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Siena Baker

by Betsy VanNoy Sep 18, 2020
Siena Baker

Economics and Community, Environment, Development

Thesis and Research Fellow


Project Description: Cellular agriculture, also known as cell-ag, refers to an agri-food technology that utilizes cell cultures from livestock to bioengineer meat products for prospective human consumption. The cell-based meat industry is rapidly growing as several start-up companies across the nation have crafted the financial and scientific infrastructure to develop consumable products in the near future. However, the meat production space is increasingly fraught with controversy surrounding the definition of meat, the ethics of bio-engineered food products, and potential disruptions to traditional agricultural stakeholders socially, economically, environmentally, culturally, legally. Disparate industry identities have led to clashes between conventional meat producers and cattle ranchers, large agricultural corporations, animal welfare activists, and bioengineering startups. The ultimate goal of many cellular agriculture producers of deriving products from immortalized cell lines rather than harvesting from live animals has proven to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, land and water use, and animal cruelty, but creates a possibility for conventional livestock growers to be displaced or disregarded. I believe this pre-production space has potential for the democratization of knowledge, data, processes, and culture; to create a more empowering, ethical, and educational pathway to inclusive innovation of alternative protein products. However, it is often one that often instead clutches intellectual property, severs conversations between rural America and Silicon Valley, and demonstrates the tendency of large industry experts to use technology as a tool of coercive capitalism and consolidation of resources and power. The primary objective of this study is to obtain insight into the political economy of cellular agriculture start-ups and the relationships that may emerge among stakeholders across cellular and traditional livestock industries. My research will explore questions such as: To what extent will cell-ag producers include conventional growers in the deployment of cell-based meat alternatives? Will economic and sociocultural partnerships arise to collectively navigate the intractable issue of the future of meat production? What political partnerships will shape the allocation of power, status, and access to resources in these shifting industries? What are the experiences of livestock producers in the face of cell-ag industry growth?

Siena is a rising senior from Chicago, IL in the Schreyer Honors College, Paterno Fellows Program, and Presidential Leadership Academy studying Economics and Community, Environment, Development. She is a research assistant in the Department of Agricultural Economics, Sociology, and Education as well as a 2019-2020 Rock Ethics Institute Fellow. Siena is also the President of Schreyer for Women and a Scholar Ambassador. Her undergraduate honors thesis will explore the political-economic implications of agri-food innovations in the meat industry.