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Where’s the beef: fake meat or real livestock production?

Points of view: a world without livestock production?

Imagine a world without livestock production. Some people take this seriously, and are proposing a whole set of solutions to help build a coherent system that would still offer all the nutritional benefits of animal products. And in case you were worried, you can maintain a relationship with animals by adopting pig in your backyard.

By Pascale Mollier, translated by Inge laino
Updated on 06/16/2017
Published on 02/22/2017

Rams from the Bressonvilliers flock. © INRA, NORMANT Sophie
Rams from the Bressonvilliers flock © INRA, NORMANT Sophie

Real animals, fake products

In this futuristic, livestock-free world, animal products could still exist thanks to biotechnological substitutes: meat cultivated in vitro (see article 4), artificial milk and cheese without cow or goat milk… A Californian start-up (1) is working on the expression of milk protein genes from cows in yeast, which would then need to be enriched with plant-based fat, various nutrients and sugar.   A group of bio-hackers (2) is also working on using yeast to produce cheese from human milk.

Artificial meat cookbook.. © Next Nature, Next Nature
Artificial meat cookbook. © Next Nature, Next Nature

Nascent cultural and economic models are emerging based on these products. There is already a cookbook out using ingredients such as artificial meat, charcuterie and even oysters (3).

One association (4) proposes different systems of artificial meat production, either the low-cost version on the outskirts of cities, or in “short circuits” in local “carneries”, like local breweries.

A Dutch philosopher (5) organised chat groups to get people talking about a livestock-free world. To stay connected with animals, the idea of pet pigs came about naturally. The pigs, fed on leftovers, would serve as a source of stem cells. A sampling of a few muscle cells is all it would take to synthesise pork on demand…

Tapas made from in vitro meat.. © Next Nature
Tapas made from in vitro meat. © Next Nature
Artificial oysters made from in vitro meat.. © Next Nature
Artificial oysters made from in vitro meat. © Next Nature


Jean-Louis Peyraud: “Zero livestock is a denial of our history and culture”

Jean-Louis PEYRAUD, research director. © INRA, MAITRE Christophe
Jean-Louis PEYRAUD, research director © INRA, MAITRE Christophe

“ I am very sceptical about the potential for making meat artificially and in sufficient quantities (for now, we can only produce muscle, at best), and even more so when it comes to milk. Milk is a very complex thing, with many interactions between its various components. For example, it is the protein micella in milk that make it possible for humans to easily digest milk calcium. Science is still far from fully understanding all of the complexities of the structural elements of milk, their interactions and the transformation processes of milk (6). But most of all, in vitro synthesis is a first-world technology. How are we going to feed people in Africa without livestock production?

Without ruminants, there would be no more pastures, woods or hedges. The forest would gain ground on mountainsides and become more susceptible to fires in dry areas, because they would no longer serve as scrub clearings for small ruminants. We would lose farmland because it is not possible to produce grain crops in many regions with permanent pastures, which are useful only for ruminants. The exodus from the countryside to cities would accelerate. Arable crops would use more fertilisers without the organic benefits of livestock manure. In such a high-tech world so removed from nature, the next step might be growing vegetables in entirely automated towers in cities… That kind of world is the very negation of our rural and cultural heritage!”.

Jocelyne Porcher: “When it comes to our relationship with animals, industrialisation is the culprit”

Portrait of Jocelyne Porcher. © INRA
Portrait of Jocelyne Porcher © INRA

“A world without livestock production means a society without animals. Because if livestock animals disappear, so will all domestic animals, including cats, dogs and backyard pigs…It is not ethically coherent to do away with one and not the other. Indeed, all of these animals are linked to us by work, whether they produce food (cows, pigs, etc.) or provide services (dogs, horses, etc.). This work relationship, often poorly understood, is based on a historic trade off which was shattered with the industrialisation of livestock production and a shift in priority to profits at the expense of all else. These developments lowered the living - and dying - conditions of animals. That is why this work relationship is increasingly criticised by abolitionists, for whom animals are requisitioned, exploited, and must be freed. As for techy food start-ups and robots, they call for replacing domesticated animals with more profitable substitutes: in vitro meat or robots (in lieu of pets), which are unmatched financial godsends.

The risk therefore is losing domesticated animals, who are omnipresent in our lives, and have nourished our souls and been our friends for thousands of years…

The wheels are already in motion, and because our economic model is built on the profit principle, things will more than likely continue in this direction. Unless we take our common destiny in our own hands and join forces with animals - because they are and will continue to be active players in work - to change the way we work and live our lives”.
Jean-Louis Peyraud is deputy scientific director for Agriculture at INRA.
Jocelyne Porcher is a sociologist and research director at INRA’s Joint Research Unit for Innovation and Development in Agriculture and Food in Montpellier.

(1) Muufri

(2) Real Vegan Cheese

(3) Next Nature, Amsterdam. "The In Vitro Meat Cookbook"

(4) New Harvest, New York. "The Carnery”

(5) Cor van der Weele, University of Wageningen, the Netherlands

(6) Read the article (French only)