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The Consumption of Meat in the Future: Real or Unreal
Monday, 26 August, 2019, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
Dr Prabodh S Halde and Diana D’suza
Meat has a special place in human diets. Modern human beings have an innate preference for meat as it is both energy-dense and protein-rich. In some low-income countries, the consumption of meat is important in providing a full and nutritious diet.
Meat provides protein and a variety of micronutrients such as iron and B-complex vitamins. In 1960, about 45 million tonne of meat (beef, pork and chicken) was produced globally. Within a generation, human economic activity has urbanised, the journey out of poverty has materialised for many and the middle classes have mushroomed at an unprecedented rate.
In the process, and in line with rising affluence, the demand for meat has exploded. Global meat production today stands at 263 million tonne and is expected to nearly double again to 445 million tonne by 2050. Over the same period, the global population is expected to triple – from roughly 3 to 9 billion people. A national survey in India recorded that over 71% of Indian population is non-vegetarian.

Demand for animal products rising
Meat consumption is continually reaching new heights around the world. With the demand for animal products rising from 60 billion animals in 2016 to 100 billion animals by 2050, the environmental and health impacts of eating meat are only bound to increase.
According to FAO, livestock generates just under 15% of the total CO2 equivalent greenhouse gas emissions a year, with beef cattle alone contributing about 6% of the global total – an equivalent of about three times that of the aviation sector. Researchers also calculate that it can take about 15,000 litre of water to produce a kilo of beef.
Additionally, meat production is a major driver of deforestation, habitat and biodiversity loss, through conversion of natural landscapes to pasture lands and to agriculture for feed production. To top it all, the large amounts of antibiotics given to animals in conventional livestock agriculture has led to an increase in antimicrobial resistant bacteria, a major public health concern.
By 2050,  global food systems will need to meet the dietary demands of more than 10 billion people who on average will be wealthier than people today and will aspire to the type of food choices currently available only in high-income countries. This food will have to be produced sustainably in ways that contribute to reducing climate change, and that address other environmental challenges.

Understanding the solution
Science fiction writer William Gibson once famously said: “The future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed.” With the advancement of technology and growing needs of the population, plant-based meat and cell-based meat or clean meat are going to be the next breakthrough innovations. Producing meat in the laboratory without the involvement of living animals is a huge technical feat made possible by the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Plant-based meat alternatives look to plants and their components to create products that mimic the traditional taste and feel of meat with plants. California-based company Impossible Foods produces the impossible burger that is like meat in every way. The key protein that contributes to the bloody flavour and aroma of meat is heme. The company identified a protein found in the roots of soybean plants that has the same properties as heme called soy leghemoglobin.
Impossible Foods began to use yeast to grow the soy leghemoglobin protein. Not only is yeast more efficient, it is more environmentally friendly than regularly digging up soybean roots to extract the protein. Besides their ‘secret ingredient’ of plant-based heme, the Impossible Burger also uses wheat and potato proteins as well as coconut oil to mimic the taste of meat.
The company says its burger patty uses 95% less land, a quarter of the water and produces an eighth of the greenhouse emissions compared to a regular meat burger. Another such company is ‘Beyond Meat’ that uses pea protein and, through a process of pressure, heating, and cooling, changes the shape and texture of pea protein into meat-like fibres. This process, along with research into the molecular composition of meat, has helped Beyond Meat produce several plant-based meat products, including chicken-free strips and the Beyond Burger.
When Bill Gates, an investor in both Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods tried Beyond Meat’s chicken-free strips, he commented that he could not tell the difference between the actual chicken strip and the chicken-free strip. Beyond Meat commissioned the Center for Sustainable Systems at University of Michigan to conduct a “cradle-to-distribution” life cycle assessment of the Beyond Burger, a plant-based patty designed to look, cook and taste like fresh ground beef.
Based on a comparative assessment of the current Beyond Burger production system with the 2017 beef LCA by Thoma et al, the Beyond Burger generates 90% less greenhouse gas emissions, requires 46% less energy, has >99% less impact on water scarcity and 93% less impact on land use than a ¼ pound of US beef.

In India, a group of animal lovers in Udaipur joined forces with an animal activist in America and ‘Good Dot’ was born. It is an Indian startup in the rapidly growing industry of plant-based protein products. Their mission is to bring high quality, affordable, vegetarian meat to all of India. Multinational giants like Tyson, which is the world’s second-largest processor of chicken, beef, and pork, have invested in plant-based meat companies. A $100 million venture capital fund was created by New Capital Crops in 2018 to improve the manufacture and distribution of plant-based meats and even consumer goods giants like Unilever are making bets.

Plant-based proteins
Cultured meat or clean meat forms part of the emerging field of cellular agriculture. Cultured meat involves applying the practices of tissue engineering to the production of muscle for consumption as food. Sometimes also known as clean meat or in vitro meat, it is an emergent technology that operates as part of the wider field of cellular agriculture and in a relation of competition and collaboration with innovation in plant-based proteins.
In the early 2000s, two projects were conducted to produce cultured tissue for food purposes: one by a NASA-funded college-based group (Benjaminson, Gilchriest, & Lorenz, 2002), and another by a team of bio-artists in the Tissue Culture and Art Project (Catts & Zurr, 2010). Both projects produced small quantities of tissue, with the NASA group performing sniff-tests to assess palatability, and the bio-arts team conducting taste-tests as part of an arts performance piece.
The technology involves expanding stem cells then differentiating them into muscle cells. This is typically done using chemical/biological cues in the cell culture media and mechanical stimulation. Mark Post's Maastricht Group produced the world's first cultured burger with primary bovine skeletal muscle cells and another US-based startup company Memphis Meats have produced demonstration cultured products in the form of a meatball, beef fajita, chicken and duck.
Typically cultured burgers are grown by taking tissues from a cow, extracting stem cells from the tissue, growing the stem cells into muscle fibres in a lab for six weeks, 20,000 muscle fibres are then coloured, minced, mixed with fats and shaped into burgers. The technology is at an early stage and prerequisites of implementation include a reasonably high level of consumer acceptance, and the development of commercially-viable means of large scale production.

Cultured meat field
Recent advancements in tissue culture techniques suggest that production may be economically feasible, provided it has physical properties in terms of colour, flavour, aroma, texture and palatability that are comparable to conventional meat. This novel protein source could be produced in urban “breweries,” requiring just 2% of the land that the global livestock industry uses today. This would relieve 25% of the pressure on global agricultural water demands by 2030, and produce just 4% of the GHG emissions of today’s global industrialised cattle herd, according to Professor Marc Van der Post of Maastricht University, a leading innovator in the cultured meat field and chief scientific officer of MosaMeat. With a much lower land and resource footprint and no need for antibiotics, this meat could also be healthier for people and the planet.
India is all set to get a taste of cell-based or ‘clean’ meat as early as next year, with the Maharashtra government giving the state-funded Institute of Chemical Technology (ICT) a go-ahead to establish a cellular agriculture research centre in the state. ICT has joined hands with The Good Food Institute, a global non-profit organisation engaged in promoting the plant- and cell-based meat sector through research and commercialisation, to establish a lab facility in Mumbai by 2020. Even FSSAI initiated the first meeting of all stakeholders last month and it seemed regulators were very positive for creating regulations for clean meat products but big challenge has been that the product is not yet ready for assessment. Even then it is a positive and encouraging step.

The question remains, will
people eat it?
A 2018 survey of 3,030 consumers found that 30% of US consumers, 59% of Chinese consumers and 50% of Indian consumers were very or extremely likely to purchase cell- based meat regularly. Many consumers are excited about the potential benefits that cell- based meat can contribute to society.
To conclude, we can expect a future that is real yet unreal on our plate by eating plant- based meat alternatives and cultured meat products as part of our diet. More research is needed on how to effectively communicate and launch this product category in a way that builds consumer trust, familiarity and excitement among consumer segments.

(Halde is imm past president of AFST India and was invited to 2018 Good Food conference at San Francisco, USA, for plant based meat and clean meat. He is approved mentor under startup scheme of Government of India and mentoring few clean meat- / plant-based meat startups. D’suza is from
AFST Mumbai)
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