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Trends in Industry » Case Studies

Title: New Lab-Created Animal Protein Replacements Need Careful Assessment
Publication date: August 28, 2018
Posting date: August 28, 2018

THIRD WORLD NETWORK BIOSAFETY INFORMATION SERVICE


Dear Friends and Colleagues

New Lab-Created Animal Protein Replacements Need Careful Assessment

Significant investment has been made in the research and development of non-plant based products in an attempt to mimic animal-based products, ranging from animal tissue grown from animal cell cultures with animal serum, to proteins produced by genetically engineered algae and yeast. A new report by Friends of the Earth U.S. raises key concerns over the growing interest in “meat and dairy alternatives” other than plant-based products.

Over a 52-week period ending in August 2017, U.S. retail sales of plant-based milk alternatives generated $1.5 billion in sales, with a growth rate of 3.1%. The new animal replacement products are being marketed or promoted as “clean meat,” “animal-free,” “plant-based” or “climate-friendly,” but with questionable substantiation. These second-generation, lab-created animal protein replacement products are not yet proven to be safe or sustainable by regulators or via transparent, independent third-party assessments. Rather, the report highlights, there are increasing concerns and questions that remain unanswered.

These engineered substances may also be resource intensive in their use of energy and water, as well as using feedstocks, like sugar and methane, and chemicals. For example, chemicals like hexane are used to extract components of a food, like proteins (from peas, soy, corn etc.) or compounds (from genetically engineered bacteria) to make xanthan gum. Currently, however, disclosure of these ingredients is not required. Other processing aids (e.g. bacteria, yeast, algae), including those that are genetically engineered to produce proteins, are also not currently required to be disclosed on package labeling. The lack of transparency makes it difficult to assess the inputs and impact of their use.

If highly processed engineered foods, manufactured in laboratories with new, unassessed food ingredients and processes are going to replace even some of the existing animal protein from farm-based systems, the report stresses that these novel food ingredients need to be carefully vetted. The true cost of second-generation animal replacement proteins has not been fully assessed, but should be before these products enter the market and food supply at scale.

 

With best wishes,

Third World Network
131 Jalan Macalister
10400 Penang
Malaysia
Email: twn@twnetwork.org
Websites: http://www.twn.my/and http://www.biosafety-info.net/
To subscribe to other TWN information services: www.twnnews.net

____________________________________________________________________________

FROM LAB TO FORK - CRITICAL QUESTIONS ON LAB-CREATED ANIMAL PRODUCT ALTERNATIVES

By Dana Perls
Friends of the Earth U.S.
June 2018
http://foe.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/From-Lab-to-Fork-1.pdf

[EXCERPTS ONLY]

Background

For hundreds of years, people around the world have incorporated plant-based proteins like tofu into their diets. As problems with the increasingly industrial approach to livestock production have become widely known, interest in “meat and dairy alternatives” other than plant-based products has also increased. Most recently, significant investment has been made in the research and development of non-plant based products in an attempt to mimic animal-based products, ranging from animal tissue grown from animal cell cultures with animal serum, to proteins produced by genetically engineered algae and yeast.

The makers of this new wave of products claim to minimize the environmental impact of industrial factory farming by replacing animal products with synthetic products; but these engineered substances may also be resource intensive in their use of energy and water, as well as using feedstocks, like sugar and methane, and chemicals. The new animal replacement products are being marketed or promoted as “clean meat,” “animal-free,” “plant-based” or “climate-friendly,” but with questionable substantiation.

This departure from plant-based foods includes a batch of biotech product proposals. Memphis Meats, for example, is developing “the world’s first cultured meatball” and “cultured poultry,”1 by using animal serum to grow animal cells into tissues. Other companies are using genetic engineering to manufacture ingredients that mimic animal proteins. For example, Impossible Foods has genetically engineered yeast to produce “plant blood” (leghemoglobin “heme” protein) for its “bleeding plant-based burger,” and Finless Foods has genetically engineered algae to produce protein for its “algae-based shrimp.” In addition, several other animal replacement proposals with ingredients derived from genetically engineered yeast include Geltor’s gelatin replacement, Perfect Day’s milk replacement and Clara Foods’ egg white replacement.

Conclusion

Second-generation, lab-created animal protein replacement products are not yet proven to be safe or sustainable by regulators or via transparent, independent third-party assessments. Rather, there are increasing concerns and questions that remain unanswered, and existing analyses show that these products may be problems masquerading as solutions.

New food ingredients, especially those derived from emerging technologies, should be required to be assessed for safety before being allowed to be used in food or going to market. Safety concerns have already been raised regarding these products, which are not considerations for plant and animal-based foods produced through regenerative organic farming. Whether these new lab-created animal replacement products will be widely accepted by an increasingly discerning public that demands “real” food, along with transparency and sustainability in the food system, remains to be seen.

Companies making animal replacement products using genetic engineering and in vitro processes are making a range of claims to position their products as more sustainable than their animal product counterparts. If highly processed engineered foods, manufactured in laboratories with new, unassessed food ingredients and processes are going to replace even some of the existing animal protein from farm-based systems, then these novel food ingredients need to be carefully vetted. We recognize and applaud those looking for ways to shift away from unsustainable and inhumane factory farming, but we must carefully evaluate the benefits, and identify and mitigate the costs and inadvertent consequences, of alternatives. The true cost of second-generation animal replacement proteins has not been fully assessed, but should be before these products enter the market and our food supply at scale.


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