Editorial

USDA Funding for Feral Hog Eradication Inadequate Against the Risk of ASF

01/15/2021

The USDA will assign $12 million to fourteen projects in eight states as part of the Feral Swine Eradication and Control Pilot Program.  The USDA will combine the resources of the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.  The director of the NRCS stated, "these awards enable landowners to address the threat that feral swine pose a natural resource and agricultural. The funding will be applied to education, outreach and trapping in pilot project areas. This motivation to eradicate feral hogs in the U.S. is myopic and denies the real danger of African swine fever (ASF).

 

The impact of feral hogs on exports is clearly indicated by the loss of the China market by Germany as a result of the emergence of African swine fever in wild boars.  Exports from Germany to China attained 233,000 metric tons valued at $0.8 billion during the first half of 2020. The loss of this market has severely affected domestic production of hogs in Germany through restructuring of cooperatives and integrations.

 

It is estimated that in 2020 pork exports from the U.S. will attain 1,720,000 metric tons representing a net 6 percent of annual production.  The introduction of African swine fever into the U.S. with extension to the feral hog population would represent a catastrophe for the hog industry irrespective of whether or not the disease spread to commercial operations.

 

There is no definitive number of feral hogs in the U.S but estimates suggest over 10 million now in 39 states. Absent an aggressive and effective campaign of eradication requiring more funding than planned by the Federal agencies, the pork industry is at risk of losing exports if only ASF emerges in the wild boar population. The additional direct and indirect and consequential losses if ASF were to spread to backyard and then inevitably to commercial operations would be catastrophic.


 

Slow Pace of COVID Vaccine Rollout Concerning Health Professionals

01/07/2021

Despite Emergency Use Authorization for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines in mid and late December, only approximately 18 million doses had been distributed by January 7th but only five million were injected. The Administration delegated all responsibility for the critical “last mile” to states without either an overall plan or funding. There has been no uniformity in following CDC guidelines for priority groups and obvious problems have arisen relating to scheduling, availability of vaccines and establishing locations where large numbers of recipients can receive their doses.

 

It is noted that the initial two weeks of vaccination involved front line healthcare professionals, hospital staff and medical first-responders. It would be expected that these groups would be the easiest to access but some eligible recipients have yet to receive their first dose while others are now due for their booster vaccines.

 

It remains to be seen whether the retail outlets including free-standing pharmacies and locations in supermarkets will able to collectively maintain a rate of administration of one million doses per day on a national basis even if vaccine delivery is coordinated.

 

Noting the unacceptable delays for administration in Florida where the elderly were obliged to camp out overnight to compete on a first-come-first serve basis, Governors in northeastern densely-populated states are arranging for vaccination in public buildings including convention centers, arenas and libraries. The poultry industry will have to arrange for in-plant administration by coordinating with state and county health authorities. Accordingly appropriate planning should commence as soon as possible.

 

It is axiomatic that without suppression of COVID-19 there will not be a restoration of the economy and a return to life as we knew it.  Rapid deployment of the two scheduled vaccine doses will be critical to attaining a level of immunity that reduces the rate of spread, especially with the emergence of more infectious variants.  The availability and administration of vaccines, off to a slow start, will accelerate with ingenuity and flexibility.

 

Unfortunately vaccines will not be a panacea freeing us from the risks and consequences of COVID-19.  Reducing spread by masking, social distancing and avoiding unnecessary travel and crowds will be critical through mid-summer when we anticipate that at least 75 percent of our population will be immune through either vaccination or less likely exposure.


 

Prospects for Cell-Cultured Alternatives to Meat

01/01/2021

Recently there has been considerable media activity directed to cell-cultured alternatives to beef, and chicken.  This area of potential protein production should in the first instance be distinguished from plant-based meat substitutes.  Established companies such as Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods and major food suppliers and manufacturers including Tyson Foods, Nestle, Maple Leaf Foods, Perdue Farms and others are actively marketing legume and soy-based products competing directly with ground beef and processed chicken.

 

Cell-cultured meat as the name suggests involves isolation of stem cells, differentiation into myocytes followed by culture in fermentation reactors, where cells are bathed in a nutrient solution supporting proliferation and growth.  This is followed by harvesting and presentation as a product recognizable as a food, with taste, texture and nutritive value approximating real meat.

 


Super Meat Pilot Plant

The major cell-cultured meat producers include:-

 

  • Mosa Meat of Maastricht, Holland

Established in 2015, this company has made successive improvements in production technology and claims to be able to produce a hamburger patty for $10 in 2021, down from $250,000 in 2018.  The company has apparently eliminated the need for fetal bovine serum in their growth substrate. Mosa Meat has attracted over $100 million in venture capital with participation by major investment companies and prominent individuals.

 

  • Memphis Meats of Berkeley, CA.

Founded in 2016 this company has raised close to $200 million in funding from major venture capital companies and A-list investors.  By mid-2017 Memphis Meats reduced the cost of their cell cultured meat to $2,400 per pound and anticipates commercially realistic prices by 2022.

 

  • Aleph Farms

This Israeli food technology company has developed a three-dimensional platform to co-culture muscle, fat and connective tissue to produce a meat product claimed to have the texture of steak when served.  The company has received financial support from numerous venture capital companies and has received government sponsorship and facilities. The Company has received investments from Cargill Inc. and has an MoU with Mitsubishi Food Group of Japan for commercialization.

 

  • Super Meat

This is the second Israeli company to develop cell-cultured meat products and has also been funded by venture capital amounting to $150 million for both research and development and erection and operation of a pilot plant

 

  • Blue Nalu and Finless Foods of California are developing cell-cultured fish products to supply high-value alternatives to tuna

 

 

The following characteristics appear to be common to all of the major recognized developers of cell-cultured meat: -

  • Founders are invariably scientists with affiliation to departments of food science, physiology or medicine. They have earned recognized credentials and list peer-reviewed publications and patents in their resumes.
  • The recognized and reputable companies in the field of cell-cultured meat are supported by venture capital and other investment groups that obviously subject their candidates to a level of due diligence and scrutiny commensurate with funding. Prudence dictates establishing the validity of claims and incorporate reviews and documentation of progress. Investors in companies developing cell-cultured meat extend beyond venture capital providers and prominent individuals. In some cases sovereign funds and governments supply direct and indirect support.
  • The major developers in the field are assisted by experienced consultants and employ established credible scientists with expertise in aspects of cell culture, nutrition and food technology
  • Results of development and milestones are generally published subject to appropriate patent protection. All of the developers can document a history of applying established scientific principles with progressive adaptation and implementation of innovations.
  • All the recognized companies in the field have laboratory and pilot plant installations with fermenters and other relevant equipment in operation consistent with the stage of development of their products
  • All of the companies have been reviewed and are covered by mainstream financial media with experienced journalists having access to laboratory and pilot plant installations.  Interviews with both entrepreneurial management and scientists guiding development of products are released.

 

The major restraint to commercialization is to achieve a projected realistic cost comparable to both plant-based meat products and conventional meat from intensive livestock production. Some breakthroughs have been achieved through stepwise and consistent development and application of technology.

 

An appropriate regulatory framework for approval is the second major obstacle to availability.  The E.U. has initiated reviews, eventually leading to approval of cell-cultured technology. Based on the glacial rate of drafting and finalizing regulations among twenty-seven nations, a regulatory framework is not expected for at least five years.  In the U.S., the responsibility for cell-cultured meat will be divided between the FDA and the USDA-Food Safety and Inspection Service.  This compromise over "turf" will delay approval and commercialization.  Singapore has apparently approved regulations for cell-cultured meat.  China will proclaim regulations when beneficial to state-affiliated enterprises

 

Public perception and confidence in the technology represents the third hurdle to general acceptance. Even at a competitive price there appears to be resistance to yet another "frankenfood" with strict vegans recognizing the origin of stem cells and eschewing cell-cultured meat especially if bovine fetal serum is used in the growth medium.  Surveys have demonstrated some degree of willingness to try products, but at equivalent prices, few consumers are willing to switch to cell-cultured meat even with the claimed advantages of sustainability and welfare as motivators.

 

And then we have Eat Just, claiming availability of a cell-cultured chicken product promoted by Josh Tetrick.  The various iterations of his company have over two decades produced an ersatz mayonnaise, cookie dough and a liquid egg product which can be used to prepare a scramble or as a substitute for eggs in food recipes.  All of the products promoted by Tetrick, ad seriatum are based on existing off-the-shelf technology requiring negligible original technology or development.  Recent media releases by Eat Just claim that cell-cultured chicken dishes are served in a gourmand restaurant in Singapore.  It is characteristic of Tetrick to launch products in a high-end restaurant. Similar to Just Egg™ the as yet unbranded “meat” product was launched in a restaurant, the developers were chefs and publicity has centered mainly in vegan and specialty food websites and company releases.

 

If in fact Eat Just has produced a cell-cultured meat product it would be of interest to know where the R&D was conducted, the identity of the scientists and technologists involved and their academic affiliations and credentials.  Above all, it would be critical to know where production facilities are located and for his company to extend the same level of transparency as the major developers of cell-cultured meat in the U.S., the E.U. and Israel.  Venture capital investment with succeeding rounds is an important indication of legitimacy given the level of due diligence involved in assigning millions of dollars to a project or company.  All of the legitimate aspirant producers have conformed to the financial regulations in their various jurisdictions and have declared with pride the identity of their investors.  Anything less than reasonable disclosure, transparency and access to production facilities evokes parallels with the Theranos debacle.


 
 
Copyright © 2021 Simon M. Shane