Animal-Free “Animal” Products? Social Media That Delivers Your Food? Are These the Future of the Food Business?


With the latest porcine virus and drought driving up the price of meat, people are looking for alternatives to animal-based products. While we hope most people are looking to veggies, legumes, and other sources of more sustainable sustenance, some scientists are working tirelessly in their labs to create animal-free “animal” products. Welcome to the future?

Concerned with the unsustainable and inhumane practices of livestock operations and seeing a need (and a market) amongst a large lactose-intolerant global population, a start-up called Muffri is developing a synthetic milk product that it hopes to market by 2015. Different from soy or nut-based milk, this “milk” would be cultured in a lab. Jonathan O’Callahan of Daily Mail UK explains:

The team believes producing the key components of milk in yeast culture will make it possible to provide consumers and food manufacturers with the same products they know and love, but through a more sustainable, healthy and humane process."

Cool? Weird? Both? Yeah, both.

Less promising, it seems, are the ongoing attempts to create in-vitro meat. Andrew Masterson of the Sydney Times Herald follows the career of Orron Catts, one of the pioneering scientists in the bizarre world of laboratory meat, to a lab in Australia where they are using 3-D printers to create meat-like substances using (I’m not joking here), the blood from the heart of an unborn cow. What?! Yep. Again, one of the goals of the in-vitro meat endeavor is to get away from the problems of livestock rearing, but Catts openly admits that his process does not necessarily do that, nor is it a cost-effective solution:

I think in-vitro meat is a fantastic way of introducing novelty foods for the rich. . . It’s never going to be a way to feed the world – there’s no way to upscale the process to that level. . .The world will never be fed by factory-grown meat.”

Phew! That’s a relief.

And, finally, let’s bring it back to a reality that we can handle. In some inspiring news on technology and livestock, SF Weekly highlights a company called AgLocal that uses an innovative approach (based on social media technology) to power a food hub that aggregates local and sustainably produced meat. AgLocal offers on-line orderers a few different options of packages that are sourced from a dozen local farms who deliver to a central AgLocal location where they are then compiled and delivered out. The potential here is not to be underrated:  

. . . if the company achieves its ultimate goal, it could present an intriguing model for online grocery stores: a way for big food-delivery companies like Walmart and Amazon to offer high-quality meat at scale without having to build the infrastructure themselves — and, importantly, allowing the corporations to offer customers an alternative to factory-farmed foods."

ag_local_2.jpgOf these three “waves of the future” above, we can stomach only the third. Our take on the matter, whether you subscribe to something like Aglocal online or gain the pleasure of human interaction at the farmers market; stick to food that started in the soil.

PHOTO: Langley Farms in Marin and Sonoma Counties of Northern California, raises sustainably and ethically produced pork available online through an online subscription at AgLocal.


Read all articles by Damon Cory-Watson

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