by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Meat substitutes

Feb 24 2021

Fungal protein, veganism, and venture capital

I don’t usually pay attention to press releases for food products but this one caught my eye.

Just announced, Nature’s Fynd, the buzzworthy food-tech company growing a nutritional fungi protein named Fy™ that recently raised over $150M in equity and debt financing, opened preorders for a limited release for its Fy Breakfast Bundle…Nature’s Fynd is solving a massive agricultural (and business) need.

The business need I get.  As one of my readers, Kristin Ohlson pointed out, this is an example of “veganism meets venture capital.”

The agricultural need?

Their breakthrough fermentation technology only requires only a fraction of the water, land, and energy of traditional protein sources. And thanks to the natural resilience and efficiency of Fy’s base organism, they make Fy emitting 99% less greenhouse gases, and using 99% less land and 87% less water than processing beef. Plus, the products are incredibly tasty and Fy is good for your body—containing all nine essential amino acids and fiber, with no cholesterol or trans fats. It’s also vegan and certified non-GMO.

Does this remind anyone of Quorn, which the Center for Science in the Public Interest has been complaining about for years?

Despite what some of the manufacturer’s marketing materials indicated, the fungus used in Quorn is only distantly related to mushrooms, truffles, or morels. While all are members of the fungus kingdom, Quorn is made from a less appetizing fungus (or mold) called Fusarium venenatum (venenatum is the Latin word for venomous).

Fy protein comes from Fusar­i­um  flavolapis, which they got out of some Yellowstone hot spring (with permission).

I hope they have done some allergy testing.

I’d like to see the ingredient lists for some of these products.

For the moment, I’ll stick with food.

Feb 16 2021

Cell-based meats: an skeptical update

Cell-based meat substitutes are not yet on the market in the United States, but they are of great interest, and here’s why.

Singapore has approved them:  Eat Just, Inc., a company that applies cutting-edge science and technology to create healthier, more sustainable foods, today announced that, after a rigorous consultation and review process, its cultured chicken has been approved for sale in Singapore as an ingredient in chicken bites.

A Singapore restaurant is serving cell-based chicken nuggets At the debut, the restaurant served cultured chicken from the brand GOOD Meat, affiliated with Eat Just, a sustainable food startup based in the U.S. The event followed the regulatory approval of the product by Singapore…“I’m speechless,” an 11-year-old patron of the restaurant said in a press release. “It will save a lot of animals’ lives and it will be a lot more sustainable … It feels good to have chicken without feeling guilty.”  [Comment: Do we really need cell-based chicken nuggets?]

There is a lot of money riding on these products: A company in Israel has gotten the price down to $7.50 per “chicken breast,” and just got nearly $27 million in funding.  [Prices are going to have to go down a lot further before anyone other than the rich will buy them]

Another Isreali company is producing 3-D printed steaks: Aleph Farms, based in Israel, unveiled the first 3-D-printed ribeye steak, using a culture of live animal tissue and “broadening the scope of alt-meat in what is expected to be a rich area of expansion for food companies.”  This used “a culture of live animal tissue, in what could be a leap forward for lab-grown meat once it receives regulatory approval.”  [Do we need 3-D printed food?]  

The meat may be fake, but the proIfits are real

If this sounds too good to be true, it probably is.  Indeed, as this article maintains, “There’s a giant, undiscussed, confounding party at the table: the world’s richest investors, and the delicious returns they expect for saving the world.”

Meat imitation technologies can deliver staggering profits and act as a lever to transition from a destructive animal diet—but we must recognize that those two potentialities are necessarily in conflict….When the chips are down, fiduciary obligations will always privilege profit over the moral aspirations of these patent-clutching geniuses. In its present composition, the new-meat dream will let us down. Its affinity for and resemblance to agribusiness will ultimately prolong the hegemony of animal slaughter, not challenge it.

Dec 10 2020

Some odd items, just for fun

I’ve been collecting intriguing items about new foods and supplements, soon to be at a supermarket near you.

Nov 5 2020

The latest on cell-based meat

USDA to launch rulemaking process for labeling of cell-cultured meat; ‘success will turn, in large measure, on the nomenclature used,’ says attorney: How should meat grown from cultured animal cells be labeled? In a joint FDA/USDA webinar, officials said they would work together to come up with joint principles to govern the labeling of products under their respective jurisdictions (FDA: seafood; USDA: livestock & poultry) before launching a rulemaking and comment process, although no firm timetable has yet been established…. Read more.

  • You can watch a video about regulation of these products here.
  • The joint framework for regulation is here.

FoodNavigator-USA.com has been collecting items on cell-based meats.  I’ve selected a few of interest.  For others, click here.

Oct 8 2020

An update on plant-based proteins

Plant-based is big business.  Want to find out just how big?

One week to go: FREE plant-based meat webinar with Impossible Foods, Beyond Meat, Meati Foods, Planterra Foods, GFI: Where is the plant-based meat category heading, and how reliable are some of the predictions out there about how much this market could be worth over the next 10-15 years?… Read more

Two food business newsletters featured these products recently.  Here are a few selections (for the complete lcollections, click on the heading links).

FoodNavigator-USA’s Special Edition: Plant-based protein trends

From pea, soy and wheat to canola, which plant-based proteins have the potential to move from niche to the mainstream, and what factors are motivating purchasing decisions, from price and consistency of supply, to amino acid profiles, taste, functionality, sustainability credentials, to non-GMO claims? Where is the plant-based meat category heading next and how are the dynamics of the plant-based milk segment changing?

Special Edition: Plant-based innovation in APAC  [Asia-Pacific region]

The meat substitute market in APAC is expected to reach US$17.1bn in 2020, from US$15.3bn last year according to Euromonitor International. The ongoing pandemic is set to accelerate this growth alongside health, safety and environmental factors from consumers. In this special edition, we bring you the firms developing plant-based meat, egg and beverages, all this to meet APAC’s soaring protein needs.

Sep 3 2020

Where are we on cell-based meat alternatives?

Let’s catch up on what’s happening with cell-based meat, so far still in development, regulated jointly by FDA (pre-harvest) and USDA (post-harvest), but not yet approved for human consumption.

I think I can wait.

Aug 20 2020

What else is happening with plant-based meat alternatives

Since writing about Christopher Gardner’s study on Monday this week, I have plant-based meats on my mind.  Here are some other recent items about the booming interest in these products.

Aug 17 2020

Industry-funded study of the week: Beyond Meat

Stanford University issued a press release to announce the results of a study comparing physiological effects of eating plant-based meat alternatives (Beyond Meat) to eating foods of animal origin.

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, Stanford Medicine scientists found.

The study:  A randomized crossover trial on the effect of plant-based compared with animal-based meat on trimethylamine-N-oxide and cardiovascular disease risk factors in generally healthy adults: Study With Appetizing Plantfood—Meat Eating Alternative Trial (SWAP-MEAT).  Crimarco A, et al.  American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, August 11, 2020.  https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/nqaa203

Overall conclusion: “This study found several beneficial effects and no adverse effects from the consumption of plant-based meats.”

The sponsor: “Supported by a research gift from Beyond Meat Inc. (to CDG)…Funding for this study was provided by Beyond Meat. In an effort to reduce any influences on the outcomes of this study, a statistical analysis plan was submitted to ct.gov. The main analysis was conducted by a third-party individual who had no involvement with the study design or collection of data, and was blinded to all study participants.

Comment

Ordinarily, I would simply present this study as a classic example of how industry-funded studies predictably produce results that favor the commercial interests of their sponsors, a topic to which I devoted my book, Unsavory Truth: How Food Companies Skew the Science of What We Eat.

But CDG is Christopher Gardner, the study’s lead scientist, whose impressive track record of managing complicated clinical trials of diet and health I greatly admire.

Gardner describes himself as a vegan (meaning that he eats no animal products).

Knowing of my concerns about industry-funded research, he wrote me some months ago to say that this study was in the works and to point out that he has done at least six industry-funded studies with null findings (he sent me a PowerPoint slide deck to prove it).  In his correspondence, he said:

  • “I believe this is the FIRST industry funded study I’ve run that had a significant positive health finding.”
  • “Beyond Meat was not involved in design or analysis, and to this day still doesn’t know the study outcome.”
  • “I’m preparing myself for being called out as a vegan industry shill….hoping I’ve established a reputation for objectivity to withstand this ?”
  • “PS – Hope you enjoy the study acronym (Study With Alternative Plantfood – Meat Eating Alternative Trial: SWAP-MEAT)” [Indeed I do].

OK.  So let’s take this study on its merits.

Gardner asked healthy non-vegetarian adults (36) to consume 2 servings a day of either Beyond Meat or regular meat (what the study calls Animal Meat).  The Beyond Meat and Animal Meat were provided to participants.  The rest of their diets was on their own.

For 8 weeks, they ate Beyond Meat or Animal Meat.  For the next 8 weeks, they switched over to the other kind.

Results: Participants consuming Beyond Meat displayed lower levels of

  • LDL-cholesterol (the bad kind)
  • Body weight (by 1 or 2 pounds)
  • TMAO (Trimethylamine N-oxide)—but only for those who consumed Animal Meat first and Beyond Meat second (not the other way around)

Beyond Meat may be plant-based, but it is ultraprocessed.  FoodNavigator produced a nice comparison.

Beyond Meat would dearly love to demonstrate that its ultraprocessed composition is immaterial to its health benefits.  Hence: this study.

Beyond Meat is already using it for marketing purposes: “New study finds health benefits of plant-based meats.”

As I see it, there are two issues here: (a) what else the participants were eating and (b) the significance of the TMAO measurements.

(a) The diet: This was not a controlled dietary intake trial conducted in a closed metabolic ward.  Participants were free to eat whatever they liked and how much they liked.  They lost a little weight during the Beyond Meat phase, which means they must have been eating fewer calories during that phase, as they reported (this graph is in the Supplementary material).

Reported daily calories were under 2000, which means that lots of calories must not have been reported.  So it’s hard to know what the weight loss is actually due to.

(b)  TMAO: You make TMAO after you eat foods containing choline, a compound common in animal-based foods: meat, poultry, fish, and eggs.  A 2019 editorial review in JAMA discusses the association of TMAO with heart disease risk.

Now, researchers are homing in on another possible culprit: a dietary metabolite linked to red meat called trimethylamine N-oxide, or TMAO. Three recent meta-analyses confirmed that high blood levels of TMAO are associated with increased risks of cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality. One of the studies, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association in 2017, found a more than 60% heightened risk of both major adverse cardiovascular events and death from all causes in people with elevated TMAO. Other research has associated higher TMAO levels with heart failure and chronic kidney disease.

On the other hand, an analysis by Dr. Bret Scher raises questions about whether TMAO has any real meaning for health (and I thank Stephen Zwick for sending this to me).

In my opinion, this is an example of a well-run study that, in the end, lends very little to our knowledge of human health….The main outcome from this intervention had to do with TMAO. Why is this problematic? Well, it has to do with the fact that small, short-term trials are unable to measure meaningful endpoints, such as who lives, dies, or who gets heart disease.  So, instead, the authors have to choose the surrogate outcome markers that they believe relate to human health.

Dr. Scher believes that “There is no convincing evidence that these results impact someone’s health.”  As Scher has discussed previously, he sees no cause-and-effect relationship between TMAO levels and health.  You can read his arguments here:

The bottom line?  This study suggests that two servings a day of Beyond Meat is unlikely to be harmful.  Whether substituting Beyond Meat for real meat is truly useful for health in the absence of other dietary changes remains to be confirmed, hopefully by independently funded research.