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A future human civilization has the basic ability to terraform planets. This are modifications to the surface, biosphere, and atmosphere of the planet; no changes are made to a planet's orbit. Planets in a desirable orbit with sufficient natural resources are found and then undergo a round of physical modification, followed by a round of biosphere creation, following which the planets can be settled. This whole process takes around 50 years.

This civilization has access to artificial meat technology. On Earth, which is very densely populated, meat, dairy, and eggs are all typically made without animals in the loop, though some farms do still raise meat and animal byproducts as luxury goods (the artificial versions aren't quite the same). New settlements on terraformed planets by contrast raise livestock in large quantities rather than using artificial meat.

What could make this difference make sense? Why would new settlements on freshly terraformed planets raise livestock in large quantities where the densely settled, ecologically stable planets don't?

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    $\begingroup$ You wrote the answer in your question "the artificial versions aren't quite the same". If you have a choice between artificial and non artificial, but artificial is worse, why would people pick it ? $\endgroup$
    – Jemox
    Commented Jun 5 at 9:34
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    $\begingroup$ @Jemox maybe some people might have moral qualms about the rearing of animals for meat? $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 5 at 12:21
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    $\begingroup$ @StarfishPrime I'm sure we could find loads of explications for a universe in which people prefer to eat artificial meat than real meat. But that's not the topic of that question. $\endgroup$
    – Jemox
    Commented Jun 5 at 16:10
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    $\begingroup$ @Jemox if you didn't want an answer to the question "why would people pick it?", or if you don't like certain kinds of answers, perhaps ask fewer questions, or constrain them better. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 5 at 17:35
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    $\begingroup$ If transportation between Earth and those colonies is fast, then the colonies could make a fortune selling luxury meat to the Earthlings. $\endgroup$
    – user4574
    Commented Jun 5 at 23:53

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It is cheaper

No need to over-complicate the answer - you said that Earth was densely populated, which means space is at a premium. In NZ, average farm size is 271 Hectares or 271 Football stadiums - having the space to farm livestock would result in the cost of the produce being prohibitively expensive... on Earth, whereas small, energy efficient Soylent Green labs (hehe) are able to produce Meat cheaper than if it was farmed (due to the cost of land)

On the new Planets, Space is near-limitless, so land is cheap and so it is more cost effective to farm naturally.

It is part of the Terraforming process

This is a Tangential addition to the above - but having the Animals interact with the land (AKA eat the grass and poo out the Grass) can be desirable to setup a natural ecosystem.

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    $\begingroup$ Your "part of the process" note is the first thing that came to mind. Biological machines aka livestock that maintain themselves, reproduce, produce a wide spectrum of chemicals, etc, is infinitely cheaper than shipping materials to create and maintain expensive machines that do the same thing. $\endgroup$
    – William
    Commented Jun 5 at 9:23
  • $\begingroup$ I was thinking of the same thing, but from an intentionally introduced species point of view. Pigs would be great at getting rid of every last gnarthak nest on the homestead - much easier than trying to find them all on your own. And engineered sheep can make use of Terran pastures or Alterran, they don't mind the difference. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 5 at 10:10
  • $\begingroup$ I'd go one step further: What does a colony have? Space and lots of it. But what's limited on a new colony planet? Infrastructure. Power generation, chemical production, all those things that might play into a big factory situation. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 5 at 20:40
  • $\begingroup$ Add expenses to produce food for the cattle, which requires additional space, and here you are, premium food on Earth right off the bat. While say poultry farms only require space for containing the hens, the food for them is still grown elsewhere and bought by the farmer, growing cattle requires extra space as they have to move around. $\endgroup$
    – Vesper
    Commented Jun 6 at 6:11
  • $\begingroup$ Don't forget cows produce methane, which contributed to global warming, which is useful if you're trying to terraform the world to be warmer! $\endgroup$
    – aslum
    Commented Jun 6 at 13:23
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Higher technology not available yet

Newly terraformed planets don't have the factories built yet to create artificial food, nor do they have the population to require it. The factories only become more efficient than keeping livestock at a certain scale, which requires the demand for it.

At this smaller scale, it is easier to drop some self replicating animals (chickens, cows, goats, sheep, and horses) to feed the workers and provide materials and/or transport.

As the population grows the demand for the resources grow, and it becomes more worthwhile to build the high tech factories required to feed the population than it is to maintain ever larger herds of animals.

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    $\begingroup$ Good point, wrong headline. Even with high tech, the smart way to produce dozens of eggs per day may be a chicken coop, the smart way to produce millions per day is a synthetic food factory. $\endgroup$
    – o.m.
    Commented Jun 5 at 4:34
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    $\begingroup$ To this, you might want to add: hi-tech requires fossil resources such as heavy metals, coal and oil, which are scarce and produce toxic waste: so best reserved for the interplanetary transport sector as long as possible. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 5 at 6:34
  • $\begingroup$ But wouldn’t a colony arrive with exactly that technology to survive the trip? A smart method to expand would be to make sure you have an abundance of synthetic food production To ensure you have the capability to expand and survive unexpected things that might kill animals or plants and cause famines $\endgroup$
    – Demigan
    Commented Jun 6 at 10:56
  • $\begingroup$ I was in two minds about the edit as it's larger than we normally allow without the OP's input, but it was a good edit, so I approved it. What do others think? $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 6 at 12:37
  • $\begingroup$ @Escapeddentalpatient. I think it keeps the original spirit while being clearer. $\endgroup$
    – Questor
    Commented Jun 6 at 20:50
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That's what the wealthy want

Core worlds have been overpopulated for a long time. That means land for livestock is hard to come by, and that necessarily means that the only people capable of keeping livestock are the ultra-wealthy -- the "infinity pool set."

These are the same people who finance the development of new worlds. And when a new world is ready to be inhabited, they're in charge of divvying up the land among all the wannabe colonists and new industrialists; unsurprisingly, they keep the choicest bits for themselves... and their pets.

Once a new world gets crowded, the wealthy liquidate and evacuate their livestock to a new colony, freeing up the vast tracts of pastureland to be leased at exorbitant prices to that world's nouveau riche, who would otherwise not be able to acquire large plots of land upon which to build the massive estates they crave as status symbols.

The people who orchestrate this get richer at every stage of the process, exploiting the livestock as a source of revenue, and also as an excuse to "park" real estate while each colony's population and infrastructure grow from fledgling, untamed wilderness to ultra-dense ecumenopolis. The pastureland around their own estates serves as a buffer against the expanding sprawl of the colony, and fidgeting with their livestock not only keeps them busy, it allows them to cultivate the image of being authentic frontiersmen, which is a lifeway that has long been unattainable for the overwhelming mass of humanity. This image is an important element of how they maintain their status and cults-of-personality within the larger social context.

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    $\begingroup$ new worlds will typically be settled by the destitute, the only people willing to give up their comfortable lives on the core worlds and strike out to live in log cabins on planets that don't even have electricity and running water yet, let alone VR arcades and airconditioning. $\endgroup$
    – jwenting
    Commented Jun 6 at 11:34
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    $\begingroup$ The time to go from "frontier world" to "crowded city-world" is going to be measured in centuries, minimum (with 1000 initial settlers, even if every one of them couples up and produces eight kids per family, all of which survive and themselves have eight kids, over and over, you'd take 200 years or so to build up to 1B citizens); this is way too slow a way to make money. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 6 at 13:31
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To finish terraforming.

Your terraforming methods are crude and meant for planetwide terraformation, but at a local level it could still need work. Some of the biosphere creation plants need to be removed from the area as they don’t serve a function anymore but are effectively an invasive species (which is why they were used for the terraforming, almost impossible to kill plants that can live and do their job almost anywhere are great!). So you have livestock that can aggressively target these types of plants and eat it ripping it out roots and all, only eating other plants if everything else is gone. This process can take several years before the plants and their seeds are completely eradicated.

The massive advantage is that you don’t need to periodically use highly selective machine to find and destroy the plants and you generate food on the side as well.

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Aesthetics!

You are one of the few rich enough to pay your way into a new world, so do you really want to live your life surrounded by machines and wires? No, what you want is to pretend you are some kind of heroic settler in untamed land with your nice farm house, lots of land to farm and raise cattle just like people did it in the good old days!

The animals are just another part of the decoration, they may help with the terraforming process, but really the important part is that now Tim, the multi-billionaire, can pretend he is a cowboy in some untamed land

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Sustainability. Leaving the planet's natural biome alone. Mental health.

The size of the network of interconnected domes is staggering. They encapsulate the better part of a tenth of the land surface of the planet. Whilst only reaching a height of 500 meters, they have their own weather and weather-control stations. Being modular they are erected as desired in suitable areas (limited tectonic activity).

There are fusion-powered plants can keep the atmospheric composition finely balanced; optimized not only for the livestock, but a large portion of their feedstock. Methane is decomposed, gas is exchanged with he rest of the planet - but with active microbial filters to prevent ingress/egress of anything unexpected.

Because of the modular, quasi-closed and controlled nature of the systems, these environments can be set-up on a huge range of planets (ice, desert etc.) which would not normally be considered suitable for settlement. It also leaves the natural biosphere of the planet largely undisturbed to thrive without interference.

Livestock-farming and contact with the animals in a husbanding and care roll has been a part of the human experience for at least 15,000 years, and has been shown to be greatly beneficial to the mental health of those who participate. It fosters a responsible attitude towards resources and develops cognitive and emotional empathy, leading to a more inclusive and harmonious civilization - richer for the experience. The culture benefits from this connection to the cycle of life in ways that those living on a sterile planetopolis could never grasp.

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Global warming

Livestock produces a lot of greenhouse gases. It is a planetary threat on developed, densely-populated planets. However, on newly colonized planet it could not only be acceptable (as nature has a lot more capacity to deal with it than an ecumenopolis would), but even desirable in order to intentionally increase global temperature.

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  • Densely settled, ecologically stable planets are expensive to own land on. This explanation has direct parallels to present-day Earth. For instance, at its peak in the 1870s, the King Ranch in South Texas laid claim to some 15 million acres of land, about the size of the entire state of West Virginia. Today, it only has about 875,000 acres, about 6% of its peak size, mainly because owning that much land in close proximity to what are now burgeoning and tax-hungry cities and counties just doesn't make economic sense 150 years later. One would expect, as a planet's ecology stabilizes into the center of the butter zone for human habitation, those with money will be looking for a slice of that paradise and willing to pay top dollar for it, crowding out agricultural land users in favor of mid-acreage high-value home sites for the super-rich. Cue exoplanetary Yellowstone.

    One could go even further here, and picture a human race that, with access to the stars and to post-scarcity socioeconomic theory and technology, is actively breeding itself across the galaxy. You could invent some near-extinction event, like an asteroid impact, that woke the human race up to the need to "go forth, become fruitful and multiply", and with no financial obstacles to a large family, couples (and throuples and quadrouples) are having sex like it's the only thing worth doing anymore. With average family size ballooning from 4.3 to well over 10, cities on Earth that took centuries to reach a population of a million people are now megametropolises of twenty, thirty, even fifty million people, and those are the small ones. With that kind of population growth curve, your species expands or it starves, so your newly-terraformed agrarian paradise is already on borrowed time.

  • Cattle produce important greenhouse gases that help stabilize the terraformed ecology. No joke; anthropogenic agricultural methane emissions (cow farts) account for about a quarter of Earth's total methane emissions, and methane is an even more efficient heat-trapping greenhouse gas than CO2 (but shorter-lived). A planet that is naturally too cold for human habitation can be warmed by greenhouse gases, and there are many handwaves (exospheric gas loss, methane-consuming microbes, higher atmospheric oxygen causing faster breakdown of methane) to explain a need to continue to emit those gases in order to keep the planet's climate stable. Why not get a major economic benefit from the methane source while you're at it?

  • Food synthesis requires a lot of energy and a lot of infrastructure, that simply doesn't exist yet on these newly-terraformed worlds. Food synthesis makes sense for dense post-agricultural worlds because the advantage is space-efficiency; a 400-story, 100k-resident arcology can be self-sufficient in its food needs with just a small fraction of its habitable space occupied by food synthesis facilities, drawing the power to run it from the massive solar umbrella forming its roof.

    On the newly-habitable frontier world, that arcology is a fairy tale told to children, of faraway lands, hundreds of lifetimes from here, where people live on top of each other and you can't even see the sky. Meanwhile on this new world, most of the population remember having to live and work in climate suits while the planet warmed. The planet's about 1.5x Earth mass and 45% of its total surface area is terrestrial, with a colonial population of less than a hundred thousand (for now). That's a lot of land and very few people on it, the near-polar opposite of the dense 15-billion-plus population of older worlds. A family might go a week or more without seeing a human outside their ranching group in person, as they follow the ten-million-strong herd across fields of young chartreuse grasses, defending the cattle from the few remaining native predators still sticking it out in a climate now well above freezing, and downright warm in the 9-month perihelion summer caused by the planet's slightly eccentric orbit.

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Land is expensive. Or it isn't.

I think that a good way to explain it is that the costs for each are different in a new world vs a developed one. Assuming that artificial meat is expensive, it could make sense. On older planets, space is limited, and it's cheaper to make artificial meat. This is especially true if factory farming is not an option. However, on newly settled planets, there is plenty of space for large herds of livestock(still assuming factory farming isn't allowed). Since artificial meat is expensive, it could work out cheaper to just have herds of animals. This does require factory farming to not be an option, but that isn't too much of a stretch, especially when it's not the only economical way to get the large quantities of meat we consume.

As a bonus, it could also help with the final stages of creating a biosphere. Especially genetically modified livestock could help in the last steps of creating a complex biosphere. They could even be temporary additions that need to be "removed from the ecosystem"(killed). If you are killing so many animals, why not recoup some of your investment and use them for food? Them being used in part of the terraforming process is another good reason to keep them around on newer worlds, which is less applicable to older ones.

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Livestock are multi-use.

Synthetic meat is a single-end-use product. It's a drop-in replacement for meat, but beyond use as a doorstop or paperweight (uses for which it is decidedly inferior), that's all it's good for.

Livestock, meanwhile, is a source of meat, textiles, and trace chemical products (glue, really) in a single package - all of which may be needed.

They're also a source of labor, however. Even in our modern era, where liquid-fueled tractors have replaced ox-pulled ploughs, there are still niche cases for the use of livestock for things like weed management, resource location, companionship (especially for eggs/dairy livestock), even pest control (and here you can purposefully introduce use cases, if needed).

Concurrent value streams are especially important in colonization contexts because resources are scarce/expensive. The more end-uses you can serve with a single unit of cargo, the more appealing that payload becomes.

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Lab meat grows in one G

The tissue growth part of the artificial meat technology has hundreds of parameters which were fine-tuned over decades of expensive experimentation.

All of this happened on Earth, under Earth's gravity, and the technology simply doesn't work beyond very narrow variations of gravity. 2% variation seems like a reasonable balance between plausibility and strength of restriction.

Gravity changes are not possible for our terraforming technology (if they were, we could cleverly use them to manipulate orbits in a roundabout way), so planet colonies retain their original gravity.

It's in theory possible to fine-tune the tech for a new planet, but it'd be slow, expensive, and results wouldn't be guaranteed. No one does it.

There's not enough habitable planets in the 0.98-to-1.02 gee range to just pass up on otherwise perfectly good planets in the 0.7-to-1.4 gee range, so livestock it is.

There are a small minority of planets who happen to be in the 0.98-to-1.02 gee range. Those get the lab meat factories, just like Earth.

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The easy answer here is that a new colony world doesn't have the infrastructure to support a food lab like that, and may not for decades or even centuries (depending on how readily available local materials are and how much off-world support they can get).

It's reasonable that lab-grown meat requires a large industrial base to generate. You need raw materials (refined chemicals), lots of electricity, vast amounts of pure water, scrupulously clean equipment to prevent contamination and food-borne illness. It may generate more food faster than traditional animal life, but only if you have the strong infrastructure base to support a resource-intensive factory system.

If you've just landed on a colony world with a colony starter pack that consists of a small solar farm, a community water purifier, some flat-packed prefab shelters, and some kind of small scale fabricator, your best bet for getting food in the short term is a herd of goats and some chickens -- living things that convert inedible materials into food, largely protect themselves from contaminants without assistance, and are helpfully self-replicating. (I mean, this is why people domesticated them to begin with. A chicken very efficiently turns bugs and random seeds into breakfast. A moderately sized coop with plenty of food can provide more eggs than three families can eat!)

This is, coincidentally, the direct explanation for the universe of Firefly having a 'wild west' aesthetic -- the core systems tend to dump colonies down with a herd of cattle and enough supplies to build a basic homestead, and that's kinda it, build what you need all by yourself, and a horse is a car that makes its own tires and fuel as long as you have plenty of grass around.

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One interesting take which came to mind but hasn't been mentioned in this thread yet is the speed of adoption of new technology.

Consider that the cattle specimen is a highly advanced food synthesizer machine - just that the ones that evolved naturally or went through a simple selection process, while functioning, aren't very well-engineered in all respects.

Suppose at some point at the core worlds, something (maybe the population count crossing a certain threshold) increased the activity in the food production research, which yielded decent results, and designs for efficient food synthesizing machines were created. These were improved over time, and the bulk of the food production on the core worlds was being performed by the food synthesizers of various generations. Then, something triggered research in genetic engineering, and as a side effect of the discoveries in this field, the cattle you've mentioned had been created. It too underwent a series of iterations, but the end variants were able produce food on par, if not somewhat better than, the current generation food synthesizers. On top of that, it was easier to implement self-replication (given the existing examples of this feature in naturally evolved organisms over having to design it from scratch) and maybe some other advanced features in the cattle, than it was to add these to food synthesizers.

So there you have it - the cattle is the bleeding edge tech while the food synthesizers are old tech. Self-replication and other features implemented in the cattle made it lucrative for projects such as colonisation of distant space regions, and so it became the current standard solution for food production there. Hovewer, in terms of pure food production performance, the cattle was not that large of an improvement to make food synthesizers obsolete; switching off the existing food production chain on core worlds would incur needless expenses, even if the cattle itself easily self-reproduces (suppose the foodsynth machines became good enough in terms of maintenance over time), so it's just not profitable to do so without any apparent reason.

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