A Closer Look at the Impossible and Beyond Burgers
HOW DID WE GET HERE?
Initially the price of new technology is very expensive but in time the price always comes down (as noted by QZ.com, the price of cell-cultured meat has come down from a would-be $1.2 million per pound in 2013 to $100 per pound as of this year6), but you should really question why would someone want to create insanely expensive lab-grown meat when a far more affordable reasonable option is readily available.
Laboratory-derived meat substitutes are not part of the ecological cycle. There is a strong possibility that in the long term Replica meats may cause more problems and health hazards than they solve. At this point, there is no certainty that they do or do NOT. This basic lack of understanding significantly affects regulatory efforts, if not make them impossible, as well.
As noted by Al Almanza, The former acting deputy undersecretary for food safety at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Al Almanza stated we still do not know “what’s normal or abnormal, and thus potentially unsafe, in a cultured-chicken plant.”7
Without this critical information, the USDA doesn’t know what to look for or really what they’re looking at. Subsequently, the producers of the Replica meat are unable to develop and implement appropriate safety procedures and the UDSA cannot create suitable regulations to guarantee your safety. With neither the producers of the Replica meat or the applicable governing bodies knowing with any remote certainty that the production process is better, as it claimed to be by the producers, all we have to go on is the producers’ words at the present time.
Despite the fact livestock hold the distinction of being a significant contributor to greenhouse gases and climate change, what critics fail to recognize is that this problem is restricted to concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) only. That means companies like Tyson, Cargill, Monsanto, JBS, Smithfield, Perdue. Organic grass-fed beef production is actually a tangible solution for the current environmental and animal cruelty problems that are prevalent today.
The process of growing meat in a lab does not positively affect the current environmental problems. Nor can it make the claim that it promotes environmental sustainability and regeneration.
The non-profit Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems published a peer-reviewed study titled Climate Impacts of Cultured Meat and Beef Cattle. The study was conducted by John Lynch and Raymond Pierrehumbert of the Atmospheric, Oceanic and Planetary Physics Department of Physics at the University of Oxford.
The 3 greenhouse gases (GHG) are carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), and nitrous oxide (N2O). In the study, they were able to reach the following conclusion:1
“Cattle systems are associated with the production of all three GHGs above, including significant emissions of CH4, while cultured meat emissions are almost entirely CO2 from energy generation.
Under continuous high global consumption, cultured meat results in less warming than cattle initially, but this gap narrows in the long term and in some cases cattle production causes far less warming, as CH4 emissions do not accumulate, unlike CO2.
We then model a decline in meat consumption to more sustainable levels following high consumption, and show that although cattle systems generally result in greater peak warming than cultured meat, the warming effect declines and stabilizes under the new emission rates of cattle systems, while the CO2 based warming from cultured meat persists and accumulates even under reduced consumption, again overtaking cattle production in some scenarios.
Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emissions from Agriculture, Forestry and other land use
We conclude that cultured meat is not prima facie climatically superior to cattle; its relative impact instead depends on the availability of decarbonized energy generation and the specific production systems that are realized. “
Additionally, there is no scientific-based evidence that it’s healthier than eating real grass-fed meat or pasture-raised chicken.
WHO MAKES REPLICA MEAT AND HOW IS IT PRODUCED?
As you would expect a lot of smart people and a lot of money have developed various proprietary ways to grow meat without raising a live animal, butchering a live animal, needing a farm or livestock feed.
Several start-ups are developing lab-grown beef, pork, poultry and seafood—among them Mosa Meat, Beyond Meat, Memphis Meats, SuperMeat and Finless Foods. And the field is attracting millions in funding. In 2017, for instance, Memphis Meats took in $17 million from sources that included Bill Gates and Cargill.
What is the Process?
The process of making Replica meat (a.k.a. clean meat, cultured meat, in vitro meat, synthetic meat, Beyond Burger) is similar to making traditional meat, except the cells are grown outside of the animal’s body.
Mosa Meat Explains
Mosa Meat explains the process used to make Replica meat in detail:8
“The first step is to take some cells from the muscle of an animal, such as a cow if we’re making beef, which is done with a small biopsy under anesthesia.
The cells that are taken are called “myosatellite” cells, which are the stem cells of muscles. The function of these stem cells within the animal is to create new muscle tissue when the muscle is injured. It is this inherent talent of the stem cells that are utilized in making cultured meat.
The cells are placed in a medium containing nutrients and naturally-occurring growth factors and allowed to proliferate just as they would inside an animal. They proliferate until we get trillions of cells from a small sample. This growth takes place in a bioreactor, which looks similar to the bioreactors that beer and yogurt are fermented in.
From Cells to Muscle Cells
When we want the cells to differentiate into muscle cells, we simply stop feeding them growth factors, and they differentiate on their own. The muscle cells naturally merge to form “myotubes” (a primitive muscle fiber that is no longer than 0.3mm long).
The myotubes are then placed in a gel that is 99% water, which helps the cells form the shape of muscle fibers. The muscle cells’ innate tendency to contract causes them to start putting on bulk, growing into a small strand of muscle tissue.
When all these strands are layered together, we get what we started with – meat. The meat can then be processed using standard food technologies, for example by putting them through a meat grinder to make ground beef.
Burgers for Everybody
From one sample from a cow, we can produce 800 million strands of muscle tissue (enough to make 80,000 quarter pounders).”
Processed vs Ultra-processed
Replica meat producers argue that “almost all the food we eat, at some point, crosses a laboratory, whether in the course of researching flavors or perfecting the packaging,” 10 Olga Khazan writes in an April 16, 2019, article for The Atlantic.
In essence, Replica meat is being compared with processed and ultra-processed food. This is comparing apples to oranges. Over and over again, researchers have shown that a processed diet promotes disease and cuts life short.9,11,12,13
So should or can you expect a different outcome from “Replica meat” that is processed from start to finish?
FACT OR FICTION?
In 2015, Business Insider13 reported that more than half a dozen former employees of Just (then Hampton Creek) accused the company of using “shoddy science,” ignoring science and “stretching the truth.” At the time, Hampton Creek was primarily working on egg replacements. Business Insider wrote:14
The Hampton Creek Company
“Several former employees told us Hampton Creek is not employing nearly as much science as it says it does. Many Silicon Valley startups exaggerate about how advanced their technology is, the properties of their products, and other metrics.
But many former Hampton Creek employees say the company pushed them beyond their ethical comfort levels … One went as far as to describe it as a ‘cult of delusion’ …
The first version of Hampton Creek’s flagship product, the Just Mayo mayonnaise substitute, was not initially developed in house. Hampton Creek outsourced early development to Mattson, a food-tech company in Silicon Valley, according to several former employees.
‘We just threw money at them, and they came back in the first week with a formulation. It’s just food starch with pea protein,’ a former employee said. ‘Josh [Tetrick] got this, and he promoted it like it was an amazing invention’ …
‘The entire time I was there we weren’t aware of how it emulsified,’ a former employee said, referring to the eggless mayonnaise. ‘We weren’t able to prove how it works. Josh liked to convey this notion that we had a great understanding of the science’ …
Former employees said the company also debated how to label ingredients and knowingly used more general terms so the products appeared more natural.”
IMPOSSIBLE BURGER vs THE BEYOND BURGER
Contrary to meat produced in a lab made from cell cultures (i.e. the Beyond Burger) the replica meat produced by Impossible Foods bleeds. It contains a combination of wheat, coconut oil, potatoes and “heme” derived from genetically engineered (GE) yeast. The primary ingredient in the Impossible Burger is the GE soy leghemoglobin, which releases a heme-like protein.
This heme-like protein is what it makes it resemble a traditional beef patty in appearance, taste and texture. This protein is also solely responsible for making the patty able to “bleed” when cooked. While Impossible Foods refers to it as “heme,” officially, plants only produce non-heme iron.21 Heme iron is only present in meat and seafood.
The key difference between heme and non-heme iron is their absorbability. Plant-based non-heme iron is absorbed by your body at a much lower rate. Due to this vegans have a higher probability of iron deficiency anemia. Vegans also have a higher likelihood of vitamin B12, Iodine, Zinc, Vitamin D and Calcium deficiencies.22
What is Soy Leghemoglobin?
Soy leghemoglobin is found in the roots of soybean plants. The company is recreating it using GE yeast. As explained on the company website:22
“Heme is exceptionally abundant in animal muscle — and it’s a basic building block of life in all organisms, including plants. We discovered how to take heme from plants and produce it using fermentation … We genetically engineer yeast to make a key ingredient: heme. The process allows us to produce the Impossible Burger at scale with the lowest achievable environmental impact.
We start with the gene for a protein called leghemoglobin, a heme protein that is naturally found in the root nodules of soy plants … We add the soy leghemoglobin gene to a yeast strain, and grow the yeast via fermentation. Then we isolate the leghemoglobin, or heme, from the yeast. We add heme to the Impossible Burger to give it the intense, meaty flavor, aroma and cooking properties of animal meat.”
WHAT, IF ANY, ARE THE HEALTH AND SAFETY CONCERNS?
As explained in the 2015 article, “Flawed GRAS System Lets Novel Chemicals Into Food Supply Without FDA Safety Review,” companies merely hire an industry insider to make an evaluation. When the industry insider determines that the ingredient being evaluated meets federal safety standards, then it is deemed “generally recognized as safe” or GRAS, with no further or independent evaluation required.
The GRAS System Evaluation
Impossible Foods did just that.27 They hired and paid for the panel members to do the GRAS evaluation of its soy leghemoglobin made from GE yeast. Slipping thru the loophole in the GRAS System does not inspire confidence, truthfulness, accountability, ethics or transparency on behalf of Impossible Foods.28
According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the research included in the company’s GRAS notification (which is voluntary) was surprisingly insufficient and unable to satisfactorily confirm safety. Even more shocking is the fact that Impossible Food’s allergy assessment was absent. Nevertheless, as permissible by GRAS guidelines, they unassumingly withdrew their non-mandated GRAS notification to the FDA and began selling its meatless “bleeding” burger lacking the FDA’s certified endorsement.
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT REPLICA MEAT?
People in St. Louis, Missouri seem to feel really good about it. So good that after a brief stint on the menu at local Burger King restaurants the company has decided to take the show on the road. Burger King is now offering the Impossible Whopper nationwide to all 7,200 of its stores in the U.S. 14