Tuesday, February 1, 2011

At last(?) Yuckmeat

"Synthetic food" has been in the pipe for many years, at least since the Apollo project (the moon landings). I heard a speach by agriculture scientist Jaochim von Braun last September where he predicted that it landless food production would be a big trend the coming 50 years.

Now there is a new product in the pipe: In a small laboratory on an upper floor of the basic science building at the Medical University of South Carolina, Vladimir Mironov, M.D., Ph.D., has been working for a decade to grow meat. read article. Since quite long there have been efforts to make animal feed in labs.
"Microbial biomass is produced commercially as single cell protein (SCP) for human food or animal feed and as viable yeast cells to be used in the baking industry. The industrial production of bakers’ yeast started in the early 1900s and yeast biomass was used as human food in Germany during the First World War. However, the development of large-scale processes for the production of microbial biomass as a source of commercial protein began in earnest in the late 1960s. Several of the processes investigated did not come to fruition owing to political and economic problems but the establishment of the ICI Pruteen process for the production of bacterial SCP for animal feed was a milestone in the development of the fermentation industry. This process utilized continuous culture on an enormous scale (1500 m3) and is an excellent example of the application of good engineering to the design of a microbiological process. However, the economics of the production of SCP as animal feed were marginal, which eventually led to the discontinuation of the Pruteen process." (Wikipedia)
The product "Quorn" has become quite successful as a vegetarian "meat". There are many issues around these synthetic foods. With genetic engineering we certainly will see more of it in the future. There are reasons to be caustios about the health effect of eating the stuff. Some of them will probably show to be harmful, some might be perfectly safe. we will realize this by the same crude process of trial and error that humans have used all along...and sometimes, "shit happens".

What I find a bit disturbing is that few people seem to realise that also so called lab-food needs a feedstock. Energy can't be created out of nothing, and even less can proteins etc. be that. All synthetic foods grown that I heard of are using biological materials as feed stock. It's not like you can take oil, nitrogen from the air, phosphorus from the soil crust and shake it and you have high quality food. I am sure that there are technical possibilities to do something like that, with massive investments (the guy in South Carolina wants a billion dollars to develop his process). But nature already does it. And there are few signs that our labs can make it better. To grow corn for feedstock for artificial food or for the production of chicken is in a way not a big difference. Chicken production, as it looks like in many parts of the world, is already landless production, a kind of feed converter factory. And it is obvious that you can do a similar things with fungi or bacteria. It is not obvious, however, that the process will be much more efficient. Perhaps more appealing for vegans. I would be ironical that vegans would lead the process for a further distance between the human and the food she eats.
In the end, I don't want to eat Quorn or any other lab-made foods.

No comments:

Post a Comment