiled on shipments during transportation.
“I just think even how food will be produced, in a closed system, you’re not going to see contamination coming in, like you might see with meat in a slaughterhouse or any dairy system,” Tubb says. “But it still needs to be regulated and we do advocate for transparency in our report in anticipation of these modern foods so they are safe.”
The USDA and FDA are still working on food regulations for alternative proteins, and RethinkX advocates for an independent regulatory body to develop policy and oversee new technology. This would be done to limit the potential backlash from the lobbying power of those currently in the food industry.
“You wouldn’t need the same safety checks that you would on a farm, so it will impact both the USDA and FDA,” Tubb says.
The World Economic Forum released a white paper in January 2019 in which it reported that alternative proteins promote food security by releasing land currently used to grow animal feed for the production of human food.
“2019 was the year of faux meat alternatives and the power of plants,” he says. “Consumers, particularly millennials and Gen Zers, became more aware of the impact that their food choices make on our planet and sustainability has been at the forefront of food trend conversations.”
He says plant proteins will rise to the top in 2020 as meat eaters transition to plant-based foods and people choose ingredients that are healthier, more economical and more sustainable. And it’s all about transparency.