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Bioengineered dairy is coming

By Stephen Cooke

Bioengineered dairy is coming and the dairy industry must decide now how it plans to differentiate its product, according to Kaila Colbin of Silicon Valley think tank Singularity University.

Ms Colbin told the Australian Dairy Conference that dairy would not be immune to the rapid rate of change and disruption occurring in all aspects of the world.

Milk is already being created in laboratories, as is other proteins including meat and eggs. Ms Colbin said this bioengineered milk has the same chemical characteristics and molecular structure as traditional milk — “it just hadn’t come from a cow”.

“I think it sounds disgusting. I was talking to someone who was creating eggs and I won’t eat eggs unless they come from a chicken.

“She said: They’re not targeting me. They don’t care about you, they’re not interested in the hippies, they’re not interested in the vegans, they don’t care about whole food.

“They’re targeting industrial caterers who buy eggs by the thousands of kilos, and they need them in powder form, and in liquid form, and in tube form, and they need them to last longer on the shelf, and be 100 per cent salmonella free, with total certainty of supply, and they need them to brown nicely on the edges.

“And taste more like egg! And they need them to be cheaper, and by every one of those metrics, the bioengineered product wins.

“And maybe bioengineered milk product wins against those metrics as well.”

To demonstrate the rapid rate of improvement occurring in this sector, Ms Colbin said the cost of the first kilogram of bioengineered beef was $2.3 m. With improvement, the cost for the second kilo was $40 000 kg and the third $18/kg.

“It’s still expensive but the price continues to come down. That’s what exponential technologies do,” she said.

“We have a choice. Either we embrace this stuff, and know it’s absolutely coming, and the only way we can deal with it is get ahead of it, or we have to completely differentiate ourselves by going hard up in the other direction.

“For example, go biodynamic, where customers can scan the milk bottle and see a video of kids swimming in a stream next to the dairy farm in Australia.

Domino’s Pizza global dairy ingredient buyer John Harney would later tell the conference the pizza chain bought its annual intake 7000 tonnes of 30 per cent fat-reduced mozzarella cheese from a Californian company because it couldn’t find a local partner that can supply it in Australia.

This is because the supplier can produce the version of cheese that meets their exact specifications at a low price. If bioengineered dairy can meet specifications at a cheaper price, it would make business sense.

Mr Harney said he could envision Domino’s using bioengineered milk on pizza in the next 20 years. Already, 3 per cent of Domino’s pizzas use vegan cheese, and demand had stunned the company.

Saputo Managing Director Lino Saputo Jnr later told the audience he would hope any products using bioengineered foods would be labelled accordingly.

“Consumers should have choice in what they are consuming. I believe that at a retail level there might be some protection for consumers.

“I’m hoping that protection would follow to the foodservice trade.

If you go to a restaurant and they serve you a hamburger you hope that it’s hamburger meat, and the same thing with dairy products.”