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Thursday, June 20, 2013

Bill Gates buys into egg substitutes

  • Ruslan Kokarev/

Should we? From breakfast scrambles to grandma's chocolate chip cookies to spaghetti and meatballs, eggs have become an essential part of the American diet. So essential that today's egg industry is worth $9 billion, according to Josh Tetrick, founder and CEO of Hampton Creek Foods. But at whose expense?

NPR explored the impact of egg consumption on the environment and why Bill Gates is investing in a change - sans chicken.

In the last 100 years, total U.S. meat consumption has grown from 9.8 billion pounds in 1909 to an estimated 52.2 billion pounds in 2012. And the environmental strain has grown, too.

"Raising meat takes a great deal of land and water and has a substantial environmental impact," Gates says on his website. "Put simply, there's no way to produce enough meat for 9 billion people."

In addition to increased greenhouse gas emissions and the vast amounts of fossil fuel used to transport and feed these animals, livestock pollution has also raised some serious public health concerns in recent years. As a result, companies and researchers have been in hot pursuit of viable, plant-based alternatives to reduce our consumption of animal products, including eggs.

The egg industry's environmental footprint is substantial. According to NPR, the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization predicts that by 2030, the global demand for eggs will reach 38 million tons. That's up from about 14 million tons in 2000.

While egg substitute products are nothing new, demand for them is on the upswing. Alternatives, like Hampton Creek Foods' Beyond Eggs, remove chickens from the equation entirely. Made up of mostly peas and sorghum (a genus of grass that is raised for grain), the goal is to reduce the demand for chicken eggs and, in turn, reduce the environmental impact of the egg industry. Fewer animals mean less land, less fuel, and less waste.

But what do egg-less eggs taste like? Even with the help of molecular biologists, researchers have yet to achieve the same texture, taste, and nutritional value (antioxidants, proteins) of a chicken egg. If the egg substitutes currently available on the market are any indication, there's definitely room for improvement.

Even so, the current eco-friendly food climate presents a favorable market for new products like Beyond Eggs. On the plus side, egg substitues are generally cheaper than real eggs, so at least there's that.

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