Last week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stood by a sleek tablet-like touchscreen of a big meat-producing machine, chose the percentage of fat he wanted in his steak, and pressed “Print.” A few minutes later, his order was ready. Printing a fish took only one minute. Soon, cultured meat and fish will be available in Israeli supermarkets. Even sooner, cultured milk will be on the shelves. The machines are ready, distribution agreements have been signed, the medical tests were successful, and the regulatory procedures have been completed. The dream of consuming animal protein without breeding or killing animals is months-to-a-few-years from becoming a reality. Has Israel solved the world’s food problems?
Especially when it comes to food and drugs, caution and prudence are critical. But with all the due caution, we may indeed be able to solve the world’s food problems. However, as with every breakthrough, we should not jump to conclusions before commercial distribution is underway, and the general public begins to consume these products. Especially for deprived areas such as parts of Africa and Asia, mass machine-production of meat, fish, and milk can be a life-saver in the full sense of the word.
But will it be a life-saver? Regrettably, human nature will stand in the way. Man’s evil inclination will run ahead and cease the opportunity to make another buck, to exploit, humiliate, demean, and abuse more people and in new ways. In all likelihood, humanity will waste yet another great opportunity to end its misery, and the rich and powerful will only become more so, while the indigent become even more deprived.
Theoretically, one of the ways in which society can mitigate the potential exploitation of such potentially life-changing innovations is by creating social wealth funds such as the one Norway has established, which uses some of the profits from its oil industry for the common good. Another way to balance the expected gargantuan profits is to modify the royalties that the state collects from manufacturers of cultured proteins. The State of Israel did this when natural gas was discovered off its shores, and everyone seems to be content with the agreement.
However, in practice, I think that such arrangements will not hold for long. In the end, humanity will follow the way of the ego, as it always does, and the abuse of knowledge and technology in service of the rich will continue.
A side note regarding the breakthroughs in food-tech in Israel is that many believe that these technologies will improve Israel’s international status. Over the past ten years or so, Israel has become a world leader in some of humanity’s most pressing issues: It is the world leader when it comes to water conservation and desalination, and a world leader in agriculture. It has become an exporter of gas, and from a country that was dependent on oil for its survival, Israel has become almost energy independent. Its military industry has leaped forward and today, Israel manufactures and exports almost everything except for fighter jets. And now with the advances in food-tech, it is jumping to the head of the bandwagon in food production, too.
However, all these boons have not made Israel any more popular among the nations, nor will they make it popular. Some nations may want its knowledge and technology, so they are willing to put on a friendly face to get a discount, but this is where Israel’s “favor” in the eyes of the nations ends. The only way Israel can truly be accepted by the nations is if it “exports” unity and social cohesion. For all the glitz and glory of sophisticated weapon systems and advanced food-tech, the only thing that the world needs from Israel is an example of unity. Social cohesion is the only “product” that all the nations want, that no one knows how to form, and that Israel can, must, and is expected to provide. If Israel delivers this, it will not need weapons, hacking tools, or any other protection to secure its place among the nations.
Additionally, if it delivers unity to the world, humanity will know how to use technological innovations for humanity’s sake, and not solely for the rich, powerful, and abusive few.