In a new breakthrough scientists have discovered how to create edible products from plastic. So will we be choosing to eat plastic in the coming years, or will we the choice be out of our hands?
Scientists Develop Edible Plastic Protein
Last week we reported on a shocking viral video which showed unwanted food – plastic wrapping and all – being ground up to make pig food. As a huge mass of plastic-covered food travelled up a conveyor and into a grinder, the cameraman could be heard laughing, “The hog eat it and then you eat the hog. HA HA HA HA!” Twitter users were quick to respond, either with incredulity at the absolute state of US agriculture or with sensible advice about how to avoid buying meat contaminated by plastic-laden feed.
Whether or not the wholesale addition of plastic to pig feed is actually permitted in the US – this may be an egregious instance – plastic is definitely finding its way into agricultural feed as a result of the disposal of unwanted food, as we went on to reveal in the article.
One user’s response to the shocking viral video
In the UK, for instance, nearly 700,000 tonnes of unused food – everything from loaves of bread to chocolate bars – are saved from landfill each year by being used as animal feed. Since the machinery that strips the food of its plastic packaging cannot remove all of it, tolerable limits on plastic content have to be set. That limit has been set at 0.15% by the UK Food Standards Agency.
But even if you can avoid ingesting plastic from contaminated meat, it’s looking increasingly likely that plastic will be on the menu in the near future, as scientists attempt to find ways to deal with the planet’s mounting plastic and food crises. Whether you’ll have a choice in eating them or not, however, remains to be seen.
Believe it or not, but scientists have managed to make obese mice quite literally SWEAT off excess fat, simply by giving them a common immune protein. The scientists believe this could be used in future to treat overweight humans too.
We’ve already reported on scientific efforts to make a vanilla flavouring using recycled plastic bottles, and now German science and technology company Merck KGaA has awarded its 2021 Future Insight Prize last month to two researchers who have gone one further and developed a process for using microbes to turn plastic waste into protein.
“The winners of this year’s Future Insight Prize have created a ground-breaking technology with the potential to generate a safe and sustainable source of food while reducing the environmental harms associated with plastic waste and traditional agricultural methods,” Belén Garijo, chair of the executive board and CEO of Merck, said in an announcement. “We congratulate Ting Lu and Stephen Techtmann for their promising research, and hope that the Future Insight Prize will help to accelerate their efforts.”
Are you starting to notice any patterns yet?
Lu, professor of Bioengineering at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and Techtmann, associate professor of Biological Sciences at Michigan Technological University, began working on the idea in the autumn of last year at their separate institutions. Their project began in response to a call from funding-body the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) for “interesting and creative ways to deal with wastes,” according to Techtmann.
In basic terms, the process that the researchers came up with begins by using chemicals to break down plastic polymers and then uses naturally occurring microbes to convert the plastic building blocks into a form of “microbial biomass” or “microbial cells” that have nutritional value.
These cells currently take the form of a powder that could itself be a food product, or could be used to make energy bars or other types of food product.
Although the beginning and the end products might seem like “radically different” materials, the researchers point out that, from a chemical perspective, they are not as different as one might expect. Carbon, oxygen and hydrogen are the essential components or building blocks of both plastic and food.
At present, the technology is currently being used on a very small scale, converting up to 50 grams of plastic at a time. However, the technology looks to be scalable, and is reported to be highly efficient, and is able to change 75% to 90% of HDPE plastics into potentially edible cells.
The researchers state that their short-term goals include creating a device that can be used for disaster relief, when food and clean water are often in short supply, but in the longer term they believe the technology could be used on a large enough scale to help solve “both plastic pollution and food insecurity, two grand challenges of our modern society”, as Lu puts it.
As well as being an alternative food source for humans, the researchers also believe it could just as easily be fed to livestock and pets.
Readers are likely to ask, though, whether such ersatz foodstuffs will remain a consumer choice in future years, or whether they will be forced on consumers, either through legislation or artificial scarcity, as an alternative to traditional foodstuffs, especially meat and animal-products.
As we wrote in a recent article on the British government’s new National Food Strategy, a wide-ranging evaluation of the United Kingdom’s “food security” in the wake of the decision to leave the European Union, in 2016, “the age of dietary choice may very swiftly be coming to an end.”
At the governmental level, this is signalled by the looming threat of “meat taxes” – narrowly avoided in the National Food Strategy’s final report, but still a future possibility – and an increasing recognition among legislators that people cannot be allowed to continue to consume meat at anything near present levels.
Christopher Snowdon’s appearance on GB News alerted many for the first time to the possibility that the government might legislate to prevent them from eating meat
Christopher Snowdon, a journalist who heads the Lifestyle Economics unit at London’s Institute of Economic Affairs, even went so far as to say, during a televised interview, that “the political reality is that Boris Johnson is going to have to stop advising people to fly less and eat less red meat and find ways of forcing people.”
A recent survey showed that a massive 73% of Australian men would rather shave ten years off their lives than give up meat. In the face of such stiff opposition, what chance do consent-based options to reduce or eliminate meat consumption have?
At the commercial level, companies such as Oatly and other plant-based brands are resorting to increasingly manipulative tactics to shame consumers into stopping buying animal-based food products. In doing so, they are bolstered by scientific research which shows that claims about the taste and health benefits of plant-based animal-product alternatives fall flat with consumers, and that ‘social pressure’ is a much more effective way to get them to give up their favourite foods.
Oatly’s “Help Dad” campaign is a particularly unsavoury example of this new shame-based advertising, featuring ‘woke’ teenagers berating their ‘unenlightened’ fathers for wanting to drink cow’s milk instead of a ‘milk’ slurry of oats, sugar and vegetable oil, which we’ve called ‘one of the worst things you can eat.’
In the middle of all this, too, is an entire ecosystem of commentators and academics helping to inflame sentiments against meat and animal products.
One of the more bizarre examples is S. Matthew Liao, an NYU ‘bioethicist’ who has made claims that people should have their genes altered to make them allergic to red meat and that they should also be shrunk by around 25% to reduce their carbon footprint. Seriously: we’ve written an article on him and his sinister vision of the future.
Did you know that soybean oil, the most widely consumed oil in the US, causes serious genetic dysregulation and weight gain mice. What could the possible implications be for humans? Click here to find out.
All in all, it seems like the odds are stacked against lovers of meat and animal products, despite the wealth of evidence that plant-based products provide inferior nutrition, as well as being nowhere near as good for the environment as advocates claim. Consider for instance this admission by a leading food scientist that plant-based meat alternatives are just a form of unhealthy processed food, or a near-global study from 2017 that showed consumption of meat and animal products is the reason Europeans are the tallest people in the world.
Surveys like the Australian survey mentioned above indicate that direct legislation against consumption of meat and animal products is likely to encounter serious resistance. But will it be enough? Only time will tell.
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