A panel of scientists has expressed “serious safety concerns” about Bill Gates’ plan to “revolutionize the future of food” by taking traditional meat off the table and replacing it with “lab-grown meat“, which is produced by taking biopsied stem cells from a living animal and using them to grow meat in a biolaboratory.
Gates has teamed up with Richard Branson to invest tens of millions of dollars in the production of fake meat. According to Gates, the Western world must “shift entirely to synthetic beef.“
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The Center for Food Safety (CFS) reports that more than 70 companies are working on bringing cell-cultured meat to the market, and Singapore has already started selling the Frakenproduct.
The CFS last week assembled a panel of experts for a webinar to address the many questions surrounding Bill Gates’ lab-grown meat, especially its safety and how the products will be regulated.
Panelist Michael Hansen, Ph.D., senior staff scientist with Consumer Reports, was the first of the scientists to raise the question of whether the lab-grown meat is actually safe for human consumption.
Hansen explained that plant-based meats such as the Impossible Burger use genetic engineering to create “soy-like hemoglobin.” But the “inputs” used in cell-cultured meat lab are actually “recombinants” — manipulated DNA segments — which he says is more complicated and “disconcerting.”
According to Hansen, the piece of flesh biopsied from the animal is an undifferentiated stem cell. The products use bio-engineered proteins in a nutrient solution to induce the cells to differentiate into muscle for meat. This is done in bio-reactor vats similar to those used to make beer.
The Defender reports: While scientific papers have covered topics related to cell-cultured meat, Hansen said, none has actually analyzed the nutritional characteristics of the finished product, and academics have not received samples.
This implies “problems behind the scenes,” Hansen said, adding, “I doubt this technology will work.”
What is driving consumer interest in cell-cultured meat?
CFS Research and Policy Associate Julia Ranney, who also participated in the panel discussion, noted that Bill Gates, Sir Richard Branson, Hollywood actors, venture capitalists, impact funds and Big Food companies Cargill, JBS and Archer-Daniels-Midland are investing in cell-cultured meat.
Ranney asked the panel what is driving interest and investment in the product.
The “sell” is multidimensional, and has clearly attracted interest on Wall Street, panelists said.
The perceived benefits propelling interest in cell-cultured meat include:
- Procuring greater protein sources for the growing world population.
- Addressing world hunger sustainably.
- The need to cut greenhouse gases.
- The need to end cruel and unhygienic industrial animal farming.
- The need to address antibiotic resistance.
Panelist Tom Neltner, chemicals policy director at the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), said he agreed sustainable sources of protein are needed, but cautioned the products will be “proprietary” and “we won’t know their effect or what they are.”
Neltner said cell-cultured seafood has developed more quickly and may debut in markets sooner.
The concept of proprietary foodstuffs, such as “immortal cell lines” and “owned” seeds, led the panelists to address the regulation of cell-cultured meat and the role of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which one panelist called a “captured” agency.
Neltner said he worried cell-cultured meat could be ushered into the food supply under the FDA’s Generally Recognized As Safe program. Under the program, a company simply tells the FDA its product is safe, based on the company’s own documentation, and bypasses the public comment process.
Neltner, whose primary focus at the EDF is food additive safety, said he preferred companies be required to submit to the FDA a “food additive petition,” which includes a “right to challenge.”
Panelists also raised concerns about the effects novel ingredients may have on aspects of the human microbiome.
Hansen pointed out that 10 years ago, we could not culture and study microbiome components. But now we can, and it’s important that we know these effects.
For example, Hansen said, it is now known that the genome and genes themselves can be affected by epigenetic changes without even touching the DNA.
“Your behaviors and environment can cause changes that affect the way your genes work. Unlike genetic changes, epigenetic changes are reversible and do not change your DNA sequence, but they can change how your body reads a DNA sequence.”
Hansen said biopsied cells of an animal used in cell-cultured meat do not contain the immunity actions from the animal’s immune system, which could leave bio-reactor vats susceptible to bacteria like salmonella, fungi and worse unless antibiotics are used.
Cell-cultured meat producers claim they may not have to add antibiotics, although even alcohol distillers have to add them to their vats, Hansen said.
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