Battle brewing in the world of fake meats

Battle brewing in the world of fake meats

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FAKE FOOD FIGHT: Prof Johannes le Coutre from UNSW School of Chemical Engineering said foods produced from cell cultures would have the same nutritional value as those produced from vegetables and animals.

FAKE FOOD FIGHT: Prof Johannes le Coutre from UNSW School of Chemical Engineering said foods produced from cell cultures would have the same nutritional value as those produced from vegetables and animals.

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There is a growing battle within the world of fake meats.

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There is a growing battle within the world of fake meats.

Meat grown in the laboratory is fast catching up to the advances made in plant-based product, it has been claimed.

And it has already been revealed this new imitation will be marketed as "slaughter-free" meat.

Great strides have been taken since the first "meat" was grown in a petri dish in the Netherlands in 2013, according to a food expert at UNSW.

That first fake hamburger cost $400,000, the challenge for scientists is still to make it cheaper than real meat.

Many millions of dollars have been poured into the cellular agriculture industry.

Food and health expert Professor Johannes le Coutre, from UNSW School of Chemical Engineering said foods produced from cell cultures would have the same nutritional value as those produced from vegetables and animals.

"Cellular agriculture is a growing field of activities that are deeply rooted in existing technology to produce food. It combines elements of agriculture, life science, medical research, and engineering with the goal of growing edible tissues from vegetables or meat at the cellular level.

"The technology enables us to provide real meat - without having to kill an animal."

The process involves taking cells through a small biopsy from a live animal. The material is then subjected to a number of biological steps to ensure it has the same nutritional features, look, texture and most importantly, flavour characteristics as real meat.

"The meat we consume is only a fraction of the animal. With the developing technologies in tissue culture and organ engineering, it's slowly becoming possible to grow these materials in the laboratory."

Prof le Coutre said consumers would be more likely to accept the idea of eating meat that's produced in ways similar to cheese and yoghurt if there was a clear added benefit.

One of the biggest advantages of making fake meat, is knowing exactly what's in it.

"It is about a new wave of domestication," he says.

"Growing the meat is just one part of it. At UNSW, we're asking additional important questions about the mechanisms that are important to grow and scale this industry.

"We are advancing the food safety and nutritional aspects around it too, and then of course, using science to scale it underpins everything we do."

Prof le Coutre claims livestock account for about 14 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions although that has been debated.

MORE READING: Science makes advances on lowering livestock methane levels.

"The livestock industry and the connected food systems are running into various issues including credibility and sustainability."

"This sustainability argument is relevant because you can put clear numbers on it. The data tells us that agriculture and the systems driving livestock growth are leading to greenhouse gas emissions much higher than those generated by the aviation industry.

"What we're working on is not only scientifically and commercially exciting but ethically exciting too because it's going to change our relationship with food."

Prof le Coutre said real meat cells are smaller and more nutrient dense compared to plant cells, which contain a lot of water.

"If you take plant-based tissues and try to turn them into food that has the same appearance as meat, you inevitably conduct processing steps detrimental to the original plant material.

"People should eat vegetables and plant materials such as beans, peas, legumes - that's wonderful and great. However, I continue to believe we should consume meat products in moderation. And with the future of cellular agriculture, we can do this in a sustainable way."

Prof le Coutre says the future of cellular agriculture is not confined just to cultured meat, but other industries such as seafood or even dairy.

Further research is needed to ensure lab-produced meat satisfies consumer expectations and can be manufactured at a reasonable cost.

"The ambition is to get the cost down to below that of traditional meat to make it acceptable for the consumer but we are not there yet. Our goal is to commercialise what we're achieving through R&D and to see products dominate supermarket shelves within the coming 5-10 years."

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The story Battle brewing in the world of fake meats first appeared on Farm Online.

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