After a successful career in the film industry, Illtud Dunsford moved to the farm in West Wales that his family had inhabited for over 300 years and launched Charcutier Ltd, a niche producer of heritage British products such as hand-salted bacons and hams.
As a result, he became a passionate advocate of traditional agriculture and how traditional sourcing, husbandry, feed, welfare, and production contrasted with large-scale industrial agriculture. And he became fascinated with the question of how best to feed a world population projected to hit nine billion by 2050 without overtaxing our environment to the point of catastrophe.
In order to better understand these questions, Illtud became a 2015 scholar for the Nuffield Farming Scholarship Trust, a program that provides individuals with the opportunity to research topics in farming and food. As part of this program, Illtud spent 15 months traveling the world to explore the future of meat production, including trips to Ireland, France, Italy, Brazil and finally to the U.S. where he attended the first New Harvest conference to learn more about cellular agriculture.
The resulting report, On Meat: niche production, value adding, ethics and its future within cellular agriculture, covers Illtud’s adventures around the globe, as well as his growing appreciation of the need for technological alternatives to current meat production methods, whether artisanal or industrial.
After initial forays to events like the Pig Breeders Roundtable in the UK, the Slow Meat Symposium in Denver, CO, and the 8th Annual Dry Cured Ham Congress in Toulouse, Illtud experienced his first “Nuffield Moment” (i.e., a defining moment of insight that program scholars experience during their travels) at the First International Symposium on Cultured Meat in the Netherlands. It was here that Illtud first began to seriously consider cellular agriculture as a viable solution to the challenges around protein production. 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?” (page 38)
Illtud’s second “Nuffield Moment” came on his next leg of his voyage, when on a trip in Brazil he flew to Amazonia to see for himself the impact of animal agriculture on deforestation. While there, he learned of the massive deforestation caused from clear-cutting forests for both cattle grazing and soy production to feed those cattle. And while environmental laws in Brazil mandates that 80% of the Amazon remain untouched by agriculture, Illtud was disturbed by the seeming lack of enforcement and policing. 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. “(pages 49-50)
Having experienced this epiphany, Illtud then began the last leg of his trip, this time to the United States. He first stopped by the World Pork Expo in Des Moines, Iowa, where he observed, amid a feeling of despondency, the aggressive commercialism and lagging animal welfare standards of the large-scale pork industry.
Seeking a hopeful counterweight to his observations in Des Moines, Illtud ended his travels with a trip to San Francisco to attend the first New Harvest Conference. While at the conference, Illtud was inspired by the wellspring of entrepreneurial activity that he hopes may portend a more sustainable future for food production.
“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: 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. Dubbed as the next era of fermentation, cultured meat it seems is still held as the holy grail of products with its complexity of production.” (page 58)
As a result of his program of study, Illtud has incorporated several of his insights into his production methods at Charcutier. He is also pushing forward with his interest in biotech, having incorporated a new start-up called Cellular Agriculture Ltd to further production of cultured meat. He has also founded Cultivate, a British based body to discuss developments within the field of cellular agriculture.
You can download Illtud’s entire report, On Meat: niche production, value adding, ethics and its future within cellular agriculture, here: http://nuffieldinternational.org/rep_pdf/1478769581Illtud-Dunsford-report-2015.pdf
by David Leibowitz