Lab grown meat is all the craze right now with four companies on the forefront Mosa Meat, Memphis Meat, Hampton Creek Food, Finless Food (Fish), the last three being located in the Bay Area. Is lab grown meat aka clean meat such a good idea? Here is my own perspective.
The price tag
It takes a lot of development to grow cells properly in a foreign environment and even more if it is a highly differentiated cell such as a muscle cell or its precursor. To grow those cells in culture you need a liquid medium, the equivalent if you will of the blood or plasma of an animal. Hard to compare both as media is not as complete as animal blood. Maybe one day we will have artificial blood but we are not there yet. In fact, most media contains fetal calf serum, obviously an animal product. And it is horrible just to think about it. You can get rid of it but you’ll need a lot of research and money to achieve that. You need to add the right peptide, growth factor, hormones so your cells will grow in that environment. You can synthesize those in bacteria or yeast. Some companies are really being honest right now that it costs a lot of money to just produce a burger in this manner, others are not so transparent and promise that by next year they’ll have a product…
BTW, this picture is totally fake. It’s real meat in there…
The environment factor
So are you really going to save the environment if you eat clean meat? Let me do a little bit of number crunching here.
Earlier this year there was a devastating report on how cheap meat releases more greenhouse gases than the leading oil companies. The facts are the facts and we can all agree on that, but I would like to put an emphasis on cheap meat. This is the key work. Cheap meat also comes from unhumanely raised animals. Animals for cheap meat are raised on grains, not exactly natural. What is the solution: conventionally raised cattles and animals. In fact as Marion Nestle report in her blog Food Politics, traditionally raised cattle could help fight climate change.
If you think about it, a cow is the intermediate between us and the plant world. They harvest the grass (that we don’t naturally eat), concentrate it in their stomach with all the good nutrients and fertilize the soil in return. But if you feed cows corn and soy, then these have to be harvested and transported to the animals using trucks and tractors and at the end of the day you have an animal that is not very healthy. It just does not make sense. How did we get there? I think that meat consumption is way too high. The demand drives this sort of industry.
–>We don’t need to eat that much meat, save your money to buy quality meat.
Is the clean meat environmentally superior? Maybe, if we compare it to traditionally grown meat. But a clean burger is artificially produced in a lab using tons of water to grow cells in bioreactor. The used water ultimately goes in hold tanks to get decontaminated and filtered to go back to the environment. This process is far from perfect. Did you know that the pill that you take every morning ends up in your pee and some of those drugs never disappear and end up contaminating our water sources and soil? Same thing could happen with some of the media component: hormones, growth factors, peptides…
The nutrition factor
Last but not least is the nutrition factor. Clean meat is very clean, in fact too clean. It’s just that: muscle cells. Meat is so much more than muscle. You have the cartilage, the bones, the fat, the blood. It might sound a little gruesome but it is nevertheless one of the most nutrient dense food. So clean meat is not really meat. Muscles is good to eat but the amino acid profile is not optimal, it’s only when you mix it with the other things that things look a little bit better.
Another factor to consider is the role of the animal’s gut microbiota in making some of the grass nutrients available to us. Let’s take vitamin K for example. Vitamin K can be found in plant matter but it is not in the bioavailable form. It has to be converted by the gut microbiome into MK2. We can only find MK2 in animal products and fermented products too.
And then, let’s consider Omega3s. Omega 3 is present in plant matter but again not bioavailable and needs to be enzymatically converted into bioavailable Omega 3. This enzymatic reaction, is often limited in mammals so we have to get them from animals who also convert it from plants to a certain extent.
Will you try it?
I don’t think I’ll ever try lab grown meat. Having spend too much time in the lab, it really does not appeal to me. I think that researchers are well intentioned but also riding the plant based movement right now wanting to offer other alternatives.
I would say put the money in fixing our agriculture and educating people about the choices they make regarding meat. Clean up the environment and then we’ll get to the true clean meat.