CEO behind synthetic rhino horn answers critics

The co-founder and CEO of Pembient, a company specialising in biofabricated rhino horn, has responded to critics who say its business model will help rather than hinder the illegal trade of wildlife products

 
A selection of illegal elephant and rhino ivory stockpiles in Kenya. The CEO of Pembient Matthew Markus is defending the company's decision to create synthetic rhino horns in an attempt to help reduce the amount of illegal poaching that continues today 

The Seattle-based start-up Pembient has sought to use biotechnology to create synthetic wildlife products – such as rhino horn and elephant ivory – with the aim of reducing the value of the black market for wildlife products, but has been met with heavy criticism from conservationists and various media outlets.

“If some biofabricated horns can be passed off as wild horns, then consumers won’t be able to reliably determine any horn’s real value and the price of rhino horn will fall”

Opponents of Pembient’s business model claim that the proliferation synthetic products into the market will serve to increase demand for wild horn, rather than decrease it and will do little to reduce poaching.

However, the Co-Founder and CEO of the company, Matthew Markus, disagrees and in a recent blog post has attempted to address some of the concerns of his critics.

“Rhino horn currently sells for upwards of $65,000 per kilogram”, wrote Markus. “We seek to biofabricate it at a fraction of this price. Our goal is to reduce the incentive for poachers, middlemen, and corrupt government officials to harm rhinos.”

According to the CEO, journalists have frequently expressed this plan as an attempt to ‘flood the market’ with synthetic rhino horn, but he contends that this is an oversimplification of the company’s business model.

“What we’re actually doing is invoking a variant of an economic principle known as Gresham’s Law”, explained Markus. “Simply put, if some biofabricated horns can be passed off as wild horns, then consumers won’t be able to reliably determine any horn’s real value and the price of rhino horn will fall.

“It is in the context of this statement that our efforts should be evaluated.” The CEO expressed his support for the existing ban on the international trade of rhino horn and asserts that it is essential that it remain in place.

If the ban were lifted, allowing wild horn to be traded on a regulated market, Markus argues that it would undermine the impact of synthetic horn on the market, as wild horn would then be sold at higher price than the biofabricated product.

“This premium would not be due to any substantive differences between the two products”, claimed Markus. “Rather, it would stem from the government-issued certificates attesting to the provenance of wild horn.

“A similar distinction exists in the diamond market, where certified natural diamonds trade at a premium to synthetic diamonds.”

For more information on the economics and commercialisation strategy of Pembient check out our previous report posted on the issue here.