Cloned product will not be grown in serum culture, Tetrick says
SAN FRANCISCO––Hampton Creek Foods founder Josh Tetrick, amid a mysterious destocking of all 20 Hampton Creek products by Target Corporation, the largest Hampton Creek customer, took a meme of unknown origin attacking cell-cultured meat seriously enough to call at 5:02 p.m. on Friday, July 7, 2017 in reply to an inquiry from ANIMALS 24-7 sent just 12 minutes earlier––almost a record fast response from a corporate executive.
Message off Target
The 1,800 Target stores on June 23, 2017 abruptly quit selling anything from Hampton Creek, for reasons clear neither then nor now.
Reported Bloomberg News, “A Target spokeswoman said the company received allegations of food safety concerns as well as accusations of manipulation and adulteration of Hampton Creek’s products,” but more than two weeks later the U.S. Food & Drug Administration had not issued any related advisories and, Tetrick told ANIMALS 24-7, none of the other major Hampton Creek customers had followed Target’s lead.
Why the meme mattered
While the $5.5 million Target account was of immediate concern to Tetrick, responding to the anti-cell cultured meat meme was also a priority, because the meme struck at what may be the longterm future of not only Hampton Creek Foods, but also what Tetrick and many others believe will be the future of the entire food industry.
Cell-cultured meat is not a big “profit center” for Hampton Creek Foods. Indeed, cell-cultured meat is not even among the 20-odd Hampton Creek products––yet.
But food research and development companies around the world are competing to be first to market a cultured meat product that appeals to consumers and can be produced on the scale necessary to capture a mass consumption niche.
“By the end of next year, we’ll have something out there on the marketplace,” Tetrick recently told Chase Purdy of the online magazine Quartz.
The “something out there on the marketplace” is likely to be a cell-cultured edition of chicken, the animals accounting for the most market share in U.S. meat consumption, dominating the fast food and prepared meal sectors.
Among land animals, none are consumed even remotely as often as chickens. Only fish––all fish species combined––account for more lives consumed by humans. Globally, counting by individual species, only pigs account for more poundage of human consumption than chickens. Cattle are a distant third, then sheep, goats, and turkeys.
“First will be in the avian family”
“We’ll do them all. First will be in the avian family,” Tetrick told ANIMALS 24-7.
Tetrick’s statement could include, as well as chickens, turkeys, ducks, or quail, among other birds commonly raised for human consumption.
Asked, “Chicken or turkey, we presume, with archaeopteryx not to follow until more of the technical issues are resolved?”, Tetrick answered only “That’s confidential for now.”
But cultured chickens were what Tetrick talked about.
“It isn’t synthetic”
“We don’t like to talk about “synthetic” chicken,” Tetrick said, “because it isn’t synthetic. It’s real chicken meat. It is just produced in a different way.”
Reminded that chickens in conventional definition are complete animals, walking on two legs, with two wings, two eyes, and a sentient brain, Tetrick acknowledged that cultured meat will challenge lexicographers, who write dictionaries, as well as challenging the meat industry.
Cultured meat is already challenging vegans and vegetarians, even before any cultured meat products reach the marketplace.
The central question, for most, is whether any animal use, exploitation, or suffering will go into making cultured meat.
“Is lab grown meat vegan?”
Succinctly, as Bite Size Vegan blogger and YouTube channel producer Emily Moran Barwick of Northampton, Massachusetts put it in April 2016, “Is lab grown meat vegan?”
Ironically, by some definitions, the products Hampton Creek is developing may be “vegan” without being “vegetarian.”
Vegan Society founders Donald and Amy Watson coined the word “vegan” in 1944, initially to distinguish what the Watsons a first termed “non-dairy vegetarians” as a faction within the Vegetarian Society.
Donald Watson (1910-2005) eventually expanded the definition of vegan to include avoiding the use of animals and animal byproducts for any purpose, including food, clothing, entertainment, transportation, and other work.
Vegan but not vegetarian?
But the original definition of “vegan,” meaning simply food of entirely non-animal origin, had already gained traction, leading to endless debate ever since among vegans, would-be vegans, and “vegan police” trying to enforce rigid standards about what is what.
Cultured meat is particularly problematic because it promises to be real meat at the molecular level, yet not directly of animal origin and therefore not directly implicated, if at all, in animal exploitation or suffering. Because it is meat, it could not be considered vegetarian, yet because animals are not involved in producing it, it might be vegan.
But the meme ANIMALS 24-7 received, apparently widely posted on Facebook in response to announcements from Hampton Creek and smaller rival Memphis Meats about their progress in developing cultured meat products, alleges otherwise.
No “donor herds”
Headlined “The Victims of Lab Grown Meat,” the meme asserts that “A ‘donor herd’ will be kept to replace the cells [used to produce cultured meat] when the DNA has degraded. A herd will be needed for each kind of meat.”
The meme further alleged that cultured meat will be grown in a medium of calf fetal serum.
The allegations, Tetrick explained to ANIMALS 24-7, could scarcely be more incorrect.
“You could get all the animal cells we need from a feather,” Tetrick said. “You just cut off the quill tip of a naturally discarded feather, and there is all the cell structure we need. Then we grow the product in a culture developed entirely from plant extracts. There will not be any ‘donor herds’ nor any need for any. You could pick up all the animal cells we need just by picking up the shed feathers at a sanctuary.”
Outdated information about a different process
The source of the meme claims appears to have been the Moran Berwick posting “Is lab grown meat vegan?”, but the posting relied on outdated information about an entirely different process, used for an entirely different purpose.
A lifelong meat avoider and vegan activist throughout her adult life, Emily Moran Barwick began blogging and making videos to promote a vegan lifestyle in 2013, gradually building a YouTube audience of upward of 100,000. She appears to have made a conscientious effort in “Is lab grown meat vegan?” to be fair and accurate, looking at all sides of the issues to the extent of providing footnotes for each statement––and the footnotes establish how she garbled the issue.
A “major ethical issue”
A “major ethical issue,” Moran Barwick wrote, “is the growth medium into which the cells are deposited” to culture a meat product. “At the moment, the most widely used medium is bovine fetal serum.”
Her sole source for this, and for all of the gruesome claims about how bovine fetal serum is collected, was “The use of fetal bovine serum: Ethical or scientific problem?,” by the Dutch scientist Carlo E.A. Jochems, published in March 2002 in the peer-reviewed journal Alternatives to Laboratory Animals. The journal is funded by the British-based Fund for the Replacement of Animals in Medical Experiments.
Apart from 2002 being practically the Dark Ages in terms of the development of cultured meat, and in terms of cell culturing generally, Jochems’ article described cell culturing performed on a relatively small scale, as had been done for decades in connection with biomedical research and testing.
Jochems wrote at a transition point.
Commercial and scientific demand for cell cultures of various sorts was then rapidly expanding beyond the capacity of the existing production systems.
Simultaneously, the risks from pathogens contaminating experiments through the use of bovine fetal serum were becoming recognized.
Finally, as Jochems spotlighted, concern was growing within the scientific community about the ethics of processes which are either painful to animals or distressing to humans who become aware of them.
On the way out
There is still a bovine fetal serum production industry, but the use of bovine fetal serum in leading-edge in science was already on the way out by 2009, when an international conference was convened in Copenhagen, Sweden, “to discuss strategies to improve the development and use of serum-free defined media,” reported ten co-authors in the journal Toxicology in Vitro.
Bovine fetal serum was used in some of the earliest experimental attempts to develop cultured meat. As recently as 2011, reported Scott Canon of the Kansas City Star, all experimental cultured meat products, none bigger than marbles, had been “sustained by animal products, typically fetal bovine serum.”
However, before before cultured meat development could advance, Canon explained, “A replacement needs to be found, to get the efficiencies that make the new meat worth the bother, and to gain consistency and safety from pathogens.”
This is the breakthrough that Hampton Creek Foods, Memphis Meats, and other leaders in cultured meat development believe they have achieved.
Outlines the Hampton Creek Foods web site http://www.eatjust.com/en-us/stories/just-plan, “Most of the world’s 353,000 plant species are unexplored. Collectively, they make up 18 billion proteins, 108 million fats, and four million carbohydrates. If efficiently distributed, a protein discovery in one bean (for example) can improve multiple billion-dollar food categories.
“We’ve already sourced diverse plants from over 51 countries,” the EatJust site continues, “with more added to our library weekly. First, we started analyzing their protein content by hand. Now, we’re building our automated discovery platform—using robotics and machine learning—to explore their potential faster. The more data we gather, the more we’ll discover proteins, fats, and carbohydrates in plants that will improve the food system.
The meat of the matter
“As our hit rate accelerates,” EatJust says, “we’ll continue applying these plants to our current and new product categories, including eggs, butter, shortening, milk, baked goods, pasta, condiments, snacks, and micronutrient-rich products for billions of people in developing countries.”
Getting to the meat of the matter, the EatJust page explains, “As we researched more of the functional potential of plants, we’ve found that they can do even more: they can enable animal cells to grow sustainably and efficiently.
“Over the past year,” EatJust adds, “we’ve started the early work of expanding our platform to solve the technical challenges of scalable clean meat. Clean meat and seafood are made from cells instead of live, confined animals.
Muscle & fat cells
“Here’s how: meat and seafood are primarily a combination of muscle and fat cells. They require nutrients to grow, whether inside an animal or in a clean facility. And the main limiting factor in scaling clean meat has been providing cells with a sustainable and economical source of nutrients required for cell growth.
“Our methodology of discovery (material isolation, assays, and discovery output) is the same whether we’re finding a plant to replace dairy in butter or a plant to feed cells for clean and sustainable meat and seafood,” EatJust says, and then comes to the bottom line:
“With plants providing nutrients for animal cells to grow, we believe we can produce meat and seafood that is over 10 times more efficient than the world’s highest volume slaughterhouse (a million-square foot facility in Tar Heel, N.C.). All this without confining or slaughtering a single animal and with a fraction of the greenhouse gas emissions and water use.”
Algae & mushrooms
Acknowledged Moran Barwick, “The champions of the cultured meat movement seem to be invested in finding plant-based medium alternatives with both algae and mushrooms providing promising options.”
Meanwhile, Moran Barwick wrote, “The vegan community is most dramatically torn. Some feel that any product derived from an animal remains a form of exploitation. Others believe that with the insurmountable fight against the ongoing animal holocaust and more non-vegans being born every day, we need to search for practical and viable solutions to replace humanity’s rising demand for meat. The vegans on the pro-cultured meat side say their motivation is putting the animals’ interests above all else.”
Concluded Moran Barwick, “Providing an alternative that not only looks and tastes like but actually is meat could be, with the proper harvesting method and growth medium, the most immediate path to animal liberation currently available.”