Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Famous Giant Mammoth Meatballs, Is This a Bad Joke?

An Australian company has grown a giant meatball in the laboratory from the flesh of mammoths, a species that went extinct 12,000 years ago. As he explains, the aim is to start a path towards more sustainable production of meat for human consumption. Is this a joke or are they serious?

What have you used to make an intricate mammoth meatball?

Land, water, energy and chemicals (such as fertilizers) are used to calculate the environmental footprint of a product. In the specific case of ruminants, the higher the meat base for use, the higher the environmental footprint. And in general, animal-based proteins have a larger footprint than plant proteins.

This gives rise to the legitimate and urgent challenge of finding more sustainable ways to produce proteins of animal origin. This universal need is the idea channeled by Australian company VOWFOOD to advertise its giant meatballs, betting on lab meat as a solution to the problem. You have to read the fine print though.

Sustainability is a good argument for convincing consumers of the benefits of a business idea. But is it true that lab-grown meat is more sustainable than conventional production?

All content from Lab Meet Sustainability

If we examine the published literature on the subject, all that glitters is not gold. One of the most recent sustainability posts on this topic, published in Sustainability, is one funded by one of the lab meat producing companies. Therefore, it is not surprising that it has benefits in its conclusion.

The study concludes that 1 kg of meat produced by this alternative method produces 87% less greenhouse gases, requires 39% less energy, demands 90% less land, and is less expensive than 1 kg of meat obtained from livestock. 96% less water is required.

However, these estimates do not balance all the elements of the equation. For example, the energy costs of building, maintaining, and cleaning a laboratory for cultivating animal cells are not taken into account. There is also no energy cost to generate the components needed for cell culture. There is little land and water used by the factories where these components have been produced. What’s more, only meat production is taken into account and not the added value provided by livestock (milk production and derivatives, leather industry, land clearing, etc.).

Furthermore, comparisons are made by focusing on intensive farming without considering small farmers and extensive farming. In short, an unfair comparison is made to livestock and beneficial to meat production in the laboratory.

Energy and waste

In another article published in Environmental Science & Technology, in this case without conflict of interest, they conduct a comparative study between laboratory meat production and livestock based on estimates of energy expenditure. They concluded that laboratory production might require smaller amounts of agricultural input and land than animal husbandry, but those advantages would come at the cost of higher energy expenditure.

Along these same lines, a more recent article published in Frontiers in Nutrition concludes that it is difficult for artificial meat production to match the relatively low cost of conventionally produced meat. The work indicates that sterilization, an essential process for the commercialization of these products, increases the energy and environmental costs of artificial meat production. And he comes to the conclusion that the amount of waste generated by artificial production today exceeds the amount of waste generated by conventional production.

Without killing animals, but using artificial hormones and supplements

In addition to economic and environmental factors, we must also consider ethical and social factors, as explained in another article published in Foods.

The possibility of producing meat without slaughtering animals is a clear advantage. However, the artificial production process requires the use of chemical products, for example, hormones and artificial supplements, which turn these products into ultra-processed products, and many studies prove that this type of food is harmful. There is a negative impact on health.

Furthermore, assessing impacts needs to consider how it affects farmers and ranchers, especially small-scale producers and those in underdeveloped economies that depend on livestock production for income and wealth.

The Australian company promotes its meatballs by saying that they are made from mammoth meat. Is it true?

Fake giant meat: something similar to benign tumor tissue

If we analyze the method used for this “meatball”, we see once again that it is not made from a mammoth.

They used a piece of DNA that encodes a giant protein, myoglobin, which is present in all mammals with minor sequence modifications. As the mammoth sequence is not known precisely, they are based on a mixture of elephant myoglobin, the mammal evolutionarily closest to the mammoth. They have introduced the resulting DNA, a chimeric gene, into undifferentiated sheep cells, which they have then stimulated with growth factors to divide and differentiate into muscle cells. At present, it is not suitable for human consumption.

In fact, we’re talking about eating meat made from a bunch of cells grown in the lab to generate masses of transgenic sheep cells (somewhat similar to benign tumor tissue), including those from mammoth and elephant hybrid myoglobins. DNA is sequenced.

For the time being, we chose good fodder from the cows grazing nearby.

Ainhoa ​​Iglesias Ara, Full Professor of Genetics, University of the Basque Country/University of the Basque Country and Asier Fulaondo, Prof. Agregado Genetica, UPV/EHU, Universidad del Pais Vasco/Basque Country University

Nation World News Desk
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