Self-driving cars could affect pig production: futurist

A drop in deaths from car accidents could mean a shortage of organs for transplant, and pig organs could be used for gene-editing

With the growth in vegetarianism and the rise of laboratory-engineered meat substitutes, the future of hog production may lie as much in medical research as it does on the dinner plate, says a Canadian futurist.

Self-driving cars may become the catalyst for using pigs to create human organs, Nikolas Badminton told a packed house at Ontario’s London Swine Conference earlier this year.

Ninety people in the United States die each day in car accidents, and those deaths produce a significant number of the organs used in transplants.

Badminton said self-driving cars will eliminate this statistic and create a shortage of organs available for transplants.

To respond, researchers could turn to gene-editing technology already used by researchers at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, to create pigs resistant to PRRS (porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome) to alter pigs so they can grow human organs.

Controversy over the ethics could become a problem, but Badminton said that an organ availability crisis combined with acceptance of other technological advances, such as cloning, could change attitudes.

He also said livestock meat production faces pressure from world growth in veganism.

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“In the U.K., veganism has exploded by 360 percent. Vegan food sales are up 1,500 percent.”

Some unusual alternatives already serve this growing market, such as lab-cultured meat and meat look-alikes derived from vegetables.

Insects are another source of protein and have long been consumed in other countries. They’re making inroads in North America too, he said. Among other things, Badminton also said artificially intelligent help may start to be offered for farms in three to five years, and he advised farmers to keep a watch on the renewable energy industry.

A study undertaken in the United States showed that no crop could earn a farmer more than what the same acreage of solar power could generate.

“So there’s people in North Carolina, utility companies going to farmers and saying, ‘we’ll pay between $300 and $700 an acre to have solar on your land.’ ”

Badminton also pointed to how advances in data management might improve performance, but those advances come with drawbacks, a major one being security.

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“As we get online and get access to this data, we’re potentially leaving backdoors open for people to walk in,” Badminton said. “There’d be nothing worse than having a technologically savvy operation on a farm and then a hacker holding it hostage.”

Badminton also described a growing interest in water conservation inspiring greater adoption of aquaponics, a system in which fish waste is used to fertilize plants and the plant waste in turn is used to feed fish, and hydroponics, as well as the trend of locating food production closer or even within city limits.

He used examples such as fish farms at Singapore’s airport and the AeroFarms hydroponic vertical farm in New Jersey that grows greens in a former steel mill.

He also mentioned a Dutch grocer that grows herbs right on its store shelves and buyers clip what they want.

It’s an innovative farmer’s world, he said, where technological change will result in more efficient and sustainable practices that will “benefit you and the rest of humanity as well.”

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