by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Meat substitutes

Apr 6 2023

Annals of cell-cultured meat: woolly mammoth meatballs?

My son Charles, who lives in Los Angeles, sent me this gem from the L.A. Times: “The woolly mammoth is back — in the form of a meatball.”

A woolly mammoth meatball has been created from the animal’s DNA — 4,000 years after the beast went extinct.

The dish is made of cultured meat, grown in labs from animal cells. It used the DNA of the woolly mammoth, together with fragments of DNA from an African elephant, which is the animal’s closest relative still alive today.  Vow, the Australian company that created the food...said it hopes that the project will challenge people to reassess the climate damage caused by cows and other livestock.

I knew you would want to know about this.

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Mar 2 2023

Keeping up with cell-based cultured meat

I don’t know about you but I’m riveted by what’s in the pipeline for cell cultured meat alternatives.   Here are some recent items I’ve been collecting.

Products under development

State of the industry

State of the techno-food scene

Comment

Cell-based meat, meat-plus-algae, and pet food are not yet on the US market so it’s too early to see what they taste like and how well they will do.  I see these products as mostly about mergers, acquisitions, and generating lots of money for investors, which is why I included the Soylent event (Soylent is a nutrient supplement drink, but I put it in the same category of “techno-food”).

Jan 31 2023

Impossible Foods picks a public fight with a reporter

When I saw this tweet from Tom Philpott, I knew immediately what it was about.

I had seen Deena Shanker’s investigative report in Bloomberg News, not least because I’m quoted in it: Fake Meat Was Supposed to Save the World. It Became Just  Another Fad.

The article’s subtitle: “Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods wanted to upend the world’s $1 trillion meat industry. But plant-based meat is turning out to be a flop.”

And then I saw this ad in the January 22 New York Times.

Anonymous Reddit writers saying things like “I suspect it’s coming form [sic] a news outlet paid money to write an article by people who make money from meat sales.”

A badge of honor for Deena Shanker indeed.  Clearly, she hit a nerve.

Meat alternatives still have their fans and I’m not ready to write off fake meat just yet.   But this ad makes me much less sympathetic to this particular Cause.

Ironic addition, January 30: Impossible Foods to lay off 20% of its staff.

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Dec 22 2022

My latest update on plant-based meat and dairy substitutes

Much is happening in the plant-based food sector.  I love trying to keep up with it.

First, the bad, or somewhat bad, news:

Next, the new product launches:

And where the industry might be headed:

Comment: Despite the current drop in sales, I don’t see these products disappearing off the shelves.  There is a demand or them among people who do not want to eat meat or dairy foods for reasons of health, animal welfare, or the environment.  The products need to taste good if they are going to continue to sell.  And they need to become more food-based rather than ingredient-based if they are to overcome concerns about their meeting definitions of ultra-processed.

I will keep following this sector with great interest.  Stay tuned.

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Nov 28 2022

Industry-funded study of the week: a rare negative outcome

Beyond Meat is taking a beating these days, and this study only adds to its  woes.

Assessing the effects of alternative plant-based meats v. animal meats on biomarkers of inflammation: a secondary analysis of the SWAP-MEAT randomized crossover trial.  Crimarco A, Landry MJ, Carter MM, Gardner CD.  J Nutr Sci.  2022;11:e82.  doi:10.1017/jns.2022.84

Abstract: Alternative plant-based meats have grown in popularity with consumers recently and researchers are examining the potential health effects, or risks, from
consuming these products…the purpose of this work was to conduct a secondary analysis of…a randomised crossover trial that involved generally healthy adults eating 2 or more servings of plant-based meats per day for 8 weeks (i.e. Plant phase) followed by 2 or more servings of animal meats per day for 8 weeks (i.e. Animal phase). Results of linear mixed-effects models indicated only 4 out of 92 biomarkers reached statistical significance. The results were contrary to our hypothesis, since we expected relative improvements in biomarkers of inflammation from the plant-based meats.

Conflicts of interest: “Gardner [the senior author] received gift funding from Beyond Meat which was used to conduct the original research study.”

Comment:  This is a follow up to the original research, which I wrote about previously.  That study found a positive result:

A diet that includes an average of two servings of plant-based meat alternatives lowers some cardiovascular risk factors compared with a diet that instead includes the same amount of animal meat…This study found several beneficial effects and no adverse effects from the consumption of plant-based meats.

The investigators tested the effects of substituting Beyond Meat for animal meats on 92 biomarkers of inflammation.  They found hardly any to be improved by the Beyond Meat substitution.

This disappointed the investigators but I’ll bet it disappointed Beyond Meat even more.

This study was not specifically funded by Beyond Meat.

This work was supported by Stanford University’s Precision Health and Integrated Diagnostics Center (PHIND) and in part by a training grant from the NIH National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute [T32 HL007034].

It is consistent with the overall observation that industry-funded research tends to find results favorable to the sponsor’s interest; independently funded research can go either way.  See my book, Unsavory Truth, for details and references.

Thanks to Stephen Zwick for sending this one.

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Nov 23 2022

Plant-based meat alternatives: the latest not-good news

Uh oh.  Plenty of bad news in the plant-based meat arena.

I.  Partnership with health organizations. 

The plant-based meat company, Beyond Meat, is partnering with the American Cancer Society to sponsor research on the potential benefits of plant-based meat to cancer preventon.

Beyond Meat, Inc., a leader in plant-based meat, and the American Cancer Society (ACS), today announced a multi-year agreement to advance research on plant-based meat and cancer prevention, as well as to help ACS continue to build the foundation of plant-based meat and diet data collection. The commitment aims to advance the understanding of how plant-based meats contribute to healthy diet patterns and their potential role in cancer prevention and is a crucial step towards long-term research in the plant-based protein field.

Here’s the Cancer Society’s rationale:

Since 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified red meat as a carcinogen that increases the risk of colorectal cancer, and recent studies also suggest a possible role of red and/or processed meats in increasing the risk of breast cancer and certain forms of prostate cancer.  For years, the American Cancer Society investigators conducted foundational work identifying the link of red and processed meat to cancer…ACS guidelines point to evidence of a significant link between high red and processed meat consumption and an increased risk of colorectal cancer as the primary reason for the recommendation to limit those products.

OK, but research sponsored by a company that stands to benefit from studies showing a benefit of highly processed plant-based meat substitutes?

My prediction: the studies will show benefits.

If the ACS wants such studies, it should fund them on its own.

II.  Dirty factories.

Bloomberg News has a report on unclean and unsafe conditions in a Beyond Meat factory.

Photos and internal documents from a Beyond Meat Inc. plant in Pennsylvania show apparent mold, Listeria and other food-safety issues, compounding problems at a factory the company had expected to play a major role in its future.

III.  Loss of customers.

The New York Times says Beyond Meat is struggling.

But these days, Beyond Meat has lost some of its sizzle.

Its stock has slumped nearly 83 percent in the past year. Sales, which the company had expected to rise as much as 33 percent this year, are now likely to show only minor growth…In late October, the company said it was laying off 200 people, or 19 percent of its work force. And four top executives have departed in recent months, including the chief financial officer, the chief supply chain officer and the chief operating officer, whom Beyond Meat had suspended after his arrest on allegations that he bit another man’s nose in a parking garage altercation.

What investors and others are debating now is whether Beyond Meat’s struggles are specific to the company or a harbinger of deeper issues in the plant-based meat industry.

IV.  Business issues.

The Wall Street Journal reports: “Beyond Meat’s Very Real Problems: Slumping Sausages, Mounting Losses.”

Mr. Brown has said Beyond and other meat-alternative companies are facing challenges as they compete with less expensive real meat at a time of inflation and consumer uncertainty over the health benefits of what many see as highly processed products.

IV.  More research needed.

A study looking at the implications of replacing meat with plant-based alternatives makes that point clearly.

See: Santo RE, et al.  Considering Plant-Based Meat Substitutes and Cell-Based Meats: A Public Health and Food Systems Perspective.  Front. Sustain. Food Syst., 31 August 2020.

Research to date suggests that many of the purported environmental and health benefits of cell-based meat are largely speculative…The broader socioeconomic and political implications of replacing farmed meat with meat alternatives merit further research.

An additional factor to consider is that much of the existing research on plant-based substitutes and cell-based meats has been funded or commissioned by companies developing these products, or by other organizations promoting these products.

Of course we need more research.  Don’t we always?

The bottom line:  It’s hard to convince people to like fake foods, especially when they are expensive.

Soylent Green, anyone?

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Nov 7 2022

Conflicted study of the week: plant-based meat alternatives

A big question for discussion is whether plant-based meat alternatives are better for health and the environment than regulat meat.  Are they?  Here is one study.

Plant-based animal product alternatives are healthier and more environmentally sustainable than animal products.  
Christopher J. Bryant.  Front Nutr.  2022 Jul 19;9:934438.   doi: 10.3389/fnut.2022.934438. eCollection 2022.

Rationale:   There are strong reasons to move away from industrial animal agriculture for the good of the environment, animals, our personal health, and public health. Plant-based animal product alternatives (PB-APAs) represent a highly feasible way to reduce animal product consumption, since they address the core consumer decision drivers of taste, price, and convenience.

Method: This paper reviews 43 studies on the healthiness and environmental sustainability of PB-APAs compared to animal products.

Findings:  In terms of environmental sustainability, PB-APAs are more sustainable compared to animal products across a range of outcomes including greenhouse gas emissions, water use, land use, and other outcomes. In terms of healthiness, PB-APAs present a number of benefits, including generally favourable nutritional profiles, aiding weight loss and muscle synthesis, and catering to specific health conditions.

Conclusion:  As more conventional meat producers move into plant-based meat products, consumers and policymakers should resist naturalistic heuristics about PB-APAs and instead embrace their benefits for the environment, public health, personal health, and animals.

Conflict of interest: Although there is no specific conflict of interest or funding related to this project, the author is an independent research consultant and works with alternative protein companies.

Comment:  You would think that plant-based meat alternatives would be better for the environment than beef but without an agreed-upon method for assessing environmental impact, much depends on researchers’ assumptions.  This literature review was done by a consultant who does research for companies making alternative-to-meat proteins.   His conclusion based on his study—the takeover of small plant-based meat companies by Big Meat is a Good Thing—is predictable from his conflicted interest.  I’d prefer an independent assessment of the environmental implications of these products.

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Nov 4 2022

Weekend reading: Nature Food on Cellular Agriculture

TODAY: Petaluma, 140 Kentucky, Copperfield’s Books, 7:00 p.m.  Information is here.

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Nature Food has an issue devoted largely to the topic of cell-based meat.

It is worth reading for getting an idea of where current thinking is on this issue, and also because of Phil Howard’s latest take on power on industry the cellular food category.

See his commentary article below.

Research Highlight: The price is right for artificial meat, Anne Mullen

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