The Maneka Gandhi column: Bio-engineered food is the solution for a healthy economy - Firstpost
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The Maneka Gandhi column: Bio-engineered food is the solution for a healthy economy


By Maneka Gandhi 

Last week I met one of the most innovative people on the planet: Gunter Pauli. He has just released his book Blue Planet and I would recommend that each one of us buy it. It is full of innovative and easy solutions to make a healthy economy. For instance he has invented a solar oven to bake bread for Johannesburg city. He runs his vehicles on turpentine made from the resin of pine trees. I bought his book for children. It is made from paper created by stone waste – a technology bought from him by China which plans to save 25 million trees every year. He has turned the economy of several regions around by simply teaching them an efficient mushroom growing technology. He definitely is one of my heroes.

Of all the technologies needed to change and save the Earth, the most important one is food. When you get meat from a chicken you get a single product but you invest energy, food and money into creating this animal with beaks, eyes, feathers and bones. We end up stripping these away to get the muscle tissue so why not just simply grow the tissue?

Meat — in its production and consumption — has adverse effects on human health, environment, and animal welfare. These include diseases associated with the over-consumption of animal fats; meat-borne pathogens and contaminants; antibiotic-resistant bacteria due to the use of antibiotics in livestock; inefficient use of resources in cycling grains and water through animals to produce protein; soil, air, and water pollution from farm animal wastes; and inhumane treatment of animals.

These problems are now huge. Nutrition-related diseases, such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes, associated with the-consumption of animal fats are now responsible for a third of global mortality. Foodborne pathogens found in meats, such as Salmonella, Campylobacter, pathogenic E. coli, Avian influenza, and Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) are responsible for millions of deaths.

Obtaining nutrients from meat, rather than directly from plants, uses far more cropland, water, fertilizer, pesticides, and energy. Given the inputs required to house, transport, and slaughter animals; transport and process feed grains; and transport and process meat, intensive meat production is only 10% as energy efficient as soybean production.

Billions of tons of farm animal wastes are produced. Animal feed and meat production is responsible for the pesticide contamination of water, heavy metal contamination of soil, and acid rain from ammonia emissions. In addition the greenhouse gas, methane, comes from meat animals. But will people leave meat easily even if they know it is good for them? No. You have to look at the smokers to realize that. There need to be companies that produce meat, its taste and texture but without its problems.

There are two types of meat substitutes that have come into the market: made from plants proteins or from animal tissues grown in cultures.

To produce meat in vitro, in a cell culture, rather than from an animal, begins by taking cells from a farm animal and proliferating them in a nutrient-rich medium. Cells are capable of multiplying so many times in culture that, in theory, a single cell could be used to produce enough meat to feed the global population for a year. After the cells are multiplied, they are attached to a sponge-like “scaffold” and soaked with nutrients. They may also be mechanically stretched to increase their size and protein content. The resulting cells can then be harvested, seasoned, cooked, and consumed as sausages, hamburgers, or chicken nuggets.

Representational eggs. Reuters

In vitro meat has become a serious scientific pursuit in the West. Research is being funded by people and companies who have already changed the world – like Facebook, Google, Twitter and serious billionaires who made their money from spotting the right product before its time.

Muufrii, the company headed by Ryan Pandya and Perumal Gandhi, is making real milk from animal cells. They are being funded by Horizons Ventures from Hongkong. Last week I wrote about two more companies: New Harvest and Modern Meadows which is making Bioleather: real leather made in a lab from tissue cells.

Here are some more people and organisations that are changing the world.

Clara Foods is a company in San Francisco owned by Arturo Elizondo (elizondo.ar@gmail.com ), a Mathematics and Biochemistry graduate from Harvard and David Anchel (davidanchel@gmail.com ), to make chicken-free egg whites. Arturo interned with the investment bank Credit Suisse, the US Supreme Court and the White House before deciding to pursue his passion to create sustainable, animal-free foods.

He was involved in a project on China’s growing meat consumption and its growing public health, environmental and economic liabilities. He wrote a paper on why China should invest in cultured meat (just as it invested in solar energy) to meet the current demand and take animals out of the equation. Clara is not a plant based alternative nor is it vegan. It is the exact same egg white made without the chicken. Egg whites are the protein part of the egg. They are used as a base in many products. Once the egg white is ready it will impact consumer choices in the near future allowing people to eat this instead of what comes from factory farming.

Impossible Foods’ tagline is “You love meat. You love cheese. For thousands of years we've relied on animals to make them. Impossible Foods has found a better way. We use plants to make the best meats and cheeses you’ll ever eat.” They have selected proteins and nutrients from greens, seeds, and grains to recreate the experience of meats and dairy products. The company was founded by Patrick O. Brown, a Stanford University biologist who believed that people would never give up the foods they love until new choices were even more delicious. The team has more than 50 scientists, chefs, farmers, and engineers. Its fake meat looks like meat, bleeds like meat, and even sizzles on the grill. The secret is “plant blood” The thin concoction looks like blood, has the same distinct metallic taste, and is derived from the molecule found in haemoglobin that makes blood red and steak taste like steak. This bioengineered blood comes from plants. Their target: the hard core beef lover. Getting meat and milk from animals is an antiquated technology, says Brown. Impossible Foods is in Redwood City, California. It has attracted $ 75 million funding from Microsoft Corp, Google Ventures, Khosla Ventures and dozens of venture-capital firms.

San Francisco-based Hampton Creek led by Josh Tetrick has raised $120 million. It is best known for its egg-free condiment Just Mayo. Hampton Creek Foods’ mission is to abolish chicken eggs from the diet. It does this by substituting proteins extracted from plants for eggs.

Their plant-based egg solution has come after extensive trials analyzing the proteins of 4,000 different plants. They found about a dozen plants—the Canadian yellow pea is the best—that mimicked egg emulsion. Their immediate goal is to create Just Scramble, a liquid scrambled egg made from plant proteins in 2015.
Its other goal is to create a database of 4 lakh plants for their applicability in food.

The company’s investors include Horizons Ventures, Khosla Ventures, Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin, Salesforce founder and CEO Marc Benioff, the TM Lin family, owners of Uni-President Enterprises—one of the largest food conglomerates in Asia—and Southeast Asia’s Far East Organization, which has a beverage operation, DeepMind Technologies (now owned by Google), Collaborative Fund, Founders Fund, Braintree founder Bryan Johnson, Nick Pritzker’s Tao Capital Partners, Blue Bottle Coffee Executive Chairman Bryan Meehan, and Jean Pigozzi.

Gardein started by Yves Potvin in British Columbia, Canada is a very successful company making meat-like foods. Since 2010 Gardein has received four Canadian Grand Prix 'New Product' awards, the 'Good Food Award' by Natural Health Magazine in 2011.

First Published On : Feb 29, 2016 16:17 IST

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