by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Meat substitutes

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.


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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Oct 20 2022

Plant-based meat is in trouble?

The big news in the plant-based food world last week was Beyond Meat’s retrenchment and legal hassles.   Here’s how these issues are being covered by the food business press.

Right now, this sector looks bleak, but who knows how this will play out.  Not me, for sure.


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Sep 22 2022

Food Navigator update on meat industry happenings

I subscribe to the British-based newsletter, Food Navigator.  It occasionally publishes roundups of articles on specific topics.  Here’s a sample of articles about current happenings in the meat industry.


Coming soon!  My memoir, October 4.

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Apr 13 2022

USDA subsidies for animal agriculture

If you want to understand why it’s so difficult to change meat consumption patterns, try the Environmental Working Group’s latest analysis: USDA has spent nearly $50 billion on livestock subsidies since 1995.

From 1995 to 2021, USDA spent

  • $11 billion on livestock disaster assistance
  • $14.2 billion on livestock commodity purchases
  • ~$5 billion in dairy subsidies
  • $15 billion in payments to offset the effects of the pandemic

In addition, USDA paid $160 billion during those years to producers of the corn and soybeans used to feed those animals.

In contrast, USDA spent less than $30 million to promote plant-based proteins since 2018.

The numbers say it all.

Policy change, anyone?

Feb 7 2022

Conflicted study of the week: fake meat will save the planet

Larissa Zimberoff, the author of Technically Food (which I blurbed and reviewed), forwarded  this press release from the University of California Berkeley:  Global elimination of meat production could save the planet.  

A new study of the climate impacts of raising animals for food concludes that phasing out all animal agriculture has the potential to substantially alter the trajectory of global warming.  The work is a collaboration between Michael Eisen, professor of molecular and cell biology at the University of California, Berkeley, and Patrick Brown, professor emeritus of biochemistry at Stanford University and the CEO of Impossible Foods Inc., a company that sells plant-based meat substitutes.

The study: Rapid global phaseout of animal agriculture has the potential to stabilize greenhouse gas levels for 30 years and offset 68 percent of CO2 emissions this centuryMichael B. Eisen, Patrick O. Brown.   PLoS Climate. 2022;1(2). 

Method: The authors modeled the combined, long-term effects of emission reductions and biomass recovery that would be unlocked by a phaseout of animal agriculture.

Findings:  A phaseout of livestock production would provide half of the net emission reductions necessary to limit warming to 2°C

Conclusion: The magnitude and rapidity of these potential effects should place the reduction or elimination of animal agriculture at the forefront of strategies for averting disastrous climate change.

Funding:  There was no formal funding of this work. Michael Eisen is an Investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute which funds all work in his lab. Patrick Brown is CEO of Impossible Foods, Inc.

Sep 29 2021

Plant-based meat and alternatives: the marketing push continues

I dealt with cell-based alternatives to animal foods yesterday; those are not on the market yet and are unlikely to be on the market soon at any reasonable scale.  In the meantime, we have lots of plant-based products to deal with.  These too require critical discussion.

Pea protein is a basic ingredient of plant-based meat alternatives.  Take a look at what’s happening to pea prices.

While sorting all this out, the quest for profitable products is relentless.

Sep 28 2021

Meat alternatives: cell-based

I’m seeing considerable confusion about the difference between cell-based and plant-based meat alternatives.

Cell-based products are not yet on the market, except in Singapore.  Plant-based products are everywhere, and I will deal with them separately tomorrow.

For an example of the confusion, Phil Howard’s op-ed in Civil Eats was first titled Giant Meat and Dairy Companies Are Dominating the Plant-Based Protein Market, but his informative diagram refers to cell-cultured meat and fish alternatives, those that start with cells of animal origin.  Civil Eats, ever careful, fixed the headline so it now reads, Op-Ed: Giant Meat and Dairy Companies Are Dominating the Plant-Based and Cellular Meat Market.  

Today, lets stick to cell-based, beginning with Joe Fassler‘s thoughtful analysis in The Counter: “Lab-grown meat is supposed to be inevitable. The science tells a different story.”

That science tells us:

  • Manufacturers consistently miss targets for product release.
  • Production costs are astronomical.
  • Even if costs can be reduced, production volume can never match real meat.
  • Producing cell-based meat to scale means keeping it free of contaminants (difficult, if not impossible)
  • Fetal blood serum, a necessary ingredient, requires animals to be slaughtered.
  • Cell culture facilities are resource-intensive.

In the meantime, here are some of the latest developments in regulation, image, and celebrity investment.

And here’s a summary of the latest research on concentration and power in cell-based agriculure.

  • Democratizing ownership and participation in the 4th Industrial Revolution: challenges and opportunities in cellular agriculture:  In this paper, we have sought to engage the nascent feld of cellular agriculture in conversation with the political economy of agriculture scholarship, namely, on the inescapable question of whether or not this emerging technology will further concentrate wealth and power in the global food system. Innovation without meaningful inclusion has led to inequality, distrust, environmental crises, and social disintegration, and the world’s biggest tech companies are well positioned to continue disrupting and absorbing traditional industries in the coming decades…Critically important and valuable innovation, including agroecological approaches to food production, also continues to come from non-industrial contexts.