To improve the dairy industry’s green credentials, one small lab is making real milk from cells without stepping foot on a farm. Can cellular agriculture replace traditional dairy farming?
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The existing dairy industry is in my view environmentally unsustainable. Dairy farming alone contributes 4% to the total emissions of greenhouse gases from human activity – that is about two billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent every year. Overall 37% of global methane emissions come from cattle production. Methane is a really potent greenhouse gas – about 25 times more effective at trapping radiation as CO2. Dairy also consumes a vast amount of resources like land and water.
This can't go on, especially if we are looking to feed another billion people on this planet. We need to come up with new technologies that can give us the same products that we enjoy – milk, cheese, cream and butter – but that are less polluting. That is our goal at TurtleTree Labs.
What we are able to do is to create raw milk using cells from mammals by growing these cells in our lab and encouraging them to produce milk in giant bioreactors. The cells stick to tiny straws, the a fluid is then drawn through the straws and milk comes out the other end.
We are the first company in the world to use cells to create raw milk. It is exciting to think that these bioreactors could be dropped anywhere in the world where there was a crisis or need for milk and start producing right away.
We are also excited to see what we can make from our lab-produced milk. So far we have had success with cells from cows, goats, sheep and camels, which means the possibilities are huge. Even more value will come when we start to make cheeses and butters from this milk too.
We have already seen other companies do something very similar with meat. And consumers are increasingly pushing for cruelty-free products, they are more conscious of reducing their greenhouse gas emissions. By extracting milk from cells in our lab, we can get real milk without having to harm the planet and harm the animals, so this is the future.
This interview with Max Rye, chief strategist at TurtleTree Labs, was filmed and produced by Nyima Pratten.
This article is part of Follow the Food , a series investigating how agriculture is responding to environmental challenges. Follow the Food traces emerging answers to these problems – both high-tech and low-tech, local and global – from farmers, growers and researchers across six continents.