The hope of cellular agriculture is to create a better world. A world that is less cruel to animals, gentler on the environment, and more abundant and just for eaters and workers alike.
Technology alone won’t make that happen. Technologies are neutral tools. For cellular agriculture to succeed we must acknowledge that positive impacts are not innately built into the advancement of technology.
Here’s where RRI comes in:
Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) describes R&D processes that consider and account for the effects and potential impacts of technologies on the environment and society.
RRI involves holding research to high ethical standards, working towards equal and diverse representation in the scientific community, investing policymakers with the responsibility and tools to appropriate govern new technologies, engaging the communities affected by innovation and ensuring that they have the knowledge necessary to understand the implications by furthering science education and open access.*
Unfortunately, there is little incentive for private companies to apply RRI to their processes. Academia risks interrogation of RRI principles in a vacuum. Further, RRI literature points to the need for more collaboration, broader stakeholder engagement, and earlier consideration of technology’s effects and implications … but this literature rarely points to who exactly should do this work.
Here’s where New Harvest plays an important role. As a field-building organization dedicated to advancing technology towards positive impact, RRI is central to our thesis. Especially since last year’s launch of our new mission.
Let’s look at the six keys of RRI and see just how much the work we’re doing aligns:
1. Public Engagement stresses that everyone affected by the technology should be part of the discussion.
- Indigenous and farmer engagement in Canada: In April we gathered at UBC’s Loon Lake Lodge on the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territory of the q̓íc̓əy̓ people and participated in an incredible workshop convened by the Food & Agriculture Institute focused on “Social Implications of Cellular Agriculture”. The workshop aimed to create a space to engage neglected voices affected by innovation, in particular, Indigenous peoples and people working in the agriculture and food sectors. There is an excellent overview of the issues discussed in this article: “Could lab-grown meat ever be Indigenized?” Evan Bowness, who assembled the workshop, spoke on this important work at the New Harvest 2022 Conference, alongside participants from New Harvest and industry.
- Farmer engagement in UK: Starting in September, we will also have an advisory role with this project out of University of Sheffield, seeking to explore if cultured meat is a threat or an opportunity for UK farmers.
- Anti-colonial training: Through a Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion community of practice, we have also been working on our land acknowledgement and undergoing Anti-colonial Training with the help of the team at the Food and Agriculture Institute at the University of Fraser Valley.
2. Gender Equality ensures that demographic dimensions are taken into consideration in R&I, decision-making, the allocation of funding, and in the makeup of teams and organizations
- Transparent compensation philosophy: We’ve made our compensation philosophy public to add transparency to how individuals are compensated at our org.
- We only recently started asking our grantees how they self-identify, but hope to share some stats on the breakdown of gender identities across our grantees soon.
3. Ethics ensures that all research and innovation reaches the highest ethical standards to ensure it has high societal relevance.
- Hard conversations at our conference: It is hard to ensure ethics when ethical decisions go beyond the bounds of the law. The best way we’ve seen to raise questions of ethics in cellular agriculture is through our communications and our annual conference. The 2022 conference theme, Elephant in the Room was a prompt designed to elevate neglected topics and concerns in cellular agriculture. We touched on big questions such as if cell ag would actually be better for animals, if it would actually be economically feasible, and if it would truly be safe.
4. Open Access attempts to make science transparent and accessible. It stresses that the results of publicly funded research (publications and data) should be made freely accessible for public use online.
- Fellowship focused on open research: If you have been following New Harvest for a while, you will know that our commitment to open has been there from the beginning. We believe that public funds should create public knowledge. However actually living this commitment is no easy task. What some may not know is that the true innovation of our fellowship program is the contracts behind the scenes. Our contracts allow researchers to discuss pre-published information with one another, ensure that all New Harvest-funded research remains open and published (as in, not patent-protected) and strongly pushes for publications in open access journals only.
- Open access publications: It turns out it is extremely expensive to make sure all publications are open access. We’re currently investigating the best way to open up all of our past publications and ensure as much openness in the future. It’s not very straightforward…some open access fees can be up to $10,000 for one paper. So it’s a question of paying into a broken system or finding solutions outside of it. But before we figure out how to open everything, here’s a library of the publications we have supported!
- No NDA policy: To further advance our openness practice, we have a policy of not signing non-disclosure agreements (NDAs). This neutrality is important for our role as a field-building organization. Similar to investors, we couldn’t support the ecosystem effectively if we had NDAs in place! Interestingly, the majority of groups are happy to waive the NDA, and some have even considered revising their approach to NDAs thanks to our approach.
5. Science Education ensures that future researchers have knowledge and tools to engage with the research and innovation process.
- Foundational textbooks: We are currently contributing to two textbooks which would serve as critical resources for the entire field of cellular agriculture. Both will become public in early 2023. (More on this soon!)
- University courses: Our research fellows John Yuen, Natalie Rubio, and Andrew Stout put together the first ever cell ag course, an important resource for any undergraduate newcomers to the field.
- Publications: New Harvest’s grantee community is the most prolific source of peer-reviewed research and information in cellular agriculture. Check out our publications here!
- Unlocking knowledge from the private sector: Our safety roadmap for cultured meat was a silo-breaking effort to find the best way to describe 1) how cultured meat was made, and 2) how one would evaluate the safety of the manufacturing process(es). This is critical information for policymakers, investors, and researchers alike.
6. Governance stresses that responsibility rests with policymakers and they must be properly equipped to govern new technologies.
- Research-driven policy engagement: It’s hard for policymakers to be informed about cellular agriculture today, with such an outsized private sector and little public sector information. The safety roadmap from 2020 initiated the conversation. Our 2022 project will continue it. This project brings regulators and governments from 8+ countries on the same page about cultured meat. It will be crucial in deepening policymakers’ understanding of cellular agriculture and mapping what a coordinated path forward might look like.
- Launching OpenCellAg: We’re not alone in thinking that the public and private sectors aren’t enough when it comes to effectively and quickly advancing technology for the public good. OpenCellAg is our answer to the infrastructure problems associated with research and development today – it’s a way to assemble public and private partnerships to drive progress in cellular agriculture as effectively and openly as possible. We’re going to have to break some models to build new ones!
Since launching our new mission, we’ve been taking on many more RRI projects, falling under the purview of our three Directors of RRI (Dr. Bre Duffy, US; Dr. Dwayne Holmes, EU; and Dr. Yadira Tejeda-Saldana, Canada) to complement our research grant programs.
It’s all about building a mission-centered ecosystem.