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Why 'GauRakshaks' have found an unlikely ally in Bill Gates

Let’s begin by debunking the myth that one of the world’s richest men is vegetarian. For Bill Gates came clean some years ago, claiming that though he dabbled with vegetables in his twenties, by the time entrepreneurship kicked in, he had reverted to “his carnivorous ways”. As for his love for the cheeseburger, those stories have long assumed legendary status!

Bill Gates is the GauRakshak’s new BFF

However, the man who simplified computing for the masses with Windows, is now making sustained efforts to shut the doors on global malnutrition. And, he is doing so by focusing on an eco-friendly diet that includes a ‘cow-free burger’. This miracle burger is made out of lab-grown and plant-based alternatives that approximate the taste and nutritional value of real meat without the accompanying environmental degradation.

Gates made this announcement while participating in an event to identify breakthrough technologies for 2019 under the aegis of MIT. He likened modern technology to ploughs used for agriculture since 4000 BCE and has continued its journey as a technology marvel. “I wanted to choose things that not only will create headlines in 2019 but capture it in technology history,” Gates was quoted as saying in an article published by MIT in its Technology Review.

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The Microsoft founder listed out ten breakthrough technologies that he expects during 2019 and the cow-free burger stood at number six on this list. Others include robot dexterity, new wave nuclear power, predicting premature deliveries, the gut probe pill, cancer vaccines, carbon dioxide catchers, wearable ECG devices, sewer-less sanitation and smooth-talking machines that understand feelings.

Bill Gates points to several studies in the recent past that highlighted plant-based food as a solution for the global hunger crisis. Swapping animal ingredients like meat, dairy, eggs and fish for nutritious vegan food could potentially free up enough land to feed an additional 350 million people, said one of the studies published in the National Academy of Sciences.

It also quoted from data provided by the FAO to suggest that swapping resource-intensive livestock farms for edible plants could supply more calories and protein for the global population while using significantly less land in the process. Bill Gates has already invested in the clean meat startup Memphis Meats and vegan protein brand Beyond Meat.

According to Gates, the world population is expected to grow to 9.8 billion by 2050 and a good chunk of these would be richer and people who escape poverty tend to eat more meat. So, human consumption of livestock would grow by a whopping 70% over its levels in 2005 and researchers are now pointing to the high ecologically costs of raising livestock.

In the article, the Microsoft founder says that producing a pound of meat protein with Western industrialized methods requires 4-25 times more water, 6-17 times more land and 6-20 times more fossil fuel than producing a pound of plant protein. Since people aren’t likely to stop eating meat anytime soon, the only way is to find plant-based alternatives to it.

Lab-grown meat involves extracting muscle tissue from animals and growing it in bio-reactors where the end product looks similar to regular meat though researchers are yet to add the right taste to the looks. Efforts are on at Maastricht University in the Netherlands to produce such meat at scale so that a cow-less burger will cost no more than a hamburger. Of course, the downside is that lab-grown meat only reduces emissions by 7% over beef production.

Earlier this month, food technology company Motif launched operations after raising a massive 90 million US dollars in Series-A funding led by Breakthrough Energy Ventures – a group that includes billionaires Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates and Richard Branson. The company is providing a platform to support plant-based food producers reach larger demographics.

It applies the process of fermentation to proteins derived from animal products to create next-generation plant-based ingredients that mimics eggs, meat and cheese just as another Bill Gates-led venture Impossible Foods does by giving a beef-like quality to its burgers. It is interesting that Breakthrough Energy Ventures had also provided 33 million US Dollars to Sustainable byproducts that use micro-organisms from a volcanic hot spring to develop plant and cell-based food products.

It looks like there’s a lot for the GauRakshaks to cheer about!

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