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Under The Radar – 07 May

This week, we discuss

  1. Achieving commercial viability for lab-grown chicken

  2. Fake news legislation in Hong Kong

  3. Uber’s $600m hit following the landmark Supreme Court ruling

Lab-grown chicken – an eggciting prospect?

What happened?

Israeli start-up Future Meat has slashed production costs by almost half in just a few months, marking a huge leap towards achieving commercial viability for its lab-grown chicken. The company expects the cost of a 110-gram chicken breast to fall below $2 in the next 12-18 months.

What does it mean?

The food industry is rapidly changing. Alternative milk brands like Oatly are undergoing IPOs and meatless alternatives including Heck and Linda McCartney are continuing to enjoy impressive growth. But alongside these market developments – all of which are underpinned by changing consumer trends – lies the outlier that is lab-grown meat.

Generally referred to in food circles as alternative protein companies, it is here where the most consequential and impactful changes for society will be germinated. The goal is simple: to mimic the taste and texture of conventional meat, compete in price and find a viable business model whilst doing so.

Lab-grown meat companies have had the potential to generate exponential growth for a while – even attracting investors like Richard Branson – yet they have remained an outlier because of their failure to bring products to market at anywhere near an affordable price.

However, as a result of their remarkable progress in slashing production costs, Future Meat will be launching a product in the US within the next 18 months, potentially providing the company first-mover advantage in what could be a multi-billion industry.

Whilst the path to commercial success is not a given one for Future Meat, on this trajectory one would assume their lab-grown meats will be on our plates sooner rather than later.

Bleak prospects for Hong Kong’s press

What happened?

In a press conference on Tuesday, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam confirmed that her government is working to introduce fake news legislation in an attempt to curb “misinformation, hatred and lies”.

What does it mean?

Lam’s threat to impose a fake news law during the same week as World Press Freedom Day is another stark reminder of Hong Kong’s freefall since the handover: Reporters Without Borders ranked Hong Kong 80th out of 180 countries in its latest index – a far cry from its 18th place position in 2002.

This crackdown is just the latest development in Hong Kong’s slide to authoritarianism. Indeed, a bogus fake news law is a natural progression of the Chinese-backed national security law, passed last year, which gave the government power to stifle any form of dissent.

The depressing and alarming reality of Hong Kong’s authoritarian turn will likely be on full view next month – the 32nd anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre.

Hong Kong traditionally hosts an annual candlelight vigil in Victoria Park to commemorate the event, making it the only Chinese city where people are able to openly honour the victims and call on Beijing to apologise for its historic crimes.

But this year marks the first Tiananmen Square anniversary under the national security law. The vigil attendees face their biggest challenge yet with the almost certain threat of arrest and suppression. Capturing the stakes of this historic moment, Richard Tsoi, one of the vigil’s organisers, said: “If we cannot do it well now, we will have no future at all”.

Mixed-results for Uber

What happened?

Uber reported on Wednesday its highest-ever quarter of gross bookings, up 24% year on year to $19.5bn. However, total revenue fell by 11% to $2.9 billion after the company set aside $600 million to resolve historical claims with UK drivers following the landmark Supreme Court decision in March.

What does it mean?

Working in the gig economy has become unattractive for many during the health crisis – in the UK, those on insecure contracts were twice as likely to die from COVID-19.

This may have contributed to the Supreme Court’s ruling that Uber was wrong to class its drivers as independent contractors, meaning the company has now gained 70,000 workers, all entitled to the minimum wage and holiday pay.

And it’s not an isolated case. In Milan, Deliveroo, UberEats and JustEat were ordered to employ 60,000 delivery riders and pay €733 million in fines. Meanwhile, in the U.S. Joe Biden has begun fulfilling his campaign promise to protect gig economy workers, with Labor Secretary Marty Walsh blocking an incoming Trump era regulation that would have made it harder for gig workers to be classified as employees. Share prices have been falling since, with low-cost flexible labour crucial to Uber’s business.

The gig economy needs a new business model that isn’t dependent on predatorily undercutting workers’ rights.

This Week’s Must Reads

  1. Diplomacy has changed more than most professions during the pandemic’ for The Economist

  2. ‘Can London reinvent itself after the pandemic?’ by 

  3. William Wallis for the Financial Times

  4. ‘The woodfired brick wall’ by Robert Hutton for The Critic

  5. ‘British Political Veteran Steers Facebook’s Trump Decision’ by Adam Satariano and Cecilia Kang for The New York Times


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