Isha Datar — Food of the Future: The Post-Animal Bioeconomy


Isha Datar, CEO of the non-profit New Harvest, talks at SXSW Eco about producing animal products without animals.

In 1931, Churchill said “Fifty years hence, we shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium.” Even before we saw the environmental damage, animal welfare conditions and public health threats associated with factory farming, Churchill saw how absurd it was for us to be raising whole animals for relatively simple tissues.

New Harvest’s Isha Datar explains why it is important for us to support the growing field and industry of animal products made without animals, and why the next revolution in agriculture is cellular agriculture: growing food from the cell up rather than the organism down. In the face of climate change and a growing population, it may be crucial to creating a secure, safe, and sustainable food system.


Just curious if you know, does she have any plan for synthetic wool? I’d give up wool if there was a decent replacement


Why? You didn’t fall for that PETA lie did you?


What do you use wool for that doesn’t already have a suitable non-animal-derived substitute?

Some people choose to avoid animal-derived products altogether, including things like wool and eggs that don’t actually require any death, because they feel that it’s unfair to objectify animals in that way. Personally, I see nothing wrong with shaving a sheep, especially after providing it with all the food it needs, huge space to run around in, a flock to socialize with, and safety from predators. Sounds fair to me. But others see it as equivalent to slavery.


But sheep pretty much need to be sheered…

“On my family’s farm, there have been sheep we’ve found in the scrub that have missed shearing for a year. These sheep are fly-blown because they’ve been carrying up to 20kgs of wool on their backs. The weight and the heat have combined to make the perfect habitat for maggots to eat into their flesh and slowly kill them.” -


Sheep need to be sheered because we breed them to have excessive wool so we can sheer them. The sheep with the least wool become mutton.

Much like silkworms and small dogs, they won’t survive without human assistance.


Well yeah, that’s because we made them to be like that. Anyway Isha’s point is about the cost in land and water of keeping stock animals, she didn’t mention ethics. That’s what people are going to be convinced by to move away from animal products and by-products, the resource expense on the planet.

If we can get synthetic replacements that are functionally identical we’d make good progress getting the world off animal dependence. Isha’s “post-animal bioeconomy” is a serious matter as we move into the reality of overpopulation. In 1950 there were 2.5 billion people on the planet and just 65 years later there’s over 7 billion of us, basic resource limitation is a quickly approaching disaster. Combine that with the continuous soil degradation over the last 150 years and looming global warming, we’re in for a rough future no matter what we do to prevent it. Every bit helps.


[quote=“Sententia, post:7, topic:24025”]
Well yeah, that’s because we made them to be like that. Anyway Isha’s point is about the cost in land and water of keeping stock animals, she didn’t mention ethics.

But sheep with more wool was an improvement over sheep with less wool. More wool, less resources. We simply want to continue that that trend.


This, these are valid arguments for the technology.


It seems counterinuitive, but I would prefer if people didn’t get into a debate about the ethics of animal agriculture in this thread. That debate started in the cultured beef thread and never stopped, until the thread was mercifully locked. I created this thread to discuss the science and technology of artificial animal products, such as Mosa Meat’s cell cultured beef or Muufri’s cowless milk, because in the other thread people were complaining that they wanted to talk about cultured beef and not get bogged down in a debate about ethics. If you want to have a debate about ethics, go right ahead, but please create a separate thread for that.


Rest assured, when synthetic meat can be mass produced and pass blind-tests, the debate will be over once and for all.

In the opening lecture for a course on justice (at Harvard), students are presented with the age old trolley dilemma. And while everyone is fumbling to spit out the “right” - that is, the just answer - nobody steps back and asks why the trolley is malfunctioning in the first place.

I’m sorry ahead of time if this starts a debate and I won’t be responding to any that might, but I would submit that quite a lot of our problems are just engineering problems. Whether that’s the brakes on a trolley car or the manufacture of synthetic animal products, science has a long history of putting ethical debates to rest.


I don’t wanna start two new threads so I’ll post these in here. Synthetic animal products are needed for more than just food.

Synthetic skin is in development to get away from testing skin cream and various beauty products on animals. We don’t even have to get into ethics for this. Animals suck at simulating much of human biology and can be costly to take care of.

Organs-on-Chips have existed for a while now, but their complexity and accuracy of human systems is increasing rapidly. The Wyss institute gives a pretty good rundown of it on this page. For matters of accuracy and efficiency, this has the same significance as synthetic skin.

Synthetic spider silk is on the horizon too. A startup called Bolt Threads has received $40 million in investments from a number of different seeders. They genetically engineered a microorganism to produce the material, which reduces imperfections massively as well as makes the product scalable. The material has applications for bullet proof clothing, biodegradable water bottles, bridge suspension ropes and more.


Obligatory “sorry for bumping an old thread”

Someone takes a crack at synthetic leather! Looks pretty cool