The romance versus the reality of cultured stem cell proteins

Just six points to keep in mind every time there’s a press release or article proclaiming cultured stems cells are the future of “meat”. When looking at food production, the real discussion that should be occurring is between regenerative and degenerative systems. This discussions should be for ALL of the food we eat…not just for industrially produced meat.

  • Huge amounts of energy intensive infrastructure are needed to grow stem cells in large bioreactors in conditioned buildings. Cell media has to be kept at 98 degrees Fahrenheit for mammal stem cells. The energy has to be non-intermittent. So lots of extraction for all the infrastructure materials and a lot of energy to power the bioreactors in their facilities. Can non-intermittent green energy be used? That too requires a ton of extractive infrastructure plus a lot of battery back-up or other storage so there’s no interruption of power. So, there have been no real life cycle assessments [LCA’s] to date to show that any of this from a material or energy point of view makes any sense. Going from proof of concept in petri dishes for limited production and novelty sales in small restaurants is a lot different than large scale production. Two completely different worlds.
  • Not only meat has to be replaced if cattle is replaced by cultured stem cells. As discussed in the video just below, large meat packers actually make most of their profits off of “the drop” not off of the meat of a slaughtered animal. The drop is a wide array of by-products like bile and eyeballs used in medical and pharmaceutical industries. With cell Ag, different parts of the meat also have to be grown separately. So energy intensive bioreactors won’t only be needed for muscle cells but also for fat cells, leather, milk and a myriad of other products currently made from livestock products and by-products. All these bioreactors are filled with blue water that needs to be continuously circulated and filtered to remove the lactic acid, ammonia and other waste by-products that accumulate during cell growth. Again no real LCA’s looking at the number of bioreactors and amount of blue water needed to replace ALL livestock derived products ..again not just meat. Also no strategies as to what to do with all the waste generated.
  • The main motivation for cultured stem cell proteins is vertical and greater control of the marketplace through patent protected intellectual property as delineated in the video below. All other reasons given are just pretenses to gain consumer acceptance and market share. Do we really want more consolidation and greater centralized control of the food supply by venture capitalists, and corporations? Hasn’t covid taught us anything about the need for a decentralized food system?
  • Cell Ag does nothing to improve soil health or ecosystem function. Cultured stems cells don’t grow magically out of thin air. No they’re grown in bioreactors with cell media solutions, cytokines (growth factors), and antibiotics. The cell media contains the “food” needed to grow the stem cells. This “food” consists of amino acids, carbohydrates and minerals. Where do the amino acids and carbs come from? Soy and corn or wheat thus far.. One of the largest investors in cell Ag is Cargill. Cargill is also one of the largest soybean growers. Cell ag is just a different way to use industrially grown commodity crops. Industrial Ag with synthetic and mined fertilizers as well as pesticides (including herbicides) is extremely destructive….especially to soil health.
  • Industrial Ag kills ecosystems from the soil food web on up. When you destroy fungi, bacteria, nematodes, protozoa, etc…small insects have nothing to eat. Without small insects, larger insects die. Without larger insects, birds, small mammals and amphibians die. This continues on up through the food chain. There’s trophic structure collapse. And that’s exactly what’s currently happening with insects, birds and small mammal populations dropping precipitously. So morally is it better to eat a head of cattle from a regenerative system that restores above and below ground ecosystems that makes life possible for a wide range of creatures or is it better to eat energy intensive substitutes that destroy ecosystems so you can sanctimoniously virtue signal on social media while venture capitalist and corporation controll the marketplace?
  • Growing a food in energy intensive bioreactors, that’s fed edible to human crops grown on arable land, in order to replace a food (meat from ruminants) raised with 100% solar energy, that can be fed inedible to human forages on marginal land, makes little to no sense. In regenerative grazing systems, beef cattle powered by the sun consume grasses, legumes and forbs off of land that’s not arable. Most (70%) of agricultural land isn’t suitable for cropping systems. On the remaining 30% of Ag land suitable for crop production, beef cattle and other ruminants can be integrated to graze down cover crops and crop residues while cycling and up-cycling nutrients and providing inoculates to make grasses grow faster and sequester more carbon.. Annual crops can also be seeded into perennial grasses in another form of integrated systems known as pasture cropping. But there’s not enough land for regenerative Ag! That’s usually the reply. Though that definitive assertion doesn’t take into account the current state of land degradation, different styles of grazing management and or integrated systems of livestock production. Currently a lot of the earth’s land is becoming desert. As land loses its capacity to grow plants, there’s obviously less forage to graze livestock. Bad agricultural practices (e.g tillage) and continuous grazing management have contributed to land degradation and desertification. Better grazing management, on the other hand, can restore degraded land so more forage can be grown, thus the carrying capacity of very degraded land can be drastically increased sometimes ten-fold as is the case of this 30,000 acre ranch in the video below that transformed the Chihuahua Desert back into a grassland ecosystem. But what about the methane? I’ll deal with that subject in detail in a forthcoming blog post.

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