A couple of years ago, the world was told laboratory grown “meat” had been produced and would likely someday replace the meat we currently eat.
Much was written and there was some serious hand-wringing happening is several business sectors. Some raged at using the word meat for this new innovation.
Soon, meat substitutes were made more popular and many persist today in most supermarkets and some of the QSR (quick serve restaurant) sector. Even some of the biggest traditional meat producers bought into the new product production lines to diversify their business.
Until recently though, I haven’t heard anything about feeding lab meat products to animals. Needless to say, I was very surprised to see an article about the subject, of all places, in the Science & Technology section of the Jan. 31 edition of the Economist.
Essentially, a couple of companies are looking at whether or not pet food can be produced more morally and practically using cell cultures. Growing mouse cells for example is something scientists do all the time and it is easy. One company took a sample from a mouse and started a culture line for its cat food concept because, after all cats chase, kill and eat mice.
Soon they came under fire because some thought this new pet food venture meant more laboratory mice would be killed.
Not so fast, said the company. The donor mouse fully recovered from his donation and has gone home with one of the scientists to live out his natural life and perhaps publish his memoir as his cell line lives on.
A couple of other companies have jumped in too, but none of the big pet food companies yet. Even the lab meat folks admit, taste, relative to human choices, is not important when dealing with pets and pet food. So that’s one hurdle down for them.
There’s a bigger market force out there though. Consider for a moment the amount of offal produced by the production and slaughter of animals for human consumption. Offal is in its traditional context, the organs of a butchered animal.
Today the term may refer also to those parts of that go unused after slaughter and butchering occurs. Offal not used directly for human or animal consumption often moves to a rendering plant. Rendering breaks down the animal leftovers to help make things like, fertilizer, fuel, and on occasion, pet foods built into commercial rations.
Consumers prefer meat products made from muscle tissue and fat, like cuts and hamburger from cattle and chops and bacon from swine. Today, offal products made from an animal’s intestines, internal organs, bones and other parts rarely end up on our tables.
The amount of offal produced in the country is extraordinary and boggles the mind of most people. Most of our offal (classic definition) is sold overseas and amounts to about 250 to 300 metric tons per year which is but a small sliver. Offal is a large part of the carcass value for things not used in our markets here.
Most traditional commercial pet foods contain some offal or products made from offal. So do lots of other things like cosmetics, shampoos and over-the-counter nutritional supplements. That bothers some people, hence, the look at lab meat. The problem is if we shut down such uses for offal where does it go? Landfills?
The hope is that people would change tastes, stop eating as much red meat and poultry (we didn’t mention at all), stop putting offal in pet food and then the offal volume would become manageable.
Charlie Powell is the public information officer for the Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine, which provides this column as a community service.