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Lab food could change the way we eat

Projects indicate that food grown in labs is a sustainable practice.

For centuries, writers have imagined pills that are the equivalent of an entire meal. But a little more than a decade ago, scientists actually started to develop food in a sustainable way.

According to the last report released by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), food demand is expected to grow by 70 percent in 2050. If this projection is extrapolated to livestock activities, we are looking at the production of 65 percent more nitrous oxide, 67 percent more methane and 64 percent more ammonia, which contributes to acid rain.

That's why scientists are investigating ways to create animal products without interfering with the alimentary chain. Since 2013, Dutch scientist Mark Post has been working on a hamburger in his lab. Post hopes that in five years it could become available in grocery stores. However, critics have doubts about the price of such products, and about the public skepticism. 

But some businesses and projects have been successful. Real Vegan Cheese, for example, makes vegan cheese by synthesizing the animal genome.

“We believe that the days of using cows as food production machines is environmentally irresponsible,” Real Vegan Cheese says on its website. "This project will address future food scarcity concerns, as yeast are renewable and the processes to cheese are nearly limitless."

Other similar projects include Clara Foods, which fabricates chicken eggs, New Harvest, a foundation where bio-projects are financed, as IndieBo, which finances bio-startups.

Is Lab food healthier?

It seems that lab-grown food, as being produced without pesticides and other chemical and pathological components (like antibiotics and hormones), could be healthier. However, there are not yet convincing studies on the issue.

A study made by Zion marketing consultancy showed that by 2022, the market for Lab food will earn $220.3 billion. But there is no research that could guarantee its benefits. 

Q&A with Audra Davies, vice-president of investigation at Amway, based in Ada, Michigan

Q: Tell us about one of your unique products

– We released a product called “Double X”, a multivitamin supplement. We did it in Japan and the U.S. We combine 22 vitamins and minerals with 22 botanical concentrates. We patented the product with a mixture of three kinds of plants: turmeric, rosemary and quercetin. What we saw in that combination, after monitoring many materials, is the answer to oxidative stress.

Q: There is a boom in nutritional supplements in the market. How do you produce yours?

– We use natural components and have farms in Mexico, Brazil and the U.S. We grow our products organically through sustainable processes. We always make tests, in a constant way, with certified management practices, and in that way, we guarantee the quality of our products. There is also science in the way we monitor all components, because we add them to the products based on biotechnology to guarantee their benefits.

Q: Which is your most revolutionary product?

– Amway has a long story with botanical components. One of them is the acerola, we cultivate in Brazil and we process it in the United States. It has a wide use in nutrition and in cosmetic care, because in skin it gives some antioxidant effects. That helps for expression lines and wrinkles.

Q: What is the investigation process?

– We seek many materials. First, we develop a model, a simulation with the natural reaction of a human organism. We do that in a cellular system and after, we try that in a lab, seeing the bioactivity of materials. That is a process which endures between 18 and 24 months. We also do agricultural investigation: in the last year we have invested in an investigation center in China, where we identify botanic material through traditional medicine. We evaluate how to grow components in an organic way and we identify the part of the plant which will give us the best concentration of phytonutrients. That knowledge is transferred and we make tests in our farms to determinate the best place to grow them. That investigation takes also between five and six years before the release to the public.

Q: What is the advantage of a vegetable product over an animal-based product?

– Our philosophy is based in phytonutrients: we consider that there are components in plants that make a difference in human health. When we investigate with botanical products, we also think about sustainability and the environment.