Joe Paschal

Joe Paschal

Like most of you, I read a lot of press about the future of beef production and promotion of meatless hamburgers and laboratory-grown (cultured or “fake”) meat.

It should give all beef producers – actually all livestock, poultry and fish producers and farmers – pause for thought because the market for our products is the target for these products. Meatless hamburgers and cultured meat products want the market share (or even a part of it) that real meat products currently share. Remember “real” milk?

Meatless hamburgers are based on the concept that livestock, poultry production, commercial fishing and fish farming are not sustainable in that they harm the environment. Since land is limited, there will not be enough land to grow crops for and food and to feed livestock (and poultry).

Meatless hamburgers (even though they are still called “hamburgers” and “bleed” when cooked to make them “look” more like meat) were created for those who do not want to eat real beef for either health or other reasons. In addition, the list of ingredients can make for some interesting reading, chemically speaking.

Cultured meat products are different; they are from a “real” animal. A small muscle sample is collected from a cow, pig or a chicken and bathed in nutrients in a vat. The sample is regularly exercised (usually by slight electrical stimulus) to enhance muscle cell division and produce more “meat”. Although most any muscle cells will work, younger ones are preferred because they will last longer (a cell doesn’t divide forever; after about 10,000 times, it dies). If fat is needed to enhance flavor, it will be added later (fat cells don’t divide; they just get bigger) when there are enough cells to create a product (hamburger).

Cultured meat is not on the market – yet. However, at least two major food companies are investing in the technology since there will eventually be a lot more people to feed in the world, and meat, even cultured meat, may be the easiest and least expensive way (by then) to get them the necessary protein.

Meat derived from animals is highly nutritious, much higher in protein than most edible plant products, and beef is higher in zinc and iron. These alternative products will have a place in the market, but if livestock producers don’t want to follow milk’s example, you will need to promote your products’ attributes.

Joe C. Paschal is a livestock specialist with the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service in Corpus Christi. Contact him at j-paschal@tamu.edu or 361-265-9203.

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