Newman, L., Newell, R., Mendly-Zambo, Z., & Powell, L. (2021). Bioengineering, telecoupling, and alternative dairy: Agricultural land use futures in the Anthropocene. The Geographical Journal. doi: 10.1111/geoj.12392
The global environmental impact of rising consumption of animal products presents significant challenges to sustainable land use. One alternative to the production of animal products is a set of technologies for culturing meat and dairy alternatives referred to as ‘cellular agriculture’; in the case of dairy, cellular dairy (CD). Optimism around the benefits of these technologies is widespread, and they fit within a larger narrative of land sparing, in which high-yield farming allows the protection of habitats and the return of fallow land to ecological uses. However, questions remain as to whether CD is truly land sparing because although lab dairy could offer significant ecological benefits, these could be countered by increases in agricultural activity in other regions for the production of feedstocks. In addition, considerations around broader impacts to individuals, communities, and the environment are needed to understand whether/how CD aligns or conflicts with local, regional, and global sustainability goals. This paper employs the concept of telecoupling, which refers to socioeconomic and environmental interactions over distances, to examine the potential CD may have for contributing to sustainable food production and consumption. The research uses British Columba, Canada, as a case study, and explores three policy scenarios: (1) incentivizes for the growth of a CD industry, (2) CD incentivization with eco-certification, and (3) CD incentivization with local sourcing of feedstock. The work is exploratory rather than predictive, meaning rather than forecasting outcomes, it stimulates ideas on potential direct and indirect impacts, feedback processes, and social and institutional changes associated with each scenario. The research demonstrates that exploring scenarios through a telecoupling lens can be useful for policy-makers and analysts because it facilitates comprehensive and multi-scalar thinking on the ecological, social, economic, and political factors associated with different policy options.