Beyond Burger

Today MIT Technology Review released its list of the Top 10 Breakthrough Technologies of 2019, and this time they had a special guest curator: Bill Gates.

In his intro to the list, Gates wrote that he made his choices not only based on what would make headlines, but also “captured this moment in technological history.”

Among smooth-talking smart assistants and a swallowable gut-probe pill, Gates also named the “cow-free burger” as one of the Top 10.

By 2050, humans are predicted to eat over 70 percent more meat than they did in 2005. That’s bad news for the environment, since raising poultry and (especially) cattle requires oodles of land and water, and also contributes to fossil fuel emissions. Gates posits that one of the best ways to limit the environmental toll of meat is to, well, stop eating so much — and instead turn to cell- and plant-based alternatives.

Cell-based meat isn’t yet available on the market. A recent study has also raised questions about whether it’s actually that much better for the planet than conventional meat production.

But plant-based meat is here, and people are loving it. (Bill Gates himself is an investor in both Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, two of the top startups pushing plant-based “meaty” burgers, as well as cultured meat company Memphis Meats.)

The potential environmental impacts of plant-based meat is significant: according to an analysis by the Center for Sustainable Systems at the University of Michigan, a Beyond Meat patty would generate 90 percent less greenhouse gas emissions than a beef burger from a cow. Presumably other meatless burgers have similar environmental footprints.

As of now, the plant-based meat sector makes up just a small fraction of all meat production globally. But with more and more major food companies getting into the vegan meat space and Beyond Meat set to file for an IPO by the end of this year, odds are Bill’s right, and we’ll be biting into a lot more plant-based burgers in the future.

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