Cultured meat is the future. I’m sure of it. Even monolithic meat companies like Tyson Foods think so. And now here we have the view from the other end of the spectrum – small-scale Welsh farmer and traditionalist, Illtud Llyr Dunsford, otherwise known as Bob.
Illtud’s family has farmed animals in south Wales for more than 200 years.
“One animal in particular has a special place in my heart” he says “- the pig.”
He goes on:“We’d always salted our pork in the traditional Carmarthenshire method, encasing the animal in salt in a slate tray before hanging and air drying. Using traditional family recipes we’d also produce brawn and faggots. I guess it’s in the blood, my Auntie Ethel had a stall for years on Carmarthen Market selling faggots, her produce is the stuff of legend now, and the recipe is a closely guarded family secret.”
(Clearly when he talks of loving pigs, he means something very different from me.)
Drawing on that tradition, he founded Charcutier Ltd, an award-winning company producing niche artisan meats – heritage hand-salted bacons and hams.
His philosophy was to make products using every part of the pigs. As he so graphically puts it, “everything but the squeal”.
Illtud, who in a former life worked in the film industry (Harry Potter, Robin Hood, Dr. Who) also happens to be a Nuffield scholar. If you’ve been listening to The Archers recently, you’ll know all about the Nuffield Scholarship program. But if you’re not an addict of the soap like me, here is the lowdown:
The Nuffield Farm Scholarship program gives awards to successful applicants so they can “search out and bring back to farmers in the UK details of good and innovative agricultural husbandry, from different parts of the globe.”
And the best thing Illtud/Bob brought back from his trips to Ireland, France, Italy, Brazil, and the U.S. was his discovery of developments in cellular agriculture. This technology was completely new to him when he encountered it at the 1st International Symposium on Cultured Meat. The event was hosted by Maastricht University in the Netherlands, home of the very first $330,000 cultured meat burger which was unveiled, cooked and tasted in 2013.
It was at the symposium Illtud experienced his lightbulb moment (they call it a”Nuffield Moment” in the program) – the revelation that cellular agriculture really does offer a viable solution to all of the many serious problems meat production poses, whether it’s carried out on an industrial scale, or even on a small scale like his own family farm. His travels had exposed those problems surrounding ethics, the environment, sustainability, animal welfare, and the urgent need for the new and better methods technology is now able to provide. In his own words:
“I sat on the bench in the centre of the Belgian University town of Leuven — eating the most delicious fries which had been cooked in beef dripping — contemplating veganism. Like a dieter who promises that the evening blow-out meal before the diet starts will be the last of its kind, I didn’t hold up much hope that I would be turning vegan. However, having come from an agricultural background, raised in a tradition where I was at the heart of the rearing and processing of our own animals, I had never stopped and questioned the consumption of meat… I sat in that square the best part of the day, my head aching from the pressure of thinking. I was a man anguished by a moral dilemma. How could I, an advocate of traditional farming practices, heritage recipes, and processing methods, be even contemplating this new world?”
Illtud’s second “Nuffield Moment” was witnessing for himself the vast swathes of Amazonian rainforest laid waste for grazing cattle and growing livestock feed. Brazilian law stipulates that 80% of the Amazon must remain untouched by agriculture, but seeing at first hand the lack of enforcement of this law troubled him deeply. He left the Amazon shaken:
“I would never consider protein production in the same way again. The reality of the pressure of feeding the 9bn by 2050 was becoming ever greater. Though traditional agriculture held some of the answer, it was becoming clearly obvious that if we followed that path alone, our planet, and its resource might survive 2050, but not for the generations of 11.2bn projected for 2100… Deforestation is a global issue, its impact is global and the reality is that any protein production we support, even adding milk to our tea, becomes of itself an environmental act. “
The last leg of Illtud’s trip took him to the World Pork Expo in Des Moines, Iowa. It was as horrible as it sounds. He was shocked by the aggressive commercialism and poor animal welfare standards of the large-scale pork industry, in full view right there before his eyes.
Feeling thoroughly depressed he set off for his final destination, California for New Harvest’s first conference. What a difference! The mood was upbeat. Here was real hope of a truly sustainable future for meat production, and not just meat. Other ‘animal products’ too.
“The field is growing immensely; panelists delegates and exhibitors at the conference included a raft of companies who are looking at a range of products. They are predominantly developing products that are specifically animal derived [cultured from animal cells]: Gelzen (gelatine), Modern Meadow (leather), Muufri/Perfect Day (milk), Spiber (spider silk), Pembient (rhino horn) and Sothic (horseshoe crab blood) and span a range of applications, both food, clothing, and also medicine. [But] cultured meat is still held as the holy grail of products…”
Sad to say, back home in Wales Illtud has not yet abandoned his hand-salted bacons and hams. But the great news is, he is pushing forward with biotech. He’s founded Cultivate, a hub for discussing developments in cellular agriculture. And our farming pioneer has taken over a new start-up called, would you believe, Cellular Agriculture Ltd, with a view to making his very own cultured meat.
This has to be of huge significance for British farming.
Hopefully it won’t be too long before folk up and down the country will be tucking into Illtud’s bacon and ham cultured from pig cells, proudly labelled “Made in Wales”, rather than the cruel kind that comes from “everything but the squeal”.
Let’s just hope cellular agriculture here and in the States develops fast enough to halt the devastation of the planet, and the slaughter of billions upon billions more innocent lives.
Interesting to compare.
What Does This Artisanal Meat Producer Think About Cultured Meat? – written for Medium by David Leibowitz of New Harvest
Charcutier Ltd – WordPress