Is artificial meat the future of food?

Meat laboratory illustration. (SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY / R3F / AFP)

Artificial meat soon on your plate? The technology is still experimental but Singapore has just authorized the sale of artificial chicken pieces in its restaurants, the health authorities gave the green light last week. This is a world first, explains the American start-up which is at the origin of the project.

It’s a juicy market, with no bad puns. Meat, humanity has always eaten, and as we are more and more numerous, we always need more. It is estimated that global meat consumption is expected to increase by 70% by 2050, which is not without posing some problems, especially for the planet. Intensive livestock farming is a source of methane, a greenhouse gas. It also generates deforestation because space is needed for animals, while forests are a natural barrier to global warming.

Artificial meat could avoid it and even meet global demand. And all this very simply, that’s what its promoters obviously say. “When you see what factory farming is … Personally, that’s what scares me because, in fact, cultivated meat is still quite simple: you put in a machine cells that develop and make muscle “, explains Nathalie Rolland, director of the association “Agriculture Cellular France”.

It’s all done in a machine instead of in an animal’s body, and ultimately, there isn’t that much of a difference.

Nathalie Rolland, association “Cellular Agriculture France”

to franceinfo

“I see it as a much cleaner and safer process, she continues. This is the future, I think, for a category of consumer. People who are sensitive to environmental issues, animal welfare or even interested in innovations. “But as always, the reality is a little more complex.

The principle is actually to take cells from an animal, but it is not that simple. A sample would thus produce up to 20,000 tonnes of meat, according to manufacturers of artificial meat.

Except that, for the moment, we only manage to build muscles and that is not enough to make meat, explains Jean-François Hocquette. “With this process we get mainly muscle fibers, explains the research director at the Agriculture and Food Research Institute (Inrae). But in real muscle, these muscle fibers are surrounded by connective tissue. There are going to be nerves, blood vessels, and fat cells. Obviously, you don’t have all of that when you make cultured meat. “

I call it, not cultured meat, but a bundle of muscle fiber.

François Hocquette, research director at INRAE

to franceinfo

Another argument put forward by the promoters of artificial meat: its beneficial effects on the planet. We are not sure. A report from the World Economic Forum last year evoked a drop in greenhouse gases of only 7%.

One last point remains: our health. In their speeches, the manufacturers also highlight nutritional qualities equivalent to real meat, and there is nothing to show it, according to researcher Jean-François Hocquette: “Today we do not know if it is good for our health because there has not been a large-scale study to verify the nutritional quality of cultured meat. We are at a prototype of laboratory. So, we should leave the laboratories and do nutritional studies as we do for any food. “

In the meantime, the lines are moving and we are talking more and more about artificial meat. Perhaps because those who promote it are small private structures that need to be talked about in order to attract funding. There are around fifty start-ups around the world with very different operations from public research organizations. Start-ups often stemming from agrifood giants such as Cargill, Tyson Foods or the French group Grimaud, which carries out genetic selection of animals.

These structures have also been able to attract some prestigious patrons. Among other bosses of Silicon Valley, we find Richard Branson or Bill Gates. The former boss of Microsoft defends artificial meat. “There are companies called The Impossible and Beyond Meat in which I have invested, he explains in a Bloomberg show in 2019. It is better for your health because there is less cholesterol but above all it considerably reduces methane emissions, cruelty to animals, the production of waste and the area devoted to livestock. ” Very laudable concerns but more commercial interests.

The association “Cellular Agriculture France” thinks that there will be artificial meat on our plates within five years. But we are not there yet, last week, the Minister of Agriculture Julien Denormandie was very clear: “Is this really what we want for our children? No. I’m saying it clearly: meat comes from life, not from laboratories. Count on me so that in France meat remains natural.”

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