It seems that we will soon be able to eat meat or fish without the need for any animal! No more slaughterhouses, no more animal exploitation, the foods of the future will be cell foods.
Recipe ? Take some muscle from a cow, or take some muscle stem cells stored in one of the existing cell banks, culture them in a bioreactor with a suitable nutrient medium and at the right temperature (37°C for mammalian cells, 15°C to 30°C for fish cells), let the cells multiply, harvest then rinse carefully.
The result ? Closer to tasteless hash than rib steak or salmon fillet! But, for the pleasure of the palate (!), the recipe proposesadd flavourings, texture agents, colorings and other additivesand for the nutritional value, we will not forget to add some vitamins (like B12), iron and lipids… phew!
But why cellular foods?
Cellular foods are famous better for the climate and for animal welfare .
On the climate side, they represent the promise of the end of the monumental methane emissions linked to intensive farming and the permanent flatulence of the animals that compose it. A methane 400 times more impacting on global warming than carbon dioxide. But everything is probably not as green as it looks on paper: in a current context of non-transparency, both with regard to the consumer and to environmental monitoring bodies, companies are not no longer required to communicate their polluting emissions… But it goes without saying that cell banks, bioreactors and other food processing processes emit CO2consume water and other resources.
Coast animal welfareit is not so much the cells that will be used to “grow the meat” (taken from an animal or from a stem cell bank) as the manufacturing processes that question : Cellular chicken meat products (produced in the USA) which were put on the market in Singapore at the end of 2021 were thus manufactured using fetal calf serum as nutrient mediumwhich requiredslaughter pregnant cows in order to collect amniotic fluid – animal rights activists will appreciate… Other techniques have since been developed to avoid this unethical practice, but they are far from having resolved all the questions, in particular health issues, on these new products.
Unknown risks to our health
Even if manufacturers swear hand on heart to no longer use fetal calf serum, many mysteries still hang over the composition of the nutrient medium which is used to grow the cells. Because to multiply, cells need growth factors and hormones, so many products usually prohibited in breeding! Not to mention the massive use of antibiotics to ensure they are not contaminated with unwanted bacteria. Of course, the final product, ” perfectly rinsed », should no longer contain any residue of this nutrient medium, but how to check it without knowing the composition of said nutrient medium? The now sacrosanct industrial secret as well as the fact that food must be completely rid of it before consumption prevent manufacturers from having to include it on the label!
A joint report by WHO and FAO (1)the UN bodies responsible for health and food respectively, is entirely dedicated to the safety of these new cellular foods: published on April 5, it is based on numerous consultations with experts from around the world and suggests that from the point of view of health ” the risks of foods from cell cultures are not higher than those from intensive farming ». Is this argument, which aims to be reassuring, really so?
Another question : wouldn’t these foods be carcinogenic? To be able to grow and multiply ad infinitum, cells must first be made genetically “immortal” by inhibiting the gene that controls their senescence and death. Technically speaking, these cells are therefore pre-cancerous, if not totally cancerous!
The UN authorities sweep away any fear by advancing consensual scientific arguments: “ Once harvested, the immortalized cells, outside their culture medium, die and lose their ability to reproduce. Not to mention that cooking food, then digesting it by our body is enough to destroy any external genetic signature likely to contaminate it. . »
Nevertheless, it is clear thatthere have never been health studies proving that synthetic meat poses no health risk! And it’s hard to see how synthetic red meat would be less carcinogenic than red butcher’s meat if it faithfully reproduces its composition!
Cellular meat soon in France?
In a recent op-ed in the newspaper The world (2), several scientists have warned against clearing too quickly synthetic meat. A few days later, the French synthetic meat manufacturers “retaliated” in The Sunday newspaper (3)pleading for a public funding research on the subject. More specifically, they were representatives of two French start-ups: the Gourmey company, based in Genopole in Évry-Courcouronnes and winner of a 2022 program funded by the European Commission (“Horizon 2020”) for its “ cellular foie gras” (guaranteed without goose force-feeding), and the company Vital Meat, a subsidiary of the French food industry giant Grimaud Frères, which already announces on its website (4) growing chicken meat” healthy, delicious, nutritious »…
Is synthetic meat therefore about to arrive on the European market? Yes, according to the agitation of the politicians: at the start of the year, a senatorial information mission on cellular food was launched and it interviewed all the stakeholders in the sector – manufacturers, researchers, breeders, cooks and politicians. In their report published on April 7 (5)senators express their opposition to synthetic meat, “ a complete anthropological break, threatening our food culture »,but emphasize at the same time the need to finance research, French competitiveness obliges…
So many people are offended by this culinary future 2.0, which is more like a pharmaceutical laboratory than traditional cuisine, our decision-making bodies already seem to be committed to its cause: the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) finds this to be an innovative and promising solution while the animal protein needs are expected to increase by 60% on the planet by 2050.
We can already anticipate that the European agency will not show itself not too fussy about the files that manufacturers will present… Let us recall here that the EFSA does not have any laboratory and does not carry out any analysis of any kind, contenting itself with issuing a prior opinion on the files presented to it, an opinion which is not of other than advisory since it can be circumvented by the European Commission, which alone is empowered to issue the marketing authorizations. The commission is probably also committed to the cause of cellular meat, since all these innovative projects fall under, and are sometimes funded by, the aptly named “Farm to Fork” program (Farm to Fork) of the European Green Pact for “fair, healthy and ecological food systems”.
In a context of war in ukrainewith growing concern about food supply chains, and post-pandemic – where intensive farming has a bad press because of the risk of zoonosis (avian flu, for example) – Europe has already declared that it wants to secure “ the production of animal protein. Under the pressure of cellular meat industry lobbies as Cellular Agriculture Europe (Cell Agriculture Europe), cell meat could arrive much faster than we think on the market.
And, even if some, like the Italian government, try to oppose it, nothing seems to be able to prevent these products, already present in the USA and Asia, from flooding the markets. (6)… Except, of course, a principle consumer boycott of all processed products!
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