If you don't believe that synthetic milk and meat is making its way to a plate near you, then the working half of your brain is not getting much of a workout.

Last year I addressed a Federated Farmers provincial annual general meeting and offered my thoughts on the subject. I suggested they might like to make some future plans for their farming enterprises. I also confidently espoused my belief that if New Zealand's degraded waterways were to have any chance of ecological survival, 80 per cent of cows needed to go. Now.

The feedback from them, and a right-wing blogger or two, was unanimous. I was a fruit loop.

Nothing since that day has changed my mind. Indeed, I remain more convinced than ever that the latter will be taken care of by the former. That is, milk and meat production is slap bang in the middle of its dying days.


Can't envisage it? Keep looking off into the middle distance. Won't be long now.

Whether you disagree personally, professionally or politically, animal-free milk and meat has already started hitting a supermarket shelf near you.

Several factors are driving this impending boom, or doom, as traditional farmers like to call it.

One is the planetary population problem. Combined with the climate change conundrum, there's little doubt that the perfect storm is brewing.

The global livestock industry is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than all cars, planes, trains and ships combined. Livestock make up almost 15 per cent of global emissions.

Beef and dairy alone make up 65 per cent of all livestock emissions.

Agriculture is the largest user of freshwater globally, and accounts for 70 per cent of freshwater takes from rivers, lakes and aquifers, up to more than 90 per cent in some developing countries.

Read NZ Beef and Lamb's response here.

Irrigation schemes and dams only serve to further intensify farming in areas that are least suited climatically to such interventions. In New Zealand, think Hawke's Bay and Canterbury.

This is even before the downstream effects of intensive agriculture hit the waterways; notably sediment, pesticides, chemicals, and effluent in its various forms.

Then there's the ethics around animal welfare and agriculture. While New Zealand's reputation is comparatively good compared to other countries, it has taken a dive of late.

Footage of bobby calves being mistreated has not helped, and despite the vigorous denials from industry that such atrocities are an isolated and rare event, many of us know that simply isn't true.

Despite these hard facts, there is deep disinclination on the part of governments, consumers and producers to squarely face up to it. There's something about animal farming and meat-eating that defies rational gravity.

Sure, I don't fancy the idea of eating synthetic anything. But, then, what's Coke? I'm pretty sure it ain't "the real thing." Millions love it, and while I choose not to drink such gloop pure, I will look the other way when it goes into my bourbon.

There's something about animal farming and meat-eating that defies rational gravity.


Anyway, it matters not a jot what I think. This thing is happening and, like a runaway train, it won't be stopping any time soon. Kind of like climate change. No amount of pretending it isn't happening doesn't change it happening.

Synthetic milk will be a much easier public sell.

San Francisco-based Muurfri has already developed a yeast-based product which can be modified to leave potentially harmful components, such as cholesterol and hormones, out of the equation.

Given that 75 per cent of the world's population is lactose intolerant, Muurfri also make lactose-free milk.

What's not to like?

Synthetic meat will take longer to be truly accepted. The politics of eating meat run so biologically deep in humans, it is already being heartily resisted by some, namely the industry, but, eventually, the economic and environmental ethics will win.

Where does that leave pasture-based farming? Precisely nowhere different from the environmental and social factors facing them now.

Dairy farming and milk production is squarely staring down the barrel of an increasingly intolerant public, which is feeling far less inclined to accept polluted waterways and animal welfare abuses.

Meat production is also facing an array of challenges, not least around water usage. A single pound of beef takes, on average, 1800 gallons of water.

We all love the notion that we're living in a green and bucolic land, eating non-suffering, environmentally-sustainable steaks, and drinking our bodyweight in ethical milk. It's a fantasy. Factory farming has put paid to that.

But if our own ag-tech and science sectors can get with the programme sooner rather than later, and resist the urge to be on the wrong side of history, there is a financial killing, involving no animal blood, to be made.

In case you're wondering, I say all of this as a meat-eating, milk-drinking consumer.