What happens when Chinese supermarkets start selling beef from a test tube

What happens when Chinese supermarkets start selling beef from a test tube

More than 200 years ago, British economist Thomas Robert Malthus famously suggested that the earth would run out of food resources to feed a burgeoning global population. Now, thanks to advances in synthetic biology and genetic engineering, we could soon be talking about exponential increases in the earth’s food supply rather than the “arithmetical” increases predicted by Malthus.

China, for example, is taking steps to genetically engineer its own food supply rather than growing it the boring old traditional way. In 2016, Boyalife Group plans to open a new commercial cloning facility in the northern China city of Tianjin to “manufacture” up to 1 million head of cattle each year by 2020. The logic is simple: Chinese cattle farmers are unable to keep up with the nation’s beef demand and are turning to new biotechnologies for the solution.

The commercial cloning project is a joint venture between Sinica (a subsidiary of Boyalife Group), Peking University’s Institute of Molecular Medicine, the Tianjin International Joint Academy of Biomedicine, and South Korea’s Sooam Biotech Research Foundation. The plan is to finish completion of the $31 million commercial cloning facility in the first half of 2016, and then start production of 100,000 cattle per year. Within five years, the facility plans to ramp up to 1 million cattle a year.

That’s what exponential growth of the food supply looks like: 0 to 100,000 to 1 million in five years.

The math here is fascinating because the Chinese are obviously trying to get their hands on as much beef as possible, to the point where you can now fire up your laptop in China and order chilled, ready-to-eat beef online from Australia. And in July, the Chinese entered into a live cattle export agreement with Australia to meet its rapidly growing beef demand. Starting in 2016, China plans to spend as much as $1.5 billion per year to import 1 million head of livestock cattle annually from the Aussies. The first cattle were shipped off to China earlier this month in huge crates.

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