Skip to content

Alternative Protein – More Plants & Processed Food?

July 26, 2018

“Great harm is done, in my judgement, by the sale and use of substitutes for natural foods.” – Weston A Price, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration

In my last post, I briefly examined the newly emerged anti-animal agriculture narrative, concluding that this movement is not at all bothered with the practicalities of food production or nutrition science.

I therefore believe that the anti-animal agriculture narrative is simply the pretext for the introduction of alternative plant-based or synthetic protein products into the food supply.

The threat alternative protein companies pose to animal agriculture has been overhyped by the media. But given the hubris and hyperbole emanating from the predominantly Silicon Valley CEOs and billionaire backers, one can be forgiven for believing the end of animal agriculture is nigh.

In this article I intend to analyse the alternative protein movement, it’s products, and the possible human health implications resulting from the consumption of said “foods”.

Grain Gains

“Cereals, wheat and starches are not associated with good health. We need to help poorer nations to have access to better food and we need to stop advising affluent nations to eat like impoverished ones!” – Dr Zoë Harcombe PhD, British obesity researcher and author.

Nearly 13% of the global population is now obese, compared with 9% who are underweight. The rapid increase in overweight and obese people in recent decades has largely been driven by the availability and consumption of processed foods containing sugar, grains, starches (i.e. carbohydrates), and vegetable oils (polyunsaturated fat).

Since 1980, beef sales in the UK have halved from 208 to 104 grams per person per week (pppw). In 1950 this number was nearly 250g. Lamb and mutton sales have fallen even more dramatically from 128 to 36g pppw. However, the consumption of chicken, the supposedly healthy meat, has almost doubled from about 140 to 270 grams pppw.

Milk consumption has fallen by almost one-third, with a switch from full fat milk to semi-skimmed. Furthermore, vegetable oils have largely replaced animal fats.

Meanwhile, Americans reduced the consumption of animal source foods by -6% between 1970 and 2014 (red meat -28% over this period) and increased plant food consumption by +35%.

All the evidence therefore, points to the fact that most people in Western countries are already consuming a largely plant-based diet. Alas, substituting what little red meat people still do eat with even more plant-based food is unlikely to improve public health.

But this is what people are being repeatedly advised to do. Indeed, the dietary guidelines promoted by the British government recommend people consume up to 70% of their diet in the form of the one macronutrient humans don’t need – carbohydrates!

The negative externalities of excessive carbohydrate intake are immense – obesity, diabetes, exorbitant healthcare costs, loss of labour productivity etc. However, processing what is essentially livestock feedstuffs into human edible products is an extremely lucrative business.

I suspect the profitability of plant, grain, and oilseed processing is the first motive driving the alternative protein agenda.

Salted Gold – Plant-Based Alternatives

When examining the alternative protein movement, it is important to differentiate between “plant-based protein” and “synthetic protein” (stem cell lab “meat”).

Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat are two notable companies who have developed plant-based products – namely “hamburgers” and “mince.” Ripple Foods is an example of a company who have developed plant-based imitation “milk.”

In a September 2017 interview, Beyond Meat CEO Ethan Brown said, “Our number one driver is far and away human health. It’s absolutely the number-one thing that brings people to this brand.”

These plant-based products are purported to be healthier than the animal source foods they imitate. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The milk substitute concoction manufactured by Ripple Foods contains pea extract and sunflower oil, and key ingredients in the Beyond Meat products are canola and sunflower oil.

More than any other food group, the consumption of polyunsaturated vegetable oils (such as sunflower oil) has risen the most over the past century.

In America, soy oil consumption alone has grown from 0.02 lbs per person per year in 1909 to 25 lbs per person per year in 1999 – an increase of 124,900%.

I wonder if this unprecedented dietary change has anything to do with the increased prevalence of modern diseases such as cancer, strokes, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s?

In most developed countries, male sperm counts have been declining for decades. There are many theories as to why this is happening, but the most convincing evidence of causation is excessive omega-6 fatty acid consumption. Vegetable oils are high in omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids.

A 2009 human study analysed the fatty acid makeup of semen from 82 infertile and 78 (proven) fertile men. The analysis found that the semen from infertile men contained higher levels of omega-6 fatty acids than that of the fertile men. Additionally, the more omega-6 fatty acids the semen contained, the lower the sperm count.

Polyunsaturated seed oils and their possible connection with modern disease and infertility is an intriguing subject. Nutrition researcher and author Nina Teicholz introduces the origins of human vegetable oil consumption in the following presentation.

Remember, oil is for the tractor, butter is for eating!

In addition to the multitude of substandard ingredients found in plant-based alternative proteins, there is the simple fact that these products are just not the real McCoy.

In the same way a gold coloured tungsten 400 oz bar is not real gold, a plant-based “hamburger” that looks, smells, and (allegedly) tastes like beef, is not beef. No matter how much chemical trickery is employed to achieve a meat-eating sensory experience, it remains what it is – an imitation product.

Here’s what Jeremy Clarkson made of the Impossible Burger:

Cows Vs. Chemists

“As for butter vs. margarine, I trust cows more than chemists.” – Joan Dye Gussow

The second type of alternative protein is synthetic protein or “cultured meat.” Although synthetic protein is not yet commercially available, its proponents believe it is the future of food.

At this stage, there are more questions than answers surrounding the concept of growing meat in a manufacturing facility.

Assuming the commercial production of synthetic protein is technically achievable, the next big question is, can the synthetic protein process use “feed” inputs more efficiently in an artificial fermentation chamber than the cow can in her fermentation chamber? (i.e. the rumen) Tangible products, such as food, cannot be created out of thin air. If food is to be produced in a manufacturing facility, energy, nutrients, and “growth factors” are going to be needed.

Whether the effort to produce synthetic protein becomes a technical success is yet to be seen. Ben Wurgaft, an MIT based post-doctoral researcher writing a book on cultured meat, finds it hard to believe many predictions about cultured meat’s future – “when people tell stories about cultured meat one of the things they do is quickly fill in blanks on the page around the meat.” He thinks that some stakeholders treat cultured meat as an object on which they can hang other hypotheticals about the future.

However, those who believe cultured meat is the future have wasted no time in setting up the sales pitch.

Further to the cancer and climate change scaremongering, resource footprint and ecological destruction factoids are promulgated by those pushing the anti-animal agriculture narrative.

For instance, the figures suggesting that an enormous volume of water is required to produce beef assumes that all the rainwater that falls on land where pasture or crops are grown is taken up by a cattle beast never to be seen again. Anyone who understands the hydrological cycle knows that this concept is absurd.

As Simon Fairlie, the author of – Meat, A Benign Extravagance concluded, “The amount of water consumed by a beef cow appears to be a function of your political position.”

Without question, there is still significant room for efficiency improvements in bovine agriculture, and this is of course our company’s raison d’être.

The demonstration SAS System requires a fraction of the investment capital finding its way into alternative protein companies. Virtually all the criticisms directed towards livestock agriculture are addressed by the SAS System, and with the help of the Open Farm agri-tourism venture, the apocryphal “cows destroy the world” narrative can be thoroughly refuted.

The Soy Solution

Alternative protein companies are promoting yet more plant-based diet and use a myriad of low-quality ingredients in their processed products.

Impossible Foods CEO Pat Brown has said, “There is no cholesterol [in our burger] ... there is a significant population of people for whom it [cholesterol] has negative health consequences.”

“We think we’ve made choices that have the net effect of making this better for consumers’ health than what it replaces.”

Contrary to popular opinion, cholesterol and saturated fat are not damaging to human health, in fact they are essential for good long-term health. Both nutrients are used to produce sex and stress hormones.

Numerous studies have documented the low sperm counts and poor sperm motility of vegetarian men. In addition to being low in or devoid of cholesterol and saturated fat, plant-based diets usually involve a degree of soy consumption. In 164 BC, Tofu was invented in China as a vegetarian protein source for monks living celibate lifestyles.

The ills of the phytoestrogenic soy bean have been well documented in the book, The Whole Soy Story, authored by Kaayla T. Daniel PhD.

Real Nutrition

“What a child does not receive he can seldom later give.” – P.D. James

We believe future generations deserve access to a food supply rich in nutrient dense animal source foods, not a subsistence plant based or synthetic protein diet. It is our company’s ultimate ambition to make this a reality.

There is only one opportunity to develop healthy minds and healthy bodies – the prenatal to adulthood period. The consequences of inadequate nutrition during this period will stay with an individual their entire life.

Child malnutrition in developing countries is well understood, but issues also exist in developed nations. The autoimmune disorders, behavioural problems, and many childhood illnesses can at least be partly attributed to poor dietary quality.

Healthy, prosperous, and productive people need real nutrition – that is what the SAS System can provide.

Edward Talbot

e.talbot@sustainableag.co.uk

Scroll To Top