NO-DEATH MEAT Joanna Blythman explores the lab-grown meat in­dus­try

New al­ter­na­tives to butcher­ing an­i­mals are be­ing ex­plored

BBC Good Food - - Contents - Joanna Blythman @joannablyth­man

Some big global food com­pa­nies, backed by wealthy in­vestors such as Bill Gates and Richard Bran­son, are pre­dict­ing a global rev­o­lu­tion in the way we eat. ‘I be­lieve that in 30 years or so we will no longer need to kill any an­i­mals and that all meat will ei­ther be clean or plant-based’, says Mr Bran­son.

What does he mean? There are two propo­si­tions on the ta­ble at the mo­ment. The first, no-death or ‘clean’ meat, is still at the ex­per­i­men­ta­tion stage. The idea is to ex­tract stem cells from live an­i­mals or butchered meat, cul­ture them in ei­ther serum from cow’s blood, or an­other type of pro­tein and sugar, where they will mul­ti­ply and form an ag­glom­er­a­tion that could be called ‘meat’, even if it isn’t meat as we cur­rently know it. The sec­ond propo­si­tion, ‘plant meat’, is es­sen­tially an up­dated ver­sion of the ve­gan meat sub­sti­tutes that are made from highly pro­cessed pow­ders of soya, maize, or wheat. In the past these haven’t looked or tasted re­motely like meat, but in the US, the Im­pos­si­ble Foods com­pany has made a big break­through. It’s mak­ing a ‘plant meat’ us­ing a ge­net­i­cally en­gi­neered form of pro­tein, soy leghe­moglobin (SLH), a type of iron found in the root nod­ules of soy­bean plants, which it says gives the fake meat a ‘bloody’, meat-like taste and red colour. In burger form, it’s al­ready on sale in a few restau­rants in the US. Nei­ther of these death-free meats makes my gas­tric juices flow. Al­most any­thing can be made palat­able if it’s formed into a patty and served in a bun along with melt­ing cheese and pick­les, but isn’t real meat much more than a cel­lu­lar pro­tein sludge? Even the most bril­liant food en­gi­neers can’t repli­cate the unique flavour and tex­ture of a juicy chicken thigh or suc­cu­lent pork belly. And of course, there are unan­swered ques­tions about how these ‘fu­ture meats’ might af­fect hu­man health. Here, for in­stance, is what the US Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion says about the use of soy leghe­moglobin (SLH) in plant meat: ‘The cur­rent ar­gu­ments at hand were not enough to es­tab­lish the safety of SLH for con­sump­tion.’

It’s ter­ri­bly fash­ion­able to adopt a ‘plant-based’ diet, but for me, the anti-meat cri­tique is ex­ces­sive. I’ve seen an­i­mals be­ing slaugh­tered calm, and in­stantly. We shouldn’t use worst-case sce­nar­ios to damn all slaugh­ter. And it seems to me that if you’re ve­gan, or hate the idea of killing an­i­mals for food, then it would be bet­ter to stick to a plant-based diet than eat im­poster meat. I’m an om­ni­vore, but I’d much rather be­come a veg­e­tar­ian than eat these ul­tra-pro­cessed high-tech sub­sti­tutes. Al­most big­ger than my neg­a­tive gut re­ac­tion is my prob­lem with the ter­mi­nol­ogy. If we sur­ren­der the def­i­ni­tion of meat, we’re blur­ring a crit­i­cal di­vi­sion be­tween real food, as na­ture made it, and pro­cessed food, as re­designed in the lab. We tra­duce the very mean­ing of ‘meat’ by re­duc­ing it to dis­em­bod­ied com­po­nents that can be tin­kered with. I’ve seen sev­eral over-hyped ‘fu­ture food so­lu­tions’ come and go. Hope­fully, ar­ti­fi­cial meat is yet an­other one.

Good Food con­tribut­ing editor Joanna is an award-win­ning jour­nal­ist who has writ­ten about food for 25 years. She is also a reg­u­lar con­trib­u­tor to BBC Ra­dio 4.

A type of iron found in soy­bean plants gives the fake meat a ‘bloody’ meat-like taste

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