Volume 20. Number 1. 2015

Lab-grown meat to offer sustainable protein option

The February 2015 FutureFood 2050 series explores alternatives to standard meat proteins, such as lab-grown meat and protein from bugs, which may play an important role in global efforts to sustainably feed a growing population. FutureFood 2050 is an initiative supported by the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) that addresses how to feed the world’s expected population of 9+ billion by 2050.
One of this month’s articles highlights the work of Mark Post, physiologist professor at the Netherlands’ Maastricht University, who sees lab-grown products as the ultimate solution to feeding the world’s appetite for healthier, sustainable “real” meat. In the summer of 2013, Post served the first-ever in vitro burger during a media event. While the cultured beef patty was pronounced as a tad dry but not bad, its cost—at more than $330,000—made it evident that this was just a first step towards providing an affordable, sustainable meat option.
It took Post and his co-workers three months to grow the 85 grams of meat required for the patty. First, through biopsy, they obtained myosatellite cells—a type of stem cells responsible for muscle regeneration after injury—from a piece of Belgian beef. Then the cells were placed in a nutrient medium in petri dishes. For seven to eight weeks, the cells proliferated, growing and self-organizing into donut-shaped muscle fibers, each barely 1 mm in diameter. Next, the muscles matured and started producing abundant protein. Three weeks later they were ready for harvest.
Before cultured meat can become easily accessible, however, Post says several challenges will need to be overcome. For starters, he has to find a much cheaper growth medium, one that wouldn’t be made of fetal bovine serum (from unborn cows). He is also working on the fat tissue and the protein composition of cultured meat—myoglobin in particular, which is important for the iron content and the red color of beef. And last but not least, Post is trying to scale up production by developing special tanks for growing the cells.
Even with the challenges, Post believes that by 2050 cultured meat production will have already cut in half the amount of resources needed for producing beef. “It’s ambitious, but achievable,” he says. “After all, it [only] took us about three years to get the technology from zero to something that you can eat.” IFT Weekly Newsletter. 18 Feb. 2015.

Scientists and consumers differ on their views of science in food

A new Pew Research Center survey of citizens and a representative sample of scientists connected to the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) reveals crosscurrents that both recognize the achievements of scientists and expose stark fissures between scientists and citizens. There are large differences in their views across a host of issues.
One key example is the topic of genetically modified (GM) foods. A majority of the general public (57%) says that GM foods are generally unsafe to eat, while 37% says such foods are safe; by contrast, 88% of AAAS scientists say GM foods are generally safe. The gap between citizens and scientists in seeing GM foods as safe is 51 percentage points. This is the largest opinion difference between the public and scientists. In addition, there is a 40-percentage point gap on the question of whether it is safe to eat foods grown with pesticides—68% of scientists say that it is, compared with 28% of citizens.
IFT Weekly Newsletter: February 4, 2015

EFSA finds no consumer health risk from BPA exposure

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has released its re-evaluation of bisphenol A (BPA) exposure and toxicity and has concluded that BPA poses no health risk to consumers of any age group at current exposure levels. Exposure from the diet or from a combination of sources (diet, dust, cosmetics, and thermal paper) is considerably under the safe level (the “tolerable daily intake” or TDI).
Although new data and refined methodologies have led EFSA’s experts to considerably reduce the safe level of BPA from 50 micrograms per kilogram of body weight per day (µg/kg of bw/day) to 4 µg/kg of bw/day, the highest estimates for dietary exposure and for exposure from a combination of sources (called “aggregated exposure” in EFSA’s opinion) are three to five times lower than the new TDI.
Uncertainties surrounding potential health effects of BPA on the mammary gland, reproductive, metabolic, neurobehavioral and immune systems have been quantified and factored in to the calculation of the TDI. In addition, the TDI is temporary pending the outcome of a long-term study in rats, which will help to reduce these uncertainties.
IFT Weekly Newsletter: February 4, 2015

Mycotoxins: A Food Safety Crisis

While about a billion people in this world are starving, unimaginable amounts of food are unsuitable for consumption because of moulds that produce toxins, such as aflatoxin. The Food and Agriculture Organization estimated that about a quarter of the world’s agricultural produce is contaminated with mycotoxins, [1] and, in the last 10 years, mycotoxins have accounted for 30–60% of food and feed rejections at European Union borders.
There are ways to reduce the growth of moulds in staple foods, particularly during storage, but also in the field, such as using curved mirrors to direct sunlight to too-moist areas. In India and other countries where the food is grown on small patches of land, solar energy is used on a small scale to reduce losses. Although not perfect, largely because of extraordinary rainfall or monsoons during harvest, these approaches help reduce mould growth, and some companies are developing tailor-made installations for this purpose. Food that is not needed by the grower can be sold to companies that use solar technology for drying. In parallel, however, this problem has also stimulated use (not genetically modified) of varieties that are more resistant to mould and, thus, less risk of mycotoxin contamination. [2] FSM EDIGEST Feb. 3. 2015.

Report Identifies Research Priorities to Sustainably Meet Expected Increase in Global Demand for Animal Protein

WASHINGTON -- Meeting the expected growth in global demand for animal protein in a way that is economically, environmentally, and socially sustainable will require a greater investment in animal science research, says a new report from the National Research Council. The report identifies research priorities and recommends that governments and the private sector increase their support for this research.
Dramatic increases in global demand for food from animal agriculture -- meat, fish, eggs, and dairy – are projected to occur by 2050, due to a predicted increase in world population to between 9 billion and 10 billion and to an expected growth in demand for animal protein as developing countries urbanize and see increases in individual incomes. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that by 2050 there will be a 73 percent increase in meat and egg consumption and a 58 percent increase in dairy consumption over 2011 levels. While models indicate that North America and Europe will see little growth in per capita animal protein consumption, per capita consumption in Asia and Africa will more than double, and it will rise significantly in Latin America and the Caribbean. News from the National Acadamies 7 January 2015.

Indigenous Crops – A market ripe for the picking

Maize, wheat, rice potatoes. The globalisation of the agri-food sector has made us dangerously over-reliant on a handful of food resources. Growing and preserving our knowledge of traditional South African crops is an important step towards preserving food crop biodiversity while enhancing food security and reducing malnutrition. In partnership with institutions such as the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF), the Water Research Comission (WRC) has led the way in terms of enhancing knowledge about the agricultural production of indigenous crops. Several studies have been published in the last few years focusing specifically on the water use and nutritional value of indigenous crops, while the Commission also published the country’s first production guide for African leafy vegetables. The Water Wheel. 13. 5. Pg 44. 2014.

Nutrition and Safety - Key to Consumer Acceptance of GM Foods

A new research study conducted by North Carolina State University (NCSU) and the University of Minnesota (UM) shows that a majority of consumers will accept nanotechnology and/or genetic modification (GM) in foods if the technology enhances the nutrition and/or improves its safety.
The research was conducted in a nationally representative survey of 1,117 U.S. consumers. Participants answered questions that explored their willingness to purchase foods that contained GM and foods that contained nanotech. The questions also explored the price of the various foods and whether participants would buy foods that contained nanotech or GM tech if the foods had enhanced nutrition, improved taste, improved food safety, or if the production of the food had environmental benefits.

The researchers found that the participants could be broken into four groups:

  • 18% belonged to a group labeled the "new technology rejecters," which would not buy GM or nanotech foods under any circumstances.
  • 19% of participants belonged to a group labeled the "technology averse," which would buy GM or nanotech foods only if those products conveyed food safety benefits.
  • 23% of participants were "price oriented," basing their shopping decisions primarily on the cost of the food – regardless of the presence of GM or nanotech.
  • 40% of participants were "benefit oriented," meaning they would buy GM or nanotech foods if the foods had enhanced nutrition or food safety.

For more information, read the NCSU news release at:
Crop Biotech Update 3 Dec. 2014

Body weight heavily influenced by gut microbes: Genes shape body weight by affecting gut microbes

Our genetic makeup influences whether we are fat or thin by shaping which types of microbes thrive in our body, according to a study by researchers at King's College London and Cornell University.
By studying pairs of twins at King's Department of Twin Research, researchers identified a specific, little known bacterial family that is highly heritable and more common in individuals with low body weight. This microbe also protected against weight gain when transplanted into mice.
The type of bacteria whose abundance was most heavily influenced by host genetics was a recently identified family called 'Christensenellaceae'. Members of this health-promoting bacterial family were more abundant in individuals with a low body weight than in obese individuals. Moreover, mice that were treated with this microbe gained less weight than untreated mice, suggesting that increasing the amounts of this microbe may help to prevent or reduce obesity.
Professor Tim Spector, Head of the Department of Twin Research and Genetic Epidemiology at King's College London, said: 'Our findings show that specific groups of microbes living in our gut could be protective against obesity -- and that their abundance is influenced by our genes. The human microbiome represents an exciting new target for dietary changes and treatments aimed at combating obesity.
Ruth Ley, Associate Professor at Cornell University in the United States, said: 'Up until now, variation in the abundances of gut microbes has been explained by diet, the environment, lifestyle, and health. This is the first study to firmly establish that certain types of gut microbes are heritable -- that their variation across a population is in part due to host genotype variation, not just environmental influences. These results will also help us find new predictors of disease and aid prevention.' Science Daily 6 Nov. 2014.

Snippets - contributions are welcome. Edited and produced by Dr. B Cole. - / Fax 011 660 6444 with the help of the Northern Branch Committee.