"Ick” factor: Media works to drive consumer acceptance of lab meat

Here’s the good, the bad and the ugly on plant-based and cell-cultured protein products. Will consumers bite? The media is helping eliminate the “ick factor” and change public perception.


Amanda Radke, BEEF Magazine 

May 10, 2019


In just one week, I’m slated to speak in Kentucky at ONE: The Alltech Ideas Conference (ONE19) on emerging alternative proteins, including plant-based and cell-cultured patties.


This is a hot industry topic right now — one that I’m excited to talk about. But it also comes with some pressure, as staying current on the most recent headlines is nearly impossible! The media has really rallied around these products, and many journalists seem to be pushing for consumer acceptance of burgers made out of beets or fetal calf cells.


So, in an effort to have the most up-to-date information possible for my speech, I’ve been reading the most recent headlines. Naturally, I thought these also might be of interest to BEEF readers.


As we face the direct competition of these meat alternatives, which make grand-sweeping claims of nutritional, ethical and environmental superiority, we must also balance the conversation with facts about real beef production.


What can a cow do that a plant-based or petri-dish patty cannot? Let me count the ways.


Without cattle, there would be no by-products like life-saving insulin for diabetics, makeup for your Instagram portraits, or leather goods used for boots, shoes, belts and sporting goods, just to name a few. Try to replicate these by-products with synthetic options and just imagine the carbon footprint there!


Without cattle, rangeland would become useless to humans. A whopping 70% of the world’s surface (800 million acres in the U.S.) is not fit for farming or development. However, these terrains grow cellulosic material (non-edible for people) that ruminant animals can convert into nutrient-dense meat and the aforementioned life-enriching by-products.


Without cattle, many crop by-products would go to waste. From potatoes to peanut vines to corn stalks and beat pulp, cattle can consume a wide variety of inedible by-products that would otherwise go into landfills.


Without cattle, we would lack a true, healthy and safe nutritious beef product. Lab meat does not equal real beef. Period.


The fats and the muscular structures must be grown in a petri dish, using tons of energy, consuming a soy-based medium and creating waste that must be extracted. These fibers must be mushed together to create a protein patty.


There is a lack of available proven science and research on these products and the human body. These products should have to go through the same rigorous testing and safety checks as beef products do, and perhaps more, given that this is a new technology and area of food science...


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