With animal welfare and environmental safety being a top concern for consumers, food manufacturers have been working hard to produce ethical meat products that could appeal to this demographic. The development of lab-grown meat has become a hot topic for food companies and consumers because of its ethical production techniques and its small carbon footprint. However, environmental advocacy group, Friends of The Earth, believes that there needs to be more research into the development of lab-grown meat before it becomes available to the general public.
The one million-member environmental organization claims that the development of genetically engineered proteins and lab-grown meat products needs more regulatory oversight and transparent labeling. In a report, the organization highlights key factors that the federal government and consumers should consider before making lab-grown meat or genetically engineered proteins common food products.
Since the production of such forms of proteins require various processing aids, such as genetically engineered yeast for the Impossible Burger or cells extracted from in vitro processes for lab-grown meats, the organization claims that these unnatural production techniques need more research and proof of safety.
According to Friends of the Earth, key issues associated with the production of lab-grown or genetically engineered proteins include:
- Sustainable production
- Whether this will provide a viable solution to traditional animal protein
- How these new products compare to traditional meat-alternatives in terms of sustainability
- If these products stay true to their marketing claims
- If their safety should be determined by their manufacturers
- If there is enough regulatory safety assessments on these products
- If they meet consumer expectations
“We need real data,” said Dana Perls, Senior Food and Agriculture Campaigner at Friends of the Earth to Bloomberg in an interview. “People have been clear that they want real, truly sustainable organic food, as opposed to venture capitalist hype which could lead us down the wrong path.”
In their report, the organization specifically highlighted the use of “heme,” which is a protein derived from genetically engineered yeast, in the Impossible Burger. The vegan burger manufacturer claims that heme is the key ingredient that they use to provide a more realistic taste, texture and look to their “bleeding” veggie burgers. However, Friends of the Earth has expressed concerns for the long-term safety of the ingredient as there still needs to be more direct evidence for the safety of heme in food products, according to the USDA. On the other hand, Impossible Foods argues that they had hired a panel who determined their product was safe in both 2014 and 2017. In fact, Rachel Konrad from Impossible Foods told Bloomberg that Friends of the Earth’s report is based off of “total disregard to science, facts and reality.”
Memphis Meats, a lab-grown meat company, also argues against Friends of the Earth as they are already in the process of certifying their products as safe to eat. According to the company, lab-grown meat can play a critical role in reducing the environmental impact of food production, especially in the meat industry. The production of lab-grown meat creates 96 percent less gas emissions than traditional meat production techniques and requires 99 percent less land and 82-96 percent less water. This is why many lab-grown meat companies want to label their products as “sustainable” and “eco-friendly.”
However, Friends of the Earth argued that companies should not make such sustainability claims until they invest in an expansive assessment of their total environmental impact compared to traditional meat production. The organization wants labs to also take their energy use into consideration when developing these assessments because the production of lab-grown meat requires a significant amount of energy. The environmental group suggested that the FDA and the USDA should be involved in certifying lab-grown meat as safe for the general public and the environment.
“We’ve had the experience of watching the environmental impacts of some food products, and we really can’t afford to create more unsustainable food systems that take us in another wrong direction,” Perls told Bloomberg.