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article imageEssential science: What is the future of lab-grown meat?

By Tim Sandle     Jan 21, 2019 in Science
A meatless food industry featuring lab-grown meat, plus variants of seafood substitutes, and insect protein could represent the future of food. Considerable investment is going into each of these food technologies. We take a look at these issues.
According to a report from CBInsights, alternative meat products represents potentially big business. For this reason, major food giants from Tyson to Cargill are researching and investing in a future where most people will obtain their protein from sources other than traditional animal-based products.
As it stands currently, meat dominates the protein portion of our diets, and the report indicates that 30 percent of the calories consumed globally by humans come from meat product such as beef, chicken, and pork. Moreover, around 95 pounds of meat per capita have been consumed every year over the last few years, a number that has grown by 44 pounds since 1961.
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This equates to a large number of animals grown for food. For instance, the report finds there are over 30 million beef cows in the U.S. It also follows the global meat production has grown 4-5 fold globally since 1961 — all to meet the growing demand for animal products from a growing global population.
There are various reasons why meat alternatives are being considered. One reason is linked to health: meat can be high in saturated fats. Lamb, pork, beef and duck are considered the worst culprits, and too many sat fats can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and high cholesterol.
Being a Morrissey concert  no meat products were on sale inside the venue.
Being a Morrissey concert, no meat products were on sale inside the venue.
This reliance upon meat production is not sustainable for the planet, in terms of the growing population and the adverse impact animal husbandry has on the environment. In terms of the environment, a review by the University of Oxford found: “Livestock farming has a vast environmental footprint. It contributes to land and water degradation, biodiversity loss, acid rain, coral reef degeneration and deforestation.”
The environmental impact is one reason why alternatives are being considered. What are these alternatives?
Lab-grown meat
File Photo: Mosa Meat has improved on the quality of lab-grown meats. This is a real hamburger  made...
File Photo: Mosa Meat has improved on the quality of lab-grown meats. This is a real hamburger, made with Mosa's lab-grown meat.
Mosa Meat / media photo
Laboratory grown meat refers to meat grown in cell culture instead of inside animals – what is referred to as 'cellular agriculture'. With the process, the meat is produced using the same tissue engineering techniques traditionally used in regenerative medicine. Here laboratory staff collect stem cells from the tissue. They then multiply them dramatically and allow them to differentiate into primitive fibers. These fibers can then be bulked up to form sufficient mass of muscle tissue. The scientific concept is not new (it dates back to the 1930s); however, it is only since the early 2000s that technology has sufficiently advanced to make the concept tangible.
The techniques needed for developing cultured meat require a technologist to take muscle cells and then apply a protein that triggers tissue growth, and a number of companies and research institutes have been investing in this.
The first success was with a full lab-grown cultured beef burger patty, produced in 2013, engineered by Dr. Mark Post at Maastricht University. This was followed by something regarded as more edible by Mosa Meat.
The prospect of commercially available lab-grown meat is edging closer to reality, as Karen Graham reported for Digital Journal. Mosa Meat, a Dutch company, presented the world's first lab-grown beef burger five years ago. Now the company says it has received funding to pursue its plans to make and sell artificially grown meat to restaurants starting in 2021. This is with regulatory approval too, at least in the U.S. Paul Wallis has recounted how the U.S. FDA and USDA are to jointly regulate lab grown meat, in a major new development.
Insects are eaten as a source of protein in many parts of the world (what’s called entomophagy). However, the practice is not as popular in the west and some societies are openly hostile to the fact. This countered by the facts that insects can provide a cheap source of protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals.
Many scientists argue, however, that insects provide a sustainable form of protein (insects produce fewer greenhouse gases and less ammonia than cattle or pigs) and one that does not risk environmental damage. Furthermore, it is said, insects have numerous attributes that make them attractive sources of highly nutritious and sustainable food.
In terms of sustainability, to produce 1 kilo of beef, requires 10 times more plant matter than is needed to produce 1 kilogram of insect protein. These themes are captured in a report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. The report says that eating insects could help boost nutrition and reduce pollution.
The potential of using insects as food is leading to considerable investment, and several manufacturers are working on producing flour from crickets, mealworms, and other insects. Here an Oklahoma startup called All Things Bugs (with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation) is developing a finely-milled cricket powder that can be supplemented as a base ingredient in recipes.
Seafood alternatives
Environmentally friendly shrimp  without the shrimp.
Environmentally friendly shrimp, without the shrimp.
New Wave Foods via Twitter
Also in place of meat, artificial seafood supplements are being considered by researchers. As an example, Pennsylvania-based startup Good Catch Foods raised $8.7 million in Series A funding in April 2018 to develop vegetarian 'forms' of tuna, crab cakes, and fish patties. This is in the hope that enough vegetarians wish to taste seafood, while avoiding eating actual sea creatures.
Essential science]
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This article is part of Digital Journal's regular Essential Science columns. Each week Tim Sandle explores a topical and important scientific issue. Last week we outlined how a new compound, identified in coffee, has been shown to be a potential treatment in the fight against neurodegenerative conditions like Parkinson’s disease and Lewy body dementia, according to new research
The week before, we described how a new bacterium has been discovered in ancient Irish soil has been shown to be capable of halting the growth of certain ‘superbugs’. The discovery offers new hope for tackling antibiotic resistance.
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