Mycotoxins, a class of harmful substance produced by fungi, pose a serious threat to the health of people consuming plant-based meats, according to scientists.
In a paper published in the journal Exposure and Health, scientists calculated the health impacts of shifting from meat-based diets to soy-based meat analogues.
Although, predictably, the scientists claimed that the shift would be a healthy one, they also raised a surprising warning about the potential for serious illness as a result of these fungal compounds.
Mycotoxins in plant-based meats
According to the World Health Organization,
Mycotoxins are toxic compounds that are naturally produced by certain types of moulds (fungi). Moulds that can produce mycotoxins grow on numerous foodstuffs such as cereals, dried fruits, nuts and spices. Mould growth can occur either before harvest or after harvest, during storage, on/in the food itself often under warm, damp and humid conditions. Most mycotoxins are chemically stable and survive food processing.
Several hundred different mycotoxins have been identified, but the most commonly observed mycotoxins that present a concern to human health and livestock include aflatoxins, ochratoxin A, patulin, fumonisins, zearalenone and nivalenol/deoxynivalenol. Mycotoxins appear in the food chain as a result of mould infection of crops both before and after harvest. Exposure to mycotoxins can happen either directly by eating infected food or indirectly from animals that are fed contaminated feed, in particular from milk.
Mycotoxins can cause a wide variety of illnesses, from kidney and nervous damage to cancer and impaired fetal development.
Aflatoxins are one of the most common and also the worst of mycotoxins, being found on products “such as cereals and cereal products, coffee beans, dry vine fruits, wine and grape juice, spices and liquorice”, according to the WHO.
Some mycotoxins, such as ZEN, also have estrogenic effects, placing them in a class of compounds known as xenoestrogens. These chemicals are receiving widespread attention due to the release of a new Tucker Carlson documentary, The End of Men, which focuses on environmental causes of male infertility and plummeting testosterone levels.
In the new study, despite the supposedly positive benefits in terms of life years saved from a shift to plant-based meat, the researchers noted the serious potential for increased cases of renal cancer.
The researchers end the paper with a plea for regulation and assessment of the mycotoxin risk, in light of their study.
“Taking into account the ubiquitous occurrence of mycotoxins, also in the light of climate change, and the growing trend toward plant-based meat analogues, greater importance should be given to actual food consumption trends and correlated with updated natural toxins regulations and risk assessments.”
Plant-based meats: sagging fortunes
Plant-based meat, touted as one of the foods of the future, continues to suffer flagging sales, as well as the perception that it is “too woke”, according to Bloomberg.
As the new outlet reported at the end of last month,
Just a few years ago, with a blockbuster initial public offering from Beyond Meat Inc. and the unveiling of an Impossible Whopper at Burger King locations nationwide, plant-based meats were ascendant.
Now, after once enjoying double-digit growth, sales in the plant-based meat category are not just flat but declining, according to data from Information Resources Inc., or IRI. That’s due to possible saturation of the US market as new brands hit the shelves, according to Deloitte Consulting LLP.
Most notably, sales of refrigerated meat alternatives were down 10.5% for the 52 weeks ended September 4 2022.
According to a market-research expert, this is partly because of the growing cost-of-living crisis, which means consumers are favoring the real thing, which still generally remains cheaper.
Deloitte also believes that perception remains a problem for plant-based meat. In July, it conducted a survey of 2,000 people and found a decline in the belief that plant-based meat is healthier and more ethical than real meat.
There also appears to be a backlash against the product’s “woke” status, as Bloomberg notes:
Deloitte also suspects that the addressable market may be more limited than previously thought with a growing cultural resistance to its “woke” status — even among those seeking to reduce red meat consumption. Case in point: When Cracker Barrel announced plans to add Impossible Foods’ sausage to its menu over the summer, it faced an onslaught of criticism on social media.
Some brands are suffering more than others. Impossible claims to have bucked this trend, with a growth of 70% in retail sales in 2022, according to its chief executive officer Peter McGuinness.
McGuinness believes plant-based meats still have a long way to go, though, and could do more to break into the restaurant sector and secure new retailers. Consumer awareness and understanding of these products also need to be increased, he claimed.
Bloomberg’s report doesn’t mention the recent arrest of Beyond’s COO Doug Ramsey, for allegedly biting the nose of a man in a parking lot after a football game, an incident that is hardly likely to improve the image of the company or its morale.
A police report says 53-year-old Ramsay, a resident of Fayetteville, attacked another man who tried to pull out in front of him in a parking garage traffic lane.
The fight eventually escalated, KNWA reports, until Ramsey pulled the other driver ‘in close and started punching his body,’ before biting his nose and ripping some of the flesh off.
Ramsey has been charged with felony battery and making a terroristic threat. He was booked in Washington County jail and is scheduled to appear in Fayetteville District Court on October 19.
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