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Opinion

Who thinks lab-grown meat is a great idea? Israel!

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tastes 3D-printed cultivated fish. (Photo: Uria Sayag)

If the thought of fake steaks sends chills up your spine, you’re not alone!

But despite the general consensus, Israel’s Health Ministry has given the go-ahead for licensing lab-grown meat which is intended to be sold to the public. Does that mean that it is safe to eat? Not at all.

According to a new in-depth analysis by FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) and a WHO (World Health Organization) expert panel, there are 53 potential sources of hazards that can lead to problems and negative health consequences, including contamination with heavy metals, microplastics and nano plastics, allergens, such as additives to improve the taste and texture, as well as chemical contaminants, toxic components, antibiotics and prions.”

So, if those foreign and dangerous elements are embedded in this new manufactured meat, why would anyone take the risk of purchasing it – especially since no one knows what the long-term consequences of ingesting those particles could mean health-wise? The short answer is probably found in the way this meat is being marketed.

Potentially viewed as a “global food revolution,” this meat is being promoted as “an alternative protein,” which has the very strong signal of support by the government.” Given Israel’s robust innovation for new technology, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that we seek to be among the first to create the product and then produce it for wide consumption. But how will it impact both the conventional meat industry, which likely doesn’t want the competition, as well as consumers, who will have to make a choice between what is being presented to them versus what their gut is telling them?

On the one hand, in order to convince us that this is consumable meat with superior benefits, it has to be promoted, not only as diet-safe but also as a diversified product that can appeal to those who gave up meat and became vegetarians. We can already hear the ads, assuring those who felt it was unethical to kill animals for food, that they will, once again, be able to enjoy the taste of meat, knowing that a living creature did not have to be sacrificed at the expense of their guilty pleasure.

Another segment of the population, whose interests are more in keeping with a green agenda, similar to the aspirations of the WEF (World Economic Forum), might be more agreeable to adopt this new trend. The WEF, in their efforts to promote a meat-free planet, probably already realizes that most people are not gravitating towards the consumption of bugs and plants. So, who knows? They may switch to this concept as a more palatable option to the “cricket” alternative. But even if that was a valid argument, no one would be able to assure us that this synthetic substitute would not cause irreparable harm to our bodies, since it is an untested commodity.

Nonetheless, media outlets, such as CNN, are already talking about how lab-grown meat could help the planet and our health, by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Claiming to be “real meat, made without the animal,” it sounds tempting on many levels, almost as good as electric cars, until they can’t be charged because there are not enough stations or electricity is being rationed.

To be among the first to experiment with this food source, would literally turn someone into a lab rat, awaiting the unknown results, as well as the uncertain possible consequences. Amidst possible risks, there is the danger that the cell multiplication, which is required in order to produce this meat may be responsible for “some dysregulation which happens in cancer cells. Further, the control of its nutritional composition is still unclear, especially for micronutrients and iron.”

Cultured meat, another name for lab-grown meat, a/k/a in vitro meat, is a process by which this alternative meat is recreated, by removing muscle from a live animal, as well as some cells, with the goal of proliferation, all within a controlled environment. Once the division of those cells occurs, growth enables the production of nutrients, hormones and protein.

In the case of Israel, the process is slightly different as the “meat is cultivated from stem cells of a fertilized egg, rather than from cells of muscle tissue. Consequently, it has been deemed to be kosher and ‘pareve’ designating a food that is neither meat nor dairy.”

But ordinary hormone growth, connected to food, is still prohibited in the European Union as it remains unclear if they will produce “negative effects” on human health in the short and long term.

Consequently, these unknown quantities remain worrisome factors to many who don’t want to end up being the test cases for new technology, similar to mRNA vaccines which Israel was also among the first to sample.

At least one nutritionist expressed her grave doubts by stating, “I’d rather eat my show.” In her New York Post interview, nutritionist and food author, Diana Rodgers, extremely critical of this alternate technology argued that “the best type of meat comes from farms where animals are allowed to graze and be raised outside of the industrial food system, where animals are brought up in over-cramped conditions and pumped full of hormones.”

Pointing out that it’s so expensive, “by the time it gets onto a plate at a restaurant, a lab-grown hamburger could cost $100.” Also citing the lack of available “nutritional information,” Rodgers remains a skeptic as to just how healthy cell-cultured meat is for humans.

Given all of these variables, why would Israel’s Health Ministry be so eager to give the green light to this relatively unknown food technology, knowing that their approval will add credibility and legitimacy to those who rely upon their expertise as to what is safe to consume? According to Times of Israel, “the ministry said the approval came as part of a pilot program for alternative protein carried out by the Department of Food Risk Management at the ministry’s National Food Service. It said that in light of the growing global demand for ‘products of non-living origin’ it is working to approve alternative food sources.”

Does this sound like an ideologically-driven agenda to anyone? Or is that just me? Because, up until now, no one has spoken of the threat of meat shortages, despite the possible lack of certain fruits and vegetables, which are grown in southern communities affected by the ongoing war.

Yet, Israel is “the first to give cultured beef the go-ahead,” and that is being interpreted by Aleph Farms, where the product is manufactured, as a guarantee that “the product is recognized as safe.”

What will happen if we, later, discover that there are disturbing signs that point to it being less safe than originally anticipated? Will the Ministry of Health retract their endorsement? That remains to be seen, but retractions are usually slow in coming and, more often, completely missing.

Let the buyer beware!

A former Jerusalem elementary and middle-school principal and the granddaughter of European Jews who arrived in the US before the Holocaust. Making Aliyah in 1993, she is retired and now lives in the center of the country with her husband.

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