Will politicians allow lab-grown meat to be called meat?

Not a silly question. Living in a nation where people willingly pay extra to buy gluten-free cheese, gluten-free nuts, gluten-free water – the naming of commercially available foods is part of Western capitalist religion.

❝ After centuries of a veritable monopoly, meat might have finally met its match. The challenger arises not from veggie burgers or tofu or seitan, but instead from labs where animal cells are being cultured and grown up into slabs that mimic (or, depending on whom you ask, mirror) meat. It currently goes by many names—in-vitro meat, cultured meat, lab-grown mean, clean meat—and it might soon be vying for a spot in the cold case next to more traditionally made fare. To put it bluntly: the kind that comes from living animals, slaughtered for food.

❝ Cultured-meat manufacturers like Just Inc. and Memphis Meats are hoping to provide consumers with meat that is just like its predecessor, that tastes and looks and feels and smells exactly the same as something you might get in stores today but will be more sustainable. Whether that will turn out to be true won’t be clear for some time. But there’s another, more immediate battle heating up between the cattle industry and these new entrants into the meaty ring. So buckle up and put on your wonkiest hat, because the labeling war is about to begin.

All Earth’s spiders could eat every human on Earth — in one year


Click to enlarge – if you must

Spiders are quite literally all around us. A recent entomological survey of North Carolina homes turned up spiders in 100 percent of them, including 68 percent of bathrooms and more than three-quarters of bedrooms. There’s a good chance at least one spider is staring at you right now, sizing you up from a darkened corner of the room, eight eyes glistening in the shadows.

❝ Spiders mostly eat insects, although some of the larger species have been known to snack on lizards, birds and even small mammals. Given their abundance and the voraciousness of their appetites, two European biologists recently wondered: If you were to tally up all the food eaten by the world’s entire spider population in a single year, how much would it be?

❝ Martin Nyffeler and Klaus Birkhofer published their estimate in the journal the Science of Nature earlier this month, and the number they arrived at is frankly shocking: The world’s spiders consume somewhere between 400 million and 800 million tons of prey in any given year. That means that spiders eat at least as much meat as all 7 billion humans on the planet combined, who the authors note consume about 400 million tons of meat and fish each year.

Or, for a slightly more disturbing comparison: The total biomass of all adult humans on Earth is estimated to be 287 million tons. Even if you tack on another 70 million-ish tons to account for the weight of kids, it’s still not equal to the total amount of food eaten by spiders in a given year, exceeding the total weight of humanity.

In other words, spiders could eat all of us and still be hungry.

RTFA more even more info aimed at making it harder to fall asleep at night. In a nice, warm, dark room.

Americans eat less meat — Agribusiness still increases use of antibiotics on farms


Peter Hermes Furian/Shutterstock

Despite recent efforts by health experts, doctors, and the Food and Drug Administration to pull the meat industry away from its heavy use of antimicrobials, livestock producers seem to have dug in their heels.

From 2009 to 2014, the amount of antimicrobials sold and distributed for use in livestock increased by 22 percent, according to an FDA report released Thursday. Of the antimicrobials sold in 2014, 62 percent were related to drugs used in human health, also called medically important. From 2009 to 2014, sale and distribution of medically important antimicrobials used on farms also jumped—an increase of 23 percent.

That brings the 2014 total of antimicrobials sold for US livestock to 15,358,210 kilograms, including 9,475,989 kilograms of medically important drugs, according to the report.

In 2013, researchers estimated that agriculture and aquaculture take in about 80 percent of all antibiotics…sold in the US.

The new data comes amid calls for responsible use of antimicrobials and antibiotics—in clinics as well as farms. Last month, the American Academy of Pediatrics called on livestock producers to curb overuse of drugs on farms. Much of the tonnage of drugs go to illness prevention on factory farms rather than treatments for sick animals. And producers sometimes use the drugs because they help animals fatten up. Such overuse, the doctors argued, is fueling the development of antimicrobial resistance among microbes, which in turn can cause difficult-to-treat infections in people, particularly vulnerable children…

But the FDA’s guidelines appear to have had little to no impact so far. Sale of animal antimicrobials increased by four percent from 2013 to 2014, while use of medically important antimicrobials increased by three percent, according to the new report.

In a statement, Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) said, “This report demonstrates what I have been saying for years: that FDA’s policies have been toothless in the face of the continued, widespread misuse of life-saving antibiotics in factory farms…The increased use of antibiotics over the last year is particularly disgraceful.”

The Congresswoman, a microbiologist by training, called on the FDA to immediately prohibit the use of medically important antimicrobials on farms…

The Animal Health Institute, like their favorite employers in agribusiness, lied and denied on behalf of profiteers who are assured they can get away with stuffing just about anything that increases cheap fast weight in meat on the hoof. Or claw. Or fins.

Guaranteed to encourage the universe to look askance at the animal protein we consume, here’s the report from the FDA.

Who would want to talk to meat?

Milky-Way

So there are 100 Earth-like planets for every grain of sand in the world. Think about that next time you’re on the beach.

Moving forward, we have no choice but to get completely speculative. Let’s imagine that after billions of years in existence, 1% of Earth-like planets develop life (if that’s true, every grain of sand would represent one planet with life on it). And imagine that on 1% of those planets, the life advances to an intelligent level like it did here on Earth. That would mean there were 10 quadrillion, or 10 million billion intelligent civilizations in the observable universe.

Moving back to just our galaxy, and doing the same math on the lowest estimate for stars in the Milky Way (100 billion), we’d estimate that there are 1 billion Earth-like planets and 100,000 intelligent civilizations in our galaxy.

SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) is an organization dedicated to listening for signals from other intelligent life. If we’re right that there are 100,000 or more intelligent civilizations in our galaxy, and even a fraction of them are sending out radio waves or laser beams or other modes of attempting to contact others, shouldn’t SETI’s satellite array pick up all kinds of signals?

But it hasn’t. Not one. Ever.

Where is everybody?

There are a number of answers. All speculative. A topic, in fact, that I have been discussing with a few of the folks associated with this blog…for years.

Here’s one of the best conclusions – taken from the point of view of an alien species checking out our region of the Milky Way galaxy:

“They’re made out of meat.”

“Meat?”

“Meat. They’re made out of meat.”

“Meat?”

“There’s no doubt about it. We picked up several from different parts of the planet, took them aboard our recon vessels, and probed them all the way through. They’re completely meat.”

“That’s impossible. What about the radio signals? The messages to the stars?”

“They use the radio waves to talk, but the signals don’t come from them. The signals come from machines.”

“So who made the machines? That’s who we want to contact.”

“They made the machines. That’s what I’m trying to tell you. Meat made the machines.”

“That’s ridiculous. How can meat make a machine? You’re asking me to believe in sentient meat.”

Here’s a link to the rest of this extraterrestrial discussion.

Thanks, Ursarodinia
Thanks, Mike

Rancher defies government to save Fukushima’s radioactive cows


Click to enlargeNew York Times/Ko Sasaki

Angered by what he considers the Japanese government’s attempts to sweep away the inconvenient truths of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, Masami Yoshizawa has moved back to his ranch in the radioactive no-man’s land surrounding the devastated plant. He has no neighbors, but plenty of company: hundreds of abandoned cows he has vowed to protect from the government’s kill order…

“These cows are living testimony to the human folly here in Fukushima,” said Mr. Yoshizawa, 59, a gruff but eloquent man with a history of protest against his government. “The government wants to kill them because it wants to erase what happened here, and lure Japan back to its pre-accident nuclear status quo. I am not going to let them…”

Mr. Yoshizawa is no sentimentalist — before the disaster, he raised cows for slaughter. But he says there is a difference between killing cows for food and killing them because, in their contaminated state, they are no longer useful. He believes the cows on his ranch, abandoned by him and other fleeing farmers after the accident, are as much victims as the 83,000 humans forced to abandon their homes and live outside the evacuation zone for two and a half years.

He is worried about his health. A dosage meter near the ranch house reads the equivalent of about 1.5 times the government-set level for evacuation. But he is more fearful that the country will forget about the triple meltdowns at the plant as Japan’s economy shows signs of long-awaited recovery and Tokyo excitedly prepares for the 2020 Olympics — suggesting his protest is as least as much a political statement, as a humanitarian one…

He still searches the evacuation zone for the often emaciated survivors, which he often has to pull by their ears to get them to follow him home. He tries to dodge police roadblocks; it is technically illegal for anyone to live inside the evacuation zone. Nonetheless, he has been caught a half-dozen times and forced to sign prewritten statements of apology for entering the zone. He has done so, but only after crossing out the promises not to do it again…

Mr. Yoshizawa notes wryly that the cows are living much longer than they would have if they had been led off to slaughter.

For now, the local authorities have come up with a very Japanese solution to Mr. Yoshizawa’s defiance: turning a blind eye. Town officials in Namie deny knowledge of him or anyone else living inside the evacuation zone — despite the fact that they have restored electricity and telephone service to the ranch.

Though I’m not certain about the sense of Mr. Yoshizawa’s protest, the essentials, the history of what led up to his dissent, is certainly protest-worthy. Having worked around radioactive materials and components for nuclear power plants, I am concerned about his long-term health. It has always seemed that whatever level the powers-that-be announced as tolerable sooner or later were reduced.

The half-life of Cesium-137 is a tad over 30 years. Present in his own body and the cows.

I wish him well.

Overdue and halfway useful — F.D.A. will finally phase out some antibiotics in farmed animals

The Food and Drug Administration said Wednesday that it was beginning to phase out the use of some critical antibiotics in animals raised for meat, a major policy shift that could have far-reaching implications for industrial farming and human health.

The change, which will take effect over the next three years, is the first serious attempt by the federal government to curb the broad use of antibiotics in farm animals in decades. Pressure for action has mounted as the effectiveness of drugs important for human health has declined, and deaths from bugs resistant to antibiotics have soared. Food producers said they will abide by the new rules, but some public health advocates voiced concerns that loopholes could render the new policy toothless…

The agency has changed the rules so that food animal producers would no longer be able to use antibiotics to make animals grow faster. It will accomplish that by asking manufacturers of the drugs to change the labels in a way that would make it illegal for farmers to use the medicines for growth promotion.

The changes, which were originally proposed in 2012, are voluntary for drug companies. But F.D.A. officials said they believed the companies would comply, based on discussions during the public comment period. The two drug makers that represent a majority of such drug products have already stated their intent to participate…

Additionally, the agency is requiring that licensed veterinarians supervise the use of antibiotics, effectively requiring farmers and ranchers to obtain prescriptions in order to be able to use the drugs for their animals.

Consumer health advocates say it is an open question whether the new rules will change how much antibiotics are consumed by animals. They say that a loophole will allow animal producers to keep using the same low doses of antibiotics, by arguing that they were needed to keep animals from getting sick, and thereby avoiding the new ban on use for growth promotion…

A more meaningful move, Dr. Keeve Nachman said, would be to ban the use of antibiotics for the prevention of disease, a step the F.D.A. so far has not taken. That would limit antibiotic uses to treatment of sickness that was diagnosed by a veterinarian, a much narrower category, he said.

RTFA for a few more details. This should get rolling in the beginning of 2014 and we’ll see which Pharmas obey which regulations. Same goes for the agribusiness giants who consider consumers a fraction of a step more important than the commodity animals they slaughter.

New DNA test can beef up dairy and meat quality

A genomics technique developed at Cornell to improve corn can now be used to improve the quality of milk and meat…

A team led by Ikhide Imumorin, Cornell assistant professor of animal science, is the first to apply a new, inexpensive yet powerful genomics technique to cattle called genotyping-by-sequencing (GBS). The protocol contains only four basic steps from DNA to data, and Imumorin’s work demonstrated it generates enough markers to put cattle genomics on the fast track.

“Breeders are interested in cattle with traits such as high meat or milk quality, disease resistance and heat tolerance, but identifying the best animals means sorting through thousands of unique gene variants in the genome,” said Imumorin. “Until recently, the cost of genomics techniques has set too high a bar for breeders, and many cattle species, particularly those outside the United States and Europe found in Africa and Asia, were excluded from the genomics revolution.”

Using samples from 47 cattle from six breeds from the United States and Nigeria, Imumorin’s team used GBS to identify more than 50,000 genetic markers for genetic profiling…The team’s analysis showed the markers were preferentially located in or near the gene-rich regions in the arms of the chromosome, making them well sited for tagging genes in genetic studies. The researchers also demonstrated that the markers accurately detect the relationships among the breeds.

“GBS democratizes genetic profiling, and our work shows its usefulness in livestock,” said Imumorin. “While a genetic profile could run $70 to $150 per individual using commercially available methods, GBS brings the cost down to around $40 a sample or less. It’s a very exciting time.”

Imumorin predicts that GBS will be deployed by breeders and geneticists scanning herds for superior breeding stock. He cited the example of how selection of bulls for use in breeding programs will be streamlined through GBS-driven genome analysis around the world without the steep cost of commercial SNP chips, the standard tool based on gene variants discovered in European cattle breeds and made into off-the-shelf genotyping chips.

“For example, a bull can have genes for superior milk production, but the only way to test that is to evaluate milk production in his daughters,” said Imumorin. “A bull will be at least five years old before two generations of his offspring can be evaluated, and that’s a long time for breeders to take care of a bull that may not make the final cut. These techniques hasten the day when a bull’s value can be assessed using genetics on its day of birth more cheaply than we can do now.”

Bravo. Cost-savings and accelerated genetic development are always welcome in cattle-breeding.

Early humans began eating meat earlier than thought

A fragment of a child’s skull discovered at Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania shows the oldest known evidence of anemia caused by a nutritional deficiency, reports a new paper published in PLOS ONE…

The discovery, made by a global team of researchers led by Manuel Domínguez-Rodrigo from Complutense University, Madrid, suggests that early human ancestors began eating meat much earlier in history than previously believed. The skull fragment identified is thought to belong to a child somewhat younger than two and shows bone lesions that commonly result from a lack of B-vitamins in the diet.

Previous reports show that early hominids ate meat, but whether it was a regular part of their diet or only consumed sporadically was not certain. The authors suggest that the bone lesions present in this skull fragment provide support for the idea that meat-eating was common enough that not consuming it could lead to anemia.

Nutritional deficiencies such as anemia are most common at weaning, when children’s diets change drastically. The authors suggest that the child may have died at a period when he or she was starting to eat solid foods lacking meat. Alternatively, if the child still depended on the mother’s milk, the mother may have been nutritionally deficient for lack of meat.

Both cases imply that “early humans were hunters, and had a physiology adapted to regular meat consumption at least 1.5 million years ago,” say the authors.

All this speaks to is how human beings evolved. There weren’t too many heavy philosophical discussions of nutrition and appropriate sources at that level of evolution. The quest for scarce goods predates slave economies with sustenance central. Frankly, I doubt if the topic came up even at the level of agriculture sufficiently advanced for one person – a slave – to produce enough to keep them alive and have a surplus remaining for the common good.

Which is why I’m never surprised when researchers into earliest days of hominids discover something else that we consumed a bit earlier than previously accepted. We’re omnivores, folks. We evolved because we weren’t picky eaters. If we could catch it, kill it, take it away from some other critters – we ate it.

Lab-grown meat may give meat-on-the-hoof a run for the money

A burger grown in a laboratory. Sounds like science-fiction? Well up until very recently it probably was but now the prospect of lab-grown meat appearing on our supermarket shelves is closer than ever.

Synthetic or test-tube meat involves taking a small amount of cells from a living animal and growing it into lumps of muscle tissue in the lab, which can then, in theory, be eaten as meat for human consumption.

As well avoiding killing animals, scientists believe it could help reduce the environmental impact of meat production.

The technology to create artificial meat has been around since the turn of the century — NASA once looked into developing it for their astronauts — but making an edible and commercially viable product has remained out of reach. It also remains to be seen whether consumers will accept it as an alternative to farm animal-based meat.

But now a U.S. scientist says he is closer than ever to achieving the technological breakthrough. What’s more, he believes a market for his lab-grown meat does exist…

Gabor Forgacs, of the University of Missouri, became the first scientist in the United States to produce and publicly eat some of his tissue-engineered meat, at the 2011 TEDMED conference…

Initially at least, his engineered meat is likely to be more of a “niche” product, priced somewhere close to Kobe beef, which is currently around $125-$395 a kilo.

This product isn’t going to be for the masses at the beginning, it’s going to be for eco-conscious people and people who don’t eat meat for ethical reasons,” says Forgacs…

In fact, rather than attempt to race to produce an engineered meat product, Forgacs said his first lab-grown product is going to be leather, which he says “is a similar product to some extents but not as controversial and doesn’t require the same legislation that meat does”.

Interesting article. I’ve had a couple of friends, molecular biologists, who’ve experimented in this field. No luck that I heard of; but, mostly that was before the kind of genetic engineering now possible.

My position is the same as anything proposed to aid our environment and our lives. Make it affordable – preferably more affordable – than the products you’re competing with and you can find someone to make it seem more palatable. Economics rules the marketplace a heck of a lot better than tradition and ideology.