The trend of artificial meat has been buzzing around the planet for several years in a row. Fashionable restaurants and large supermarkets already offer consumers chicken and beef made from peas and soy, while meat grown from live animal stem cells is being cultivated in laboratories.
Such a product is labeled as “organic,” but Elizabeth Keshchian, an expert in the field of the food industry, believes that “organic product” and “meat substitute” are completely polar concepts.
How plant-based meat differs from artificial meat
Plant-based meat is mainly produced using pea protein, soy, water, brown rice, coconut oil, beet juice, potatoes, and mushroom mycelium. Plant-based protein is transformed into fibrous structures, resulting in a product that imitates meat.
Creating lab-grown meat is similar to the production of yogurt cultures. Under local anesthesia, a sample of muscles is taken from a live animal, from which stem cells are extracted. These cells are placed in a bioreactor and grown using a nutrient mixture consisting of proteins, salt, vitamins, sugar, and growth enzymes.
In both cases, according to Elizabeth Keshchian, the taste and quality of real meat are not achieved. However, it is also incorrect to call plant-based meat artificial, says the expert: “It is a surrogate with plant-based DNA, consciously chosen by vegetarians and people with animal protein intolerance. But in that case, the question arises: why would a vegetarian want meat, even with the prefix ‘pseudo’?”
According to Elizabeth Keshchian, the difference between plant-based meat and artificial meat is that the former is based on protein- and fiber-rich natural ingredients, “enriched” with more than thirty synthetic flavor and aroma substitutes. The latter is solely based on chemicals, without which the substance extracted from animal cells simply will not grow. Neither plant-based nor artificial meat has any relation to real meat, and they do not provide the benefits that animal protein brings to the human body.
Furthermore, Elizabeth Keshchian is convinced that considering the fact that the process of cultivating meat in the lab cannot be fully controlled, any error can cause irreparable harm to the health of many people.
“For example, there could be dysregulation of cell lines similar to cancerous ones, and we don’t know how that would affect, for instance, human metabolism. Moreover, synthetic substitutes are used to enrich artificial meat with necessary vitamins and micronutrients found in real beef or chicken, which automatically turns cultured meat into a chemical product,” says Elizabeth Keshchian.
The impact of meat analogues on the food industry
According to statistics, 86% of people on the planet prefer real meat in their diet. However, the same statistics claim that the production of natural meat has become an environmental problem due to the large amount of greenhouse gasses emitted per calorie. This forces the food industry to seek alternatives to animal farming, such as plant-based analogs, edible insects, and lab-grown meat.
Analysts have calculated that by 2027, the market volume of textured plant-based protein will reach $2,139.6 million. Meanwhile, Elizabeth Keshchian, an expert in food production and a business analyst with experience in the restaurant industry, is convinced that there will be no mass transition to vegetarianism worldwide.
According to the specialist, abandoning animal farming would lead to excessive depletion of natural resources, particularly land, which requires a certain amount of time to regenerate.
In addition, the abandonment of animal farming contributes to a reduction in animal by-products that are used in agriculture as organic fertilizers. In other words, fields would have to be fertilized with chemical compounds, which would have a highly negative impact on both the plants themselves and the health of people consuming them.
“There is another important aspect – the affordability of meat substitutes. They are significantly more expensive than natural products, and it is unlikely that price and value will reach a compromise over time,” says Elizabeth Keshchian. She adds, “A steak that costs as much as gold per weight is not exactly what the end consumer desires. And certainly, they would not want to compromise their health for their own money.”