Council on Foreign Relations holds ag forum | TSLN.com

Council on Foreign Relations holds ag forum

Will Americans eat meat developed in a test tube, wear non-artificial leather coats that have never been part of an animal, and finance agricultural development through the Internet?

Those were among the ideas discussed at "Technology on the Menu: Food of the Future," held November 3 in the Washington office of the Council on Foreign Relations, a prestigious membership organization, think tank and publisher.

Andras Forgacs, cofounder and CEO of Modern Meadow Inc. of Brooklyn, N.Y., said his company is experimenting with engineering and biomaterials to make leather and meat products which require no animal slaughter and much lower usage of land, water, energy and chemicals.

Forgacs noted that it takes more than 50 gallons of water to make a hamburger, that livestock travels more than 1,000 miles "from farm to fridge" and that toxic solid wastes represent up to 70 percent of the weight of wet leather.

The audience reacted more favorably to his proposal to "grow leather without cows" than to the meat, but one member of the audience asked afterward why it was necessary to use animal cells in growing the products. Forgacs said it is still important to start with animal cells when making leather because artificial leather does not breathe.

Forgacs said his company wants to make its leather and meat in a storefront in Brooklyn so that potential customers can watch it being made — a contrast to slaughterhouses that are worried about animal activists filming their production processes.

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Robert Leclerc, cofounder and CEO of AgFunder, said that it is difficult to educate investors about agriculture, but farmland has outperformed all other asset classes for the past 25 years, and agribusiness has outperformed all sectors of the U.S. economy for the past 15 years.

Mark Rosegrant, director of the Environment and Production Technology Division of the International Food Policy Research Institute, said there needs to be significant reform of the regulatory processes in developing countries to allow biotech seeds.

Rosegrant said that these ideas' impact will depend on the extent to which they are developed and whether financing can take ideas from developed countries and adapt them to developing countries.

–The Hagstrom Report