Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates has a soft spot for cheeseburgers. But eating his favorite food, Gates acknowledges, has come at a price. 

“Cheeseburgers are my favorite food,” Gates wrote in a recent post on his Gates Notes blog. “But I wish they weren’t, given the impact they have on the environment.”


Gates’ concern stems from the significant environmental degradation caused by animal agriculture. The production of one pound of beef requires approximately 2,500 gallons of water, and animal agriculture contributes to nearly 15 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. 

These emissions surpass those from all transportation combined and utilize nearly 70 percent of agricultural land, contributing to deforestation, biodiversity loss, and water pollution.

The use of land for livestock is extensive, with more than one-third of US land used for pasture. Animal agriculture’s land use is so significant that eliminating beef and mutton consumption could reduce the global need for agricultural land by almost half.

By 2030, a study published in The Lancet found, that the livestock sector could account for almost half of the world’s emissions budget for a 34.7 degrees Fahrenheit temperature limit unless changes are made.

Can we justify eating cheeseburgers in light of these facts? Gates says yes, but we have to rebuild the components of cheeseburgers to be less environmentally damaging. 

Bill Gates rethinks cheeseburgers

After confessing his love for cheeseburgers, Gates discussed the advancements in plant-based meats. The tech billionaire was an early investor in several alternative meat companies, including Impossible Foods, Beyond Meat, and Upside Foods (a cultivated meat company focusing on chicken). 

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The 68-year-old visionary also backs Motif Foods, a biotechnology company that develops breakthrough ingredients that improve the flavor and texture of alternative proteins to make them more craveable.

Gates points out that while progress has been made in creating plant-based alternatives to animal products, there is still a gap in flavor that is preventing a widespread shift toward these more environmentally friendly products. 

“I’ve tried many of the best meat and dairy replacements out there, and while I’ve had some great ones, nothing currently on the market would fool a burger lover completely,” Gates writes. 

The problem? Gates says animal fat is something plant-based products have not fully replaced. The issue with continuing to use animal fat is its negative environmental impact. 

“Each year, the world emits 51 billion tons of greenhouse gasses—and the production of fats and oils from animals and plants makes up seven percent of that,” Gates writes. “To combat climate change, we need to get the number to zero.”

Gates feels hopeful about Savor, a food-tech company in which he discloses he is an investor.

Savor is creating real fat molecules without involving animals or plants by utilizing carbon dioxide and hydrogen. This innovative process aims to replicate the greasy, oily sizzle of foods such as cheeseburgers without the associated greenhouse gas emissions, water use, or land use.

However, Gates points out that to catalyze change, the battle here lies not only in developing these technologies but also in making them widely accessible. 

“The big challenge is to drive down the price so that products like Savor’s become affordable to the masses—either the same cost as animal fats or less,” Gates writes. 

Putting palm oil to rest

Furthermore, Gates addresses the issue of palm oil, a product found in half of all packaged goods. While palm oil does not contain animal products, harvesting it in the tropical regions where it grows leads to deforestation and devastating habitat loss. 

VegNews.Orangutans.DimitryBUnsplashDimitry B/Unsplash

“The focus on animal fats is a priority because they have an outsized impact on climate—and play an outsized role in many beloved foods,” Gates writes.

“But even if we could eliminate emissions from the production of all animal fats overnight, we’d still have a challenge: Even some plant-based fats and oils can be a problem for climate change,” Gates writes. “The worst culprit is palm oil.”

Here, Gates backs the work of C16 Biosciences, a New York-based company that is developing a sustainable palm oil alternative using a fermentation process with a wild yeast microbe. The result is a deforestation-free oil that functions exactly like palm oil but is grown on fungi instead of trees. 

As society increasingly acknowledges the impact of animal agriculture on the environment, the shift towards more sustainable, plant-based food systems becomes not only necessary but inevitable. Gates believes that rethinking how the fats in our food are made is a big part of the solution.

“The idea of switching to lab-made fats and oils may seem strange at first. But their potential to significantly reduce our carbon footprint is immense,” Gates writes. “By harnessing proven technologies and processes, we get one step closer to achieving our climate goals.”

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