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Bill Gates backs plant-based meat companies as ‘the future’

The billionaire has invested in multiple plant-based meat companies, including Impossible, Beyond Meat, and Upside Foods. Despite this, he acknowledges that getting most people to adopt veganism is unrealistic.   

Over the years, Bill Gates has become known for his philanthropy, climate advocacy, and financial generosity for projects working to create social change.

He has dedicated large portions of his wealth to improving public health by supporting research and development for new vaccines, implementing climate adaptation strategies in Global South nations, and betting a portion of his billions on plant-based meats.

Like his other investments, the latter is a good move – especially when the agricultural industry is responsible for 24 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. These mainly stem from methane emitted by livestock and various fertilisers used to cultivate crops.

Still, this knowledge hasn’t stopped many of the world’s citizens from consuming beef, the meat with the highest carbon footprint of all. In fact, meat consumption may have increased as sales of plant-based meats have reportedly dropped in recent months.

When Bill Gates engaged in his annual Ask Me Anything (AMA) on Reddit in the early days of 2023, he revealed an extremely realistic and honest view of the way we are approaching the global climate crisis when it comes to food.

He admitted to being less than hopeful about the general public turning to veganism to save the climate, writing: ‘For people who want to go vegan, that is great. But I don’t think most people will do that.’

He continued, ‘The pace of [plant-based meat] innovation is really picking up even though we won’t make the current timelines or avoid going over 1.5 [degrees Celcius].’

In light of this, Gates is using some of his billions to help reduce the strain our food puts on the planet by investing in companies making plant-based meats more attractive by improving their quality and lowering their cost. He is also supporting farms that are working to reduce the environmental impact of beef production.

In the latest episode of his podcast, Unconfuse Me, Gates spoke about his support for agricultural innovation and educated his listeners about the hidden climate impacts of beef.

Through his foundation, Gates has backed plant-based and lab-grown meat start-ups such as Impossible, Beyond Meat and Upside Foods. He’s also backed Neutral, a carbon-neutral food start-up.

‘There are companies making “beef” in new ways. There are people working to still use cows but reduce the methane emissions,’ he said. ‘I think eventually these products will be very good even though their share is small today.’

Gates also acknowledged that the cost of plant-based products impacts the way consumers make decisions. In order to reduce our overall climate impact, he says, the most sustainable option – across all industries – needs to be the cheapest option.

‘The key on climate is making the clean products as cheap as the dirty products in every area of emission — planes, concrete, meat etc,’ Gates said. ‘This is the only way we can ask all the countries in the world to change. If it costs a lot extra we won’t succeed.’

Pricing plant-based products at a lower or similar cost will incentivise people to make the switch, says Gates. ‘Eventually, that green premium is modest enough that you can sort of change the [behaviour of] people or use regulation to totally shift the demand.’

It’s interesting to note that Gates is a lover of hamburgers, listing Burgermaster and Dick’s Drive-in as his ultimate ‘classics’. In light of this, he has invested in companies looking to make beef burgers more sustainable.

In his Reddit AMA thread, he seemed to address how small his impact is at the moment by saying, ‘I own less than 1/4000 of the farmland in the US. I have invested in these farms to make them more productive and create more jobs. There isn’t some grand scheme involved – in fact, all these decisions are made by a professional investment team.’

Despite staying real about the likelihood of surpassing the 1.5C limit, Gates remains optimistic about the sustainable changes to come – especially when it comes to the food we eat.

Let’s hope he’s right.