Synthetics: the meat of the matter

Avi Krawitz

The natural-diamond trade needs to be more aggressive in the lab-grown debate.

In a bold and somewhat savvy move back in January 2018, Tyson Foods, one of the largest food-processing companies in the US, took a minority stake in Memphis Meats, a startup in the budding cultured-meat industry.

Despite the deal’s sleeping-with-the-enemy feel, the investment sparked little controversy, as Tyson was the latest in a line of high-profile investors in the food-tech business. Memphis Meats also counts Bill Gates, Richard Branson and Cargill Inc., another meat producer, among its backers.

Lab-grown meat, which is essentially cultured from animal cells, offers environmental benefits, but it also taps into social trends.

If the product takes off, lab-grown meat could help lower greenhouse-gas emissions and reduce damage to the environment, which the food industry currently impacts through deforestation and overcrowding. Economically, it could ride the wave of ethical consumerism and the strong movement toward non-meat diets.

Rather than resist the new product category, meat-processing companies have embraced it as a complementary business that could drive growth.We continue to invest significantly in our traditional meat business, but also believe in exploring additional opportunities for growth that give consumers more choice,” explained Justin Whitmore, vice president of corporate strategy and chief sustainability officer at Tyson Foods.

The 4Ds

The key, it seems, is to know what you’re eating. While the product is still in its early days and many still question whether consumers will take to it, ordering a steak in the future will likely involve more than choosing rare, medium or well-done.

But for that to happen, restaurateurs will have to provide full disclosure of what’s on the menu, and regulators will need to oversee the correct documentation of that disclosure. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in November agreed to share regulation of cell-cultured food, monitoring the collection and differentiation of cells, while the US Department of Agriculture would oversee production and labeling of these products.

That’s led to a debate over what to call meat derived from animal cells rather than the animal itself, and whether you should even use the word “meat” to describe it. Some argue it should be called “cultured,” “synthetic” or “in-vitro” meat, while lobbyists such as the US Cattlemen’s Association refer to it as “cell-cultured products” or “cultured tissue” (i.e., not meat).

Correct labeling is vital, since food-tech companies note that their product has the same taste, look, texture and nutrition as regular meat. Plus, they need to differentiate to demonstrate their added value. Their businesses won’t be viable without the proper detection, disclosure, documentation and differentiation (the 4Ds) of the alternative meat products becoming available.

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Source Rapaport