Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Bloomberg Covers Cultured Meat

Interesting identical articles published in and Business Week that gives a nice little background of in vitro cultured meat.  As you can tell from the title, Meatloaf From a Petri Dish Is Innovator’s Goal for the Masses, the article focuses on Jason Matheny's role in bringing cultured meat to the masses.

I learned a few things that may be interesting to you:

1.  Bloomberg reports that cultured meat is making great technological progress:
"Mark Post, a professor of tissue engineering at Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands, may be close to realizing New Harvest’s vision. Post’s lab is producing 2-millimeter-thick strips that are almost an inch long and a quarter-inch wide. Jam enough of them together, and you have a meal. "
2.  Livestock's Long Shadow, a UN study that found that 18% of all GHG emissions are caused by livestock production, was instrumental in procuring funding for cultured meat research in Denmark. (Read full study here.)  This just reaffirms how connected the goals of cultured meat and environmentalism are, as well as why it is important that agribusiness not be allowed to discredit the environmental impact of livestock production.
"In response to the environmental threats, the Netherlands is funding a national effort to develop so-called cultured meat from laboratories"
3. Various terms were used through the article for 'cultured meat'.  The article  first two are descriptions rather than names: 'meat from petri dishes' and " this process is like (growing) hydroponic vegetables, in a way.”  The term cultured meat is used, without explaining that this is the name for it, and then in vitro chicken is also used, without an explanation of what in vitro chicken is.   I've never seen an article with such inconsistent nomenclature.  Odd, no?

4.    The article included what looks like a picture of cultured meat.  The meat was much larger than I have ever seen.  Here is the photo:

Monday, April 12, 2010

Cultured Cat Food? Now, that's culture!

The Cat Food Recipes Blog discussed an interesting application for in vitro cultured meat: food for your companion animal.  It has often been suggest that the taste and consistency of cultured meat will be the most important factor in consumer acceptance of cultured meat.  A recent Instute for Engineering Technology articles writes that without a way to get cultured meat cells to grow together "all you have is a meat-flavoured jelly with all the resistance of an oyster."  That doesn't sound very tasty.

However, if you have ever tasted pet food, such a lack of texture of the current cultured meat might actually be a plus for pet food. 

This also touches on the debate of whether it is ethical to feed animal products to your pet.   I had a conversation about this with one of my ardent vegan friends.  She feeds animal-based food to her cat and says that she doesn't want to force her eating habits on others.   Others (like me) don't think there is anything wrong with bringing up a companion animal (or a young child for that matter) on a healthy, vegetarian diet. (Check out veggiepets!)   Cultured meat does raise some ethical issues of its own for some vegetarians.  But for many others, this is yet another way that cultured meat may help modern persons be more ethical.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

How to Make Social Policy Happen in the Real World

Renowned environmental law scholar James Salzar from Duke and Yale's Douglas A. Kysar wrote an interesting new article, "Harnessing the Power of Information for the Next Generation of Environmental Law."  The authors discuss a tidy, academic version of how environmental regulation takes place.  Then they contrast this tidy model with Phillip Morris' game plan for affecting legislative decisions.  By all accounts, Phillip Morris has been very effective in using various channels of information to shape tobacco public policy.  

Just like the tobacco industry, we've seen how effective big agribusiness has been in shaping agricultural policy in the past.  (Also see Prof. Ruhl's article- Farms, Their Harms and Environmental Law)

The authors relate this to the current climate change debate and how there is the possibility that this model can be used to distort the information about climate change. A very recent  example of this is Cowgate- National Cattlemen's Beef Association paid for a report that purported to find that beef consumption doesn't affect GHG emissions.(Click here for analysis and background).

Similarly, the Phillip Morris model has applications for the livestock industry, environmentalists, animal activists and other cultured meat enthusiasts who wish to shape environmental and agricultural policy.  I say -- "use it or lose it." If you don't want your side to "lose"-- you have to *ALL* the tools to affect positive legislative decisions. As Orlando's best DUI attorney, I believe that it is important to utilize all the tools at one's disposal. 

Friday, March 12, 2010

"Smart Balanced" Meat: introducing the world's first low fat beef

 Killer Meat
All around the world, cigarette makers are required carry labels such as the one in the picture on the right. Although meat may kill more people than cigarettes, no such label is required on meat--yet the World Health Organization found that diseases related to the over-consumption of meat, such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes, cause one-third of all deaths world-wide.

Scientists at the National Cancer Institute report (click here for pdf) those who eat 5 ounces of meat a day are 30% more likely to contract cancer or heart disease than  those who eat 2/3 oz of meat per day.  That's a big risk to take!

Get Lean with Cultured Meat?
While not totally alleviating health risks of meat consumption, cultured meat may be able to provide leaner and more balanced meat.  There are three main nutritional benefits to cultured meat production concerning fat production.

Benefit #1- Low Fat Cultured Meat
First, cultured meat will allow producers to control the fat content of the meat because the product would initially be pure muscle tissue.  So fat will be added for taste in any amount desired.   In vitro cultured beef could have the fat content of chicken or salmon.  Naturally, not all consumers will choose ground beef  with low fat content, so this health benefit would be limited by consumer choices.  But, the trend in reducing beef consumption in favor of poultry consumption shows that many consumers would be interested in a healthier beef product.

Benefit #2- “Smart Balanced” Meat
Secondly, even cultured meat that has the same total fat content, has the nutritional benefit of   providing meat that  balances the types of good with bad unsaturated fats.    Due to unnatural corn fed diets (see King Corn) the majority of beef from livestock has 20 times more “bad” omega 6 fatty acids than do grain fed
cows or cows found in the wild. (For more on Omega acids and livestock, click here)   Unlike traditional methods, which provide imbalanced  fat content due to livestock feeding,  cultured meat production will allow production of meat with a  nutritiously advantageous balance of fats.   So-called “beneficial” fats, such as Omega-3 poly-unsaturated fatty acids, found naturally in fish oils and synthetically in Smart Balance, could be introduced while keeping saturated fats to the minimum.   This is a tremendous health benefit!

 Benefit #3-  Diet Meat?
Finally, one suggested method of cultured meat production allows for consumption of meat that is relatively high in fat, but is not fattening.   Dr. Mironov, one of the leaders in the field of cultured meat, believes that consumers will be most be interested in the health benefits of cultured meat.   He suggests that chitosan should be used in the production of cultured meat.   Chitosan  is edible and would remain in the final meat product.   Chitosan  could absorb fat, but would not be digested. (Read more here)

My Thoughts
Personally, while I think the first two benefits are huge, this last benefit is a bit suspect to me.  One commenter remarked that chitosan reminded him of another fat free fatty food, P & G's short lived Olestra potato chips. As anyone can recall that idea ended up being a explosive disaster--literally.  Consumers of Olestra frequently complained of abdominal pain and sever cases of Montezuma's revenge.  Further, consumers weren't losing weight because they just ate more fatty foods to make up for the calories "saved" through eating olestra chips.

I think the lesson we can learn from olestra is that we consumers have to take responsibility for what we eat.  If cultured meat becomes a reality, it is imperative that cultured meat replace traditional meat, not be used to supplement our already dangerous eating habits.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Meet Cultured Meat: how do they make that stuff?


The most plausible method for cultured meat production is called the ‘scaffolding technique.’

 Here's how it works:

#1-  STARTING WITH STARTER CELLS - “Starter” cells from domestic animals such as cows or chickens are harvested through a biopsy and placed in very small cultures. (See Figure 1) 

 #2- SCAFFOLDS- The starter cells need a place to grown on.  These are called scaffolds.  (See Figure 2)  The scaffolds are biodegradable and can be made out of edible material such as collagen beads.

 #3 - STARTER + SCAFFOLD- The starter cells are then placed on the scaffolds (see Figure 3).

#4-  MAKING THE CELLS GROW- The scaffolds containing the cells would then be placed in a special type of vat called a bioreactor.  This is pretty similar to how beer or Quorn (soy chik nuggets) is made.
Once placed inside the bioreactor, the starter cells would be a nutritious (but delicious) soup called a growth medium.  (See Figure 4).   The growth medium contains a special mix of  nutrients which would provide natural ‘environmental cues’ that would tell the cells to grow.  (And they do grow-- it's a good thing that cells are so obedient!)

#5- SKINNY MEAT - The result is actual animal meat, but in the form of ultra-thin sheets of muscle cells.   The thin sheets would be vacuumed packed (see Figure 5)  and sent to a meat processing  facility in order to make a ground meat product, such as a hamburger.

#6 - YOU EAT YOUR BURGER-  I think you already know about this step.  (See Figure 6).

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Meet Cultured Meat: what's the difference between cloned meat and cultured meat?

 Growing meat with cultures in vitro is not the same thing as “cloning” meat.  Cloning meat typically involves the cloning of rDNA of prized cattle.  The cloned rDNA is then used to implant livestock such as a cow, pig or sheep when then give birth and are raised in the traditional fashion.  

While sometimes these concepts tend to grouped together, they are very different.  The FDA explicitly excluded cultured meat from its definition of cloning because  cultured meat only involves replication of cells in culture, not cloning of whole animals. 
Ranchers are cloning their prized cattle so that they can increase their meat yields.Unfortunately, cloning of cattle involves all the downsides of traditionally raised livestock (environmental harm, risk of food borne disease, etc).  One fact that many may be surprised to know is that most people have eaten cloned meat, they just don't know it.  I guess I should be more precise--you probably haven't eaten cloned meat just the offspring of cloned meat.  It would be too expensive to eat actual cloned meat, because it costs at least 15 grand to clone just one cow.
Because cultured meat will be grown in safe, clinical conditions, cultured meat has the possibility of reducing the environmental and health risks posed by cloned meat.  While cultured meat has critics of its own, conflation of the concepts is dangerous as the benefits and costs of the two types of biotechnologies differ greatly.

Below is a diagram showing how cultured meat is made.  For more information, you can read my post about how cultured meat is made.  You can also visit how stuff works for an interesting discussion (including videos) that show cultured meat is made.

Monday, January 18, 2010

How Tasty is a Big Macracanthorhynchus?

All you broke Wall Street types, take note:  Buy Worm-Mart stock and fast!  Due to our insatiable desire for animal protein, veterinary parasitology professors William C. Campbell, George A. Conder and Alan A. Marchiondo, predict that the worm industry will be on the rise. Writing in Veterinary Parasitology, Aug. 2009, the profs predict that because beef is so expensive, hazardous to our health and bad for the environment- we may need to make our Big Macs out of worms.

"Some day an enticing plate of vermicelli will not just look like ‘‘little worms’’–but actually be little worms. Even better-- it might be big worms. Macracanthorhynchus hirudinaceus would seem to be a good candidate: fat and juicy—the new Big Mac. Phrases such as ‘I’m going out and eat worms’ and ‘opening up a can of worms’ would take on a new meaning." Click here for full article via Science Direct).

The only problem they say, is that unless people start accepting cultured meat, we won't be able to produce enough worms to keep up with the demand!

Ah, I think that's just what the Frankenmeat naysayers need- a little bit of perspective.  If  the many prognosticators are right, a cultured hamburger sounds a lot tastier than a Big Macracanthorhynchus!

P.S. For those of you who still insist that cultured meat is gross, here's a recipe telling you how to fry up some tasty worms.  You better act fast, before this guy eats em' all himself!!!

Blog header image by Dan Salamanunder, licensed under Creative Commons by-nc-nd 2.0.