Lab-grown meat not slaughter-free, not climate-friendly as claimed. Can it cause cancer too?

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The Gold Report article Equating lab-grown meat with meat from animals is ‘an example of kooky thinking’ – ANH founder Rob Verkerk highlighted the pushback against cell-cultivated lab-grown meat. Some states that support a livestock-based agricultural industry are working to enact legislation that will either ban faux meat or prevent it from being labeled as meat.

This article examines the claims of lab-grown faux meat proponents who assert that this technological “food” product is slaughter-free, climate-friendly, and the equivalent of the meat from real cows.

No difference between lab-grown products and real meat?

Alabama is one of those states whose state representatives are promoting legislation to curtail the sale of faux meat. Alabama House of Representatives health committee recently held a public hearing on the issue at which Pepin Tuma with the Good Food Institute, spoke in opposition to the ban. As Wyatt Myskow and Lee Hedgepeth reported for Inside Climate News, Tuma stated that there is no factual basis to consider lab-grown meat different from “traditional meat.”

“This bill would treat cultivated meat differently than traditional meat without any actual basis in the science and any actual basis in health and safety regulations,” he said.

Proponents of the fake meat claim that “meat” cultured from animal stem cells will reduce the impact that animal agriculture has on the climate.

Myskow and Hedgepeth cite livestock greenhouse gas emissions statistics to back up the perceived need for eating fake meat instead of real animal protein:

Agriculture accounts for about 11 percent of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions, according to federal data, with livestock such as cattle making up a quarter of those emissions, predominantly from their burps, which release methane—a potent greenhouse gas that’s roughly 80 times more effective at warming the atmosphere than carbon dioxide over 20 years. Globally, agriculture accounts for about 37 percent of methane emissions.

Fake meat reality

Not slaughter-free

However, the Alliance for Natural Health (ANH) USA points out that lab-grown meat isn’t slaughter-free since the fetal bovine serum used to grow the stem cells is extracted from unborn cow fetuses following the mother’s slaughter.

While lab-grown meat is being billed as a slaughter-free alternative to meat, that’s not entirely accurate either. Many of the major companies pursuing lab-grown meat add fetal bovine serum (FBS) to the mixture in the cultivators to help cells grow and proliferate. FBS is extracted from unborn cow fetuses after the mother is slaughtered.

Not climate-friendly

It’s also not as greenhouse-friendly as believed. Alliance for Natural Health (ANH) cites a study from UC Davis showing that lab-grown meat may have a greater carbon footprint than retail beef. Livestock raised with regenerative agricultural practices would have an even smaller carbon footprint.

Because of the high price of FBS, manufacturers are looking for a cost-effective substitute.

Supporters of the lab-grown meat industry also want us to believe that growing sheets of meat in a lab is more environmentally friendly than industrialized meat production. While factory farms and the meat-packing industry couldn’t be further from the regenerative agricultural practices ANH-USA supports, a recent study from the University of California, Davis, found that lab-grown meat’s carbon footprint is potentially greater than retail beef. Further, as our colleagues at ANH-International have pointed out, consumption of meat per se isn’t the problem when it comes to the environment—it’s the industrialized factory farm system. Sustainably-raised livestock and associated pasture actually helps sequester carbon in the soil.

Is it healthy?

Despite claims that the fake meat is the biological equivalent of the real thing, this claim doesn’t stand up to scrutiny since many important nutrients may be missing, as ANH explains:

Supporters claim that lab-grown meat is biologically the same as meat. This simply isn’t true, particularly from a nutritional perspective. Just as pasture-raised meat is nutritionally different than beef from a factory farm, lab-grown meat will also be different. Yes, lab-grown meat is made from animal cells, but it’s not just about protein: it’s the composition and nature of the protein as well as the fats, minerals, vitamins, and other compounds found in meat.

There’s still a lot we don’t know because lab-grown meat hasn’t been around for long enough and in quantities sufficient to allow researchers to perform in-depth analyses, but one review of the topic in 2020 pointed out that essential fatty acids like alpha-linolenic acid that are present in meat are likely missing from cultured meat. What about arachidonic acid? And then the complex of naturally-occurring micronutrients like zinc, selenium, and vitamin B12, all present in meat.

Some, but probably not all, of the macro- and micro-nutrients found in meat are given to cells in the cultivators to support growth. But we don’t know much about the uptake of these nutrients in the final product to know how it compares to meat.

A slice of cancer on your plate?

Dr. Joseph Mercola takes issue with the way the cells are cultivated. He notes that cells that continuously reproduce are cancerous or pre-cancerous and there are no guarantees that they won’t harm those who eat the ersatz meat:

Most cultured or cell-based meats are created by growing animal cells in a solution of fetal bovine serum (FBS). Aside from the fact that this “green” alternative requires the slaughter of pregnant cows in order to drain the unborn fetus of its blood, to get the cell cultures to grow fast enough, several companies are using immortalized cells.

As reported by The Fern, “Immortalized cells are a staple of medical research, but they are, technically speaking, precancerous and can be, in some cases, fully cancerous.”

There’s no cause for concern, though, The Fern claims, because according to “prominent cancer researchers” such as MIT biologist Robert Weinberg, Ph.D., it’s “essentially impossible” for humans to get cancer when eating these cells because they’re not human cells and therefore cannot replicate inside your body.

The problem, of course, is that there’s no long-term research to really back such claims. The fact that “cow tumors sometimes wind up in store-bought ground chuck” and doesn’t cause a problem does not mean that a piece of meat consisting of nothing but cancerous and precancerous cells won’t have unpredictable effects.

Unexplored nutritional profile of grass-raised meat

As ANH explained above, there is a substantial nutritional difference between grass-fed and factory-farmed meat and there must be a substantial difference between meat from actual animals and lab-grown meat. An article in Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems titled “Health-Promoting Phytonutrients Are Higher in Grass-Fed Meat and Milk” backs up the ANH claim. Authors Stephan van Vliet, et al, consider the largely unstudied, nutritional profiles of different farming methods on the quality of milk and meat

While commission reports and nutritional guidelines raise concerns about the effects of consuming red meat on human health, the impacts of how livestock are raised and finished on consumer health are generally ignored. Meat and milk, irrespective of rearing practices, provide many essential nutrients including bioavailable protein, zinc, iron, selenium, calcium, and/or B12. Emerging data indicate that when livestock are eating a diverse array of plants on pasture, additional health-promoting phytonutrients—terpenoids, phenols, carotenoids, and anti-oxidants—become concentrated in their meat and milk. Several phytochemicals found in grass-fed meat and milk are in quantities comparable to those found in plant foods known to have anti-inflammatory, anti-carcinogenic, and cardioprotective effects. . . .

The authors conclude that researchers must look into any possible linkages between how livestock are fed and the health of those who eat the meat of those animals.

. . . Several studies have found increased anti-oxidant activity in meat and milk of grass-fed vs. grain-fed animals. Only a handful of studies have investigated the effects of grass-fed meat and dairy consumption on human health and show potential for anti-inflammatory effects and improved lipoprotein profiles. However, current knowledge does not allow for direct linking of livestock production practices to human health. Future research should systematically assess linkages between the phytochemical richness of livestock diets, the nutrient density of animal foods, and subsequent effects on human metabolic health. This is important given current societal concerns about red meat consumption and human health. Addressing this research gap will require greater collaborative efforts from the fields of agriculture and medicine. (Emphases added.)

Future research may be even more important than the study’s authors realized, considering claims made by purveyors of lab-grown meat that they are providing the equivalent of real meat.

Originally posted:

Author: Frontline News Staff

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