EDITOR’S NOTE: Below is an excerpt from “Bill Gates & His Fake Solutions to Climate Change,” a 23-page report coordinated by Navdanya International which sheds light on the dangers of philanthrocapitalism.
One of [Bill] Gates’ most recent promotions is his prescriptions of synthetic foods for developed countries as a means to combat climate change. In a recent interview with MIT Technology Review, Gates says he thinks “all rich countries should move to 100% synthetic beef.”
Fake food replaces animal products with highly processed food grown in labs, like fake meat, fake dairy products or fake eggs. It is made possible by technical innovations such as synthetic biology, which involves reconfiguring the DNA of an organism to create something entirely new.
For instance, plant-based meat companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods use a DNA coding sequence from soybeans or peas to create a product that looks and tastes like real meat. Some companies are also investing in cell-based meat, grown from real animal cells, but it has yet to reach the market.
More and more firms are getting involved in this fast-growing market, like Motif Foodworks (plant-based meat and dairy alternatives), Ginkgo Bioworks (custom-built microbes), BioMilq (lab-grown breast milk), Nature’s Fynd (fungi-grown meat and dairy alternatives), Eat Just (egg substitutes made from plant proteins), Perfect Day Food (lab-grown dairy products) or NotCo (plant-based animal products made through AI), to name but a few.
The industrial meat-industry giants are also profiting from this blossoming market. Meat producers like Tyson Foods (which has invested in Memphis Meats and Future Meat Technologies which both create lab-grown meat replacements), Nestle, Cargill, Maple Leaf Foods, or Perdue Farms are thriving on this trend, selling products like sausages, burgers and ground beef largely made from pea or soy protein.
All these companies are backed up by high-ranked billionaires and Big Tech investors. Bill Gates alone has invested $50 million in Impossible Foods and actively finances Beyond Meat, Ginkgo Bioworks and BioMilq, as described above.
The perpetuation of ecologically damaging practices
Fake food advocates claim it is a real solution to climate change and solves environmental degradation, while also ironing out animal welfare concerns. For instance, Impossible Foods declare their plant-based meat needs 96% less land, 87% less water and emits 89% fewer greenhouse gases than conventional animal-based products.
However, fake food has a larger carbon footprint than less-processed plant proteins. Plant-based substitutes are up to seven times more GHG-intensive than whole pulses. Cell-based meat also emits more GHG than animal products, like pork or poultry.
Recent research even suggests that over the long term, the environmental impact of lab-grown meat could be higher than that of livestock.
Moreover, fake food is advertised as “eco-friendly”, and yet it is made with proteins from pea, soy, or corn which are being grown on a large, industrial scale, relying on tillage, monocultures, toxic pesticides and often, GMOs.
The Impossible Burger is made with GMO Roundup-sprayed soya, leading to massive ecological devastation. Total levels of glyphosate detected in the Impossible Burger by Health Research Institute Laboratories were 11.3ppb, making its consumption highly dangerous as only 0.1ppb of glyphosate can destroy gut bacteria, damage to vital organs like the liver and kidneys, cause reproductive abnormalities, or even tumors, as glyphosate is also a “probable human carcinogen.” More broadly, the reliance on pesticides is directly linked with long-term chronic health problems, for consumers and farmers.
Other companies like Beyond Meat, who market their products as “cleaner” since they are free from genetically modified ingredients, still admit to not being organic, and still rely heavily on monocultures and pesticides.
Ironically, these plant-based meat alternatives, which claim to save animals, water and the environment, are instead directly contributing to the food system that is threatening global biodiversity, destroying wildlife, altering the soils and polluting groundwater supplies. Moreover, the fake food companies’ supply chains require excessive fossil fuel transport, like most industrial food.
The health impacts of hyper-processed fake foods
Not only is fake food harmful to the environment, but it also can be detrimental to human health. Plant-based substitutes are likely to have a range of adverse long-term health outcomes, due to them being highly processed and containing ingredients like isolated pea proteins and canola oil.
New additives also made through synthetic biology are being added to these products. For example, to make the Impossible Burger appear to “bleed” like real meat, a “heme” molecule is added which comes from soy leghemoglobin, a colorant produced in genetically engineered yeast.
According to the Center for Food Safety, the FDA didn’t conduct adequate long-term testing before approving the color additive in 2019, and after a short-term rat trial several potential adverse effects were detected like changes in weight gain, changes in the blood that can indicate inflammation or kidney disease, disruptions in the reproductive cycle and possible signs of anemia.
Despite the lack of evidence that the additive is safe, Impossible Foods’ products containing genetically engineered heme are now being sold in supermarkets across the U.S., exemplifying a deregulatory environment that prefers corporate profit and influence over public health.
The entire process of isolating plant-based proteins can also have dangerous consequences for human health. Many anti-nutrients are found within soy that can produce harmful health effects, such as digestive disorders, hormone imbalances, autoimmune diseases, obesity, digestive disorders, neurological conditions or immunologic reactions. Especially as the soy and pea protein primarily used in most plant-based meats is heavily processed through high heating, chemical extractions and isolations of proteins and now genetic altering, generating compounds that are not naturally found in foods.
Finally, artificially created animal products sometimes lack several natural nutrients or benefits. For instance, lab-grown milk such as BioMilq’s can’t change in response to the child’s need, as real breast milk can. It contains no hormones or bacteria from the mother’s biome and, more importantly, it does not have antibodies, which are vital to babies.
Plant-based meats, on the other hand, do not meet the nutritional requirements that are fulfilled by real animal foods. Simply adding isolated proteins, vitamins and minerals to diets does not confer the same health benefits as when these nutrients are ingested as whole foods, which contain thousands of compounds acting in synergy. Plant-based burgers aren’t healthier than animal products, including red meat.
Patenting: making profit from life
Far from ending climate change or world hunger, the patenting of artificial fake food growing techniques becomes yet another instrument of profit-making by corporations and billionaires. Especially as 20 patents are now assigned to Impossible Foods, with over 100 additional patents pending for other fake meat proxies, from chicken to fish.
It’s no wonder that big plant-breeding companies like Bayer see a great opportunity in the plant-based industry boom. In a 2019 investor event in Missouri, Bob Reiter, Bayer’s head of research and development at the company’s crop science division, said that plant-based meat companies “are sourcing different types of crops and that could also create opportunity for us, being a company that is a plant-breeding company.”
This patenting logic also reduces animals and nature to an “improvable technology”, in the words of Pat Brown, CEO, and founder of Impossible Foods. According to him, “animals have just been the technology we have used up until now to produce meat.”
This means they can simply be replaced by more efficient technologies like artificial food.
Fake food separates humans from nature and food from life. But we need to think beyond our strictly human needs and understand the needs of the ecological systems in which we are embedded. We cannot address the pressing environmental crisis without transforming our relationship with nature.