BROOKINGS, S.D. — Taking stem cells and turning them into protein is a process that many companies are trying to perfect as they look to create a market for lab-grown meat products.
Not only is the lack of labeling requirements a concern when it comes to these products, but there are also issues that could arise for livestock producers when it comes to protecting their herd genetics.
“I think the concern from a genetics standpoint is that a lot of beef producers, seedstock producers, who are producers that are providing genetics for the beef industry are concerned about all the money that they are spending to improve the genetics of their herd and then what can potentially happen is these companies can isolate cell lines from these animals, which they then will use to grow their lab-grown meat products and basically piggyback on all of the work that these seedstock producers have done in the beef industry,” said Michael Gonda, livestock genetics professor at South Dakota State University.
Right now, there are no proposals to compensate the producers for their genetics.
“If I am that purebred breeder that has developed the genetics into that animal, how is that individual going to get compensated for the use of that cell? They are currently not proposing to pay anything to that. So that purebred breeder out there that has developed a really good consistent animal, they want to take that cell and then use it without any compensation,” said Todd Wilkinson, president of National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and cattle producer from De Smet, South Dakota.
“Right now, that’s I think the biggest problem is that there’s a huge unknown with the regulations that currently are available or could be put into place, it’s just not something that I think has received a lot of regulatory attention,” Gonda said. “So right now, there is nothing that would prevent, at least to my knowledge, any of these companies from just taking these cell lines and then using them to grow lab-grown meat.”
Right now, there isn’t much that livestock producers can do to protect their genetics from these companies.
“If somebody can get ahold of an animal and collect those cell lines from the animal and you think about the beef industry, you know, these beef producers are selling cattle all the time, and all these companies need is they just need a handful of animals to collect these cell lines from and so there is not a lot of protections there for these beef producers,” Gonda said.
And although this may not be an issue that directly affects consumers right now, it is something that needs regulations to protect genetics in the future.
“It’s probably two, three, four years down the road, but the rules need to be made now because if we wait that long, we are already going to be behind,” Wilkinson said.
There are also issues for the lab-grown meat companies if they were to continue to use the same stem cells over and over that would make it hard to closely imitate actual meat.
“That’s one advantage that the beef community does have is that we are continuously selecting beef genetics to improve our herds and then improve our beef attributes like marbling and tenderness and those sort of traits that you would see in your steak you eat at home,” Gonda said. “If you were to just continually use those stem cell lines over and over again, if you are a company growing lab-grown meat, then you wouldn’t be making any continuous genetic improvements.”
But that doesn’t mean these companies can’t improve upon their genetics.
“Now nothing would stop them of course from using a few different stem cell lines to create these lab grown meat products, too. So it’s not like these companies are limited to just using the initial stem cells that they start out with,” Gonda said.
Gonda said there are still many unknowns when it comes to the sustainability of the lab-grown meat industry.
“One of the biggest question marks with this industry is to make it affordable, right now it’s just simply not affordable and would not be cost competitive with what the beef industry is able to provide,” Gonda said. “And of course you’ve got the hindrance of the consumer acceptance of this product too.”
In the end, when it comes to protecting the beef industry and its genetics, advocacy is key.
“I think just getting out there the benefits of their product, I think there’s a lot of positives in the beef industry that we can point to about what we do from an environmental sustainability standpoint and how we do care for our environment, how we do care for our animals and spread that word,” Gonda said.
Powered by WPeMatico
Go to Source