Not just meat and wool

August 20, 2019

There’s more to sheep than meat and wool:

Patients in the United States with serious tissue injuries are benefitting from medical products made from the stomach of sheep in New Zealand.

Auckland-based Aroa Biological is manufacturing wound care and surgical products from sheep rumen.

The company founder and CEO Brian Ward says its products are being used to repair difficult to heal wounds like diabetic and venous ulcers and to repair complex hernias.

The company starts with a part of the rumen that resembles chicken skin, chemically cleans it and further processes it to remove anything the body would reject.

The final, dried product resembles embossed paper. It can then be cut to size and inserted into wounds to provide scaffolding that allows tissue to regenerate.

“Cells can move into that net very easily and then they can kind of crawl along through it to lay down new tissue and so what happens over time is the patient’s own tissue completely replaces the scaffolding,” Brian says. 

Aroa’s products have FDA approval and four million of its wound care products have been used in the United States.

Surgeons there are also using Aroa’s hernia repair devices instead of surgical mesh.

“Our diabetic and venous ulcer product has been on the market for some time now and it’s changed people’s lives. I mean we have had people that had been at risk of having limbs amputated (who) had very nasty wounds that they’d had for several years that we have healed, so it’s incredibly satisfying to get those stories back from patients.”

Aroa employs 110 people in New Zealand and a sales team of 30 in the United States.

Brian says he’s in talks to introduce Aroa’s products into the market place in New Zealand.

You can listen to more about this on RNZ’s Country Life here.

This is a wonderful example of taking what was a low value product, used for pet food or tripe, and turning it into a high value product.

One factor which helped is New Zealand’s relative isolation which protects our sheep from diseases.

That’s another reminder of the importance of biosecurity controls at the border.

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Lab meat’s unsavoury science

August 12, 2019

Nicola Dennis looks at the unsavoury science behind lab-grown meat:

. . .The process for growing meat in the lab is pretty similar to how I grew my E.coli. Cells from the muscles (myocytes) on an animal are put into a smoothie of nutrients and incubated at body temperature for days on end.

The things that like to grow in a clump of “meat” incubated at body temperature are exactly the kind of things that would like to grow inside a human and cause nasty infections. This is precisely the reason why humans invented refrigerators to cool our food.

A lonesome myocyte, outside its natural environment, is not able to defend itself. Back when it was inside the animal it was living in a very controlled environment. In its natural environment, the immune worked hard to keep it safe from any nasties.

The lab-grown myocytes are going to have to be dosed with antibiotics; there is pretty much no other safe way around it. Even then, it could be hard to maintain food safety.

Strict regulations require withholding periods after stock are given drench or medicine, including antibiotics, to ensure no residues are left in meat. Do we know what, if any, residues are left in lab-grown meat?

When an animal is butchered, there are a lot of ways that we can test if it is safe to eat. We can observe its behaviour before slaughter and we can inspect the non-meat parts of the carcase such as the lungs and liver for anything out of the ordinary.

It is much harder to tell if a bunch of cells in a flask are infected (or malformed in the case of mad cow disease). How are the lab-based meat-mush growers going to ensure that their product is safe to consume on any given day?

Also, since the cells are not exposed to natural hormones in the blood, they will have to be treated with hormones and growth promoters so that they will replicate and grow. The protocols used by the proposed lab-meat companies are proprietary and secretive. However, I was able to dig up some humble science papers on how to culture skeletal myocytes (muscle cells) for research. These were being treated with Epidermal Growth Factor, Basic fibroblast growth factor, Dexamethasone, Insulin, Penicillin, Streptomycin, and Fetuin.

Your lab-grown meat is doping up like a performance-enhancing body-builder.
And that doped up athlete ain’t exactly eating grass, either.

New Zealand stock grows naturally on pasture and crops without the assistance of hormones or any other artificial growth promotants

Now that we have ensured the myocyte’s safety, we still need to feed it. It needs to be kept in a slushy of its favourite food called “medium”, which is a rough approximation of blood. The science papers I looked at all started off with a recipe of “Dulbecco’s Modified Eagle Medium” which doesn’t include eagles, but a complicated mix of amino acids, glucose, salt and vitamins. To this, we add things like foetal calf serum and chicken embryo extract. Both of those ingredients are exactly what they sound like, pieces of cow and chicken foetuses.

Fetal calf serum and chicken embryo extract? That doesn’t sound like the sort of thing a vegan would eat.

At a conservative estimate, more than 40 ingredients are used in the juice keeping the cells alive. You would have to be severely optimistic to think that all these ingredients would be coming from sustainable and ethical sources.

But let’s just focus on the glucose in that recipe. Cultured meat is going to require a LOT of medical-grade glucose (ie: table sugar of the highest standard). Right now, the world produces somewhere between 300 and 500 million tonnes of meat each year. In contrast, global production of sugar (the ordinary kind) is about 180 million tonnes. I have no idea how much sugar is needed to make a kilogram of cultured meat, but I am sure we don’t have enough sugar to make an impact on global meat production.

Sugar is sometimes added to processed meals which include meat but pasture-raised meat is single-ingredient and sugar-free.

Pastoral agriculture is a pretty simple and slick system. We turn a natural resource that we can’t eat (grass) into something we can eat (meat and milk) with grazing animals. The land we (the world) use to do this is, by and large, not suitable for the production of sugar or the other 40 ingredients needed for cultured meat. Or, for the ingredients required in the less-terrifying, but no-less-processed plant-based “meats”.

Some people can’t stand the thought of an animal being killed for their food. So be it. Let them eat cake… or felafel. But, when it comes to meat, there is no substitute for the simplicity and safety of the real deal.

Those last two paragraphs need repeating:

Pastoral agriculture is a pretty simple and slick system. We turn a natural resource that we can’t eat (grass) into something we can eat (meat and milk) with grazing animals. The land we (the world) use to do this is, by and large, not suitable for the production of sugar or the other 40 ingredients needed for cultured meat. Or, for the ingredients required in the less-terrifying, but no-less-processed plant-based “meats”.

Some people can’t stand the thought of an animal being killed for their food. So be it. Let them eat cake… or felafel. But, when it comes to meat, there is no substitute for the simplicity and safety of the real deal.

Eat like our grandparents ate, the closer to nature the better; eat fresh unprocessed food; eat less sugar. This is the advice from health professionals advising on healthy diets.

Lab-grown meat is nothing like our grandparents ate, it’s far from nature, it’s highly processed and sugar is one of its many ingredients.

Simple, slick and safe is a far better recipe for healthy eating than the lab-grown alternatives.

 


Unintentional balance

August 6, 2019

When I saw this on Twitter on Sunday I wondered how long it would be before someone took it down.

I took a screen shot and when I checked back shortly afterwards the tweet had gone. It was replaced by another with a photo of Justice Minister Andrew Little who is introducing legislation legalising abortions.

No doubt someone realised this photo was an inappropriate one to accompany such a story.

But it, unintentionally, gave a little balance to the debate by illustrating the intellectual inconsistency of one of the pro-abortion arguments – that it’s just a bunch of cells, a fetus, not a baby.

How can it be a baby when, as the photo shows, it’s wanted and loved but not a baby when it’s not; a baby if it is lost in a miscarriage and that is a reason for deep grief, but not a baby when it’s an abortion; or a painful experience when a baby dies in utero and a simple medical procedure getting rid of some cells when it’s aborted?

It can’t but we’re unlikely to see much if any discussion of this in the media, if coverage since the news broke is anything to go by. Everything I’ve read or heard so far accepts a woman’s right to choice with no consideration of a baby’s right to life.

There is an irony that Newshub’s exclusive breaking of the news showed some balance, albeit unintentionally, with that photo because as Karl du Fresne points out  anyone looking for it in coverage of the debate shouldn’t hold their breath :

. . . As the abortion debate heats up, we can expect to see many more examples of advocacy journalism for the pro-abortion case. Overwhelmingly, the default position in media coverage is that the abortion laws are repressive and archaic and that reform is not only overdue but urgent.

But at times like this the public more than ever look to the media for impartial coverage. Is it too much to expect that journalists set aside their personal views and concentrate instead on giving people the information they need to properly weigh the conflicting arguments and form their own conclusions?

That accidental photo could well be as close as much of the coverage  gets to impartiality and balance on this issue.


Rural round-up

August 5, 2019

Beef’s bad rap based on poor science: prof – Brent Melville:

Beef has been getting a bad rap – blamed for everything from increased cancer to greenhouse gas emissions by environmental and commercial influencers.

Prof Frederic Leroy, Professor of Food Science and biotechnology at Vrije Universiteit, Brussels, said meat had effectively become a scapegoat for commercial and environmental advocates, much of which was based on bad science.

Speaking at the red meat sector conference this week in Christchurch, Prof Leroy said the industry as a whole had a responsibility to change the narrative.

“The anti-meat lobby has gained traction in Europe and elsewhere over the past few years. Its led to calls for a sin tax on meat or even meat eaters being banned from restaurants, by high level policy-makers.”

Prof Leroy said one of the major issues is that advocates had linked a reduction in CO2 gas emissions directly to meat intake. . . 

Keeping it simple – Luke Chivers:

Farmers have been worshipping at the altar of productivity for too long.

“More production doesn’t necessarily mean more profit,” 35-year-old Ben Riley says. 

“It’s more about keeping your costs low.”

Ben and wife Renee milk 110 cows on their 38 hectare farm at Rockville in Golden Bay.

The farm is System 2 and they are adamant a small farm doesn’t have to mean less value so focus on profitability rather than production.

They focus on maintaining a grass-based system and looking after pastures, particularly through winter and spring to sustain quality. . . .

From the ground up – Maureen Howard:

We’ll need to feed extra billions by mid century while being kinder to the land and reducing planet-heating carbon emissions to zero. The challenge has prompted some to call for a great food transition.  Maureen Howard talks to a farmer playing his part.

“It’s like cottage cheese, but black,” says Peter Barrett of the soil that lies beneath Linnburn Station, his 9300ha beef and sheep station at Paerau in Central Otago.

Above ground, depending on the time of year, sheep may be spotted grazing beneath the gaze of yellow sunflowers, surrounded by a mix of up to 30 other plant species.

Not just a pretty postcard, Linnburn Station is home to 25,000 winter stock units. In fact, this is farming close the limits. Much of the terrain is exposed rocky high country and for the past two years, the already low mean annual rainfall has declined to just 170mm. Temperatures fluctuate from below zero to 40degC. . . .

 

Regional wrap:

Winter’s been tracking quite dry in Northland so working outside has been pleasant. Kumara growers are starting to put their Kumara beds in  – the grower we spoke to will spend the next six weeks putting in seven kilometres of small tunnel houses – about a metre wide and half a metre high. He says you have to grow a crop to grow a crop. Seed kumara will be planted by hand and spend a couple of months in the houses growing and sprouting before being planted out in the paddocks.

Pukekohe has had changeable weather with some showers from passing cold fronts. Vegetables are in heavy supply because of near perfect winter growing conditions and extensive plantings. That’s excellent for consumers but growers are losing money. . . 

Big names join forces to connect farmers and consumers :

Better connecting farmers and the food and fibre they produce with consumers is the aim of a new communications campaign led by the National Farmers’ Federation.

“Aussies continue to support farmers through tough times such as drought and floods,” NFF President Fiona Simson said.

“And, more and more they would like to learn more about modern agriculture, and how and why we grow what we do. In general, the community is interested in the story behind their beef, lamb, pork, chicken, eggs, milk, wool, cotton and more.” . . 

Dismantling free markets won’t solve biodiversity threat – Matt Ridley:

Driven perhaps by envy at the attention that climate change is getting, and ambition to set up a great new intergovernmental body that can fly scientists to mega-conferences, biologists have gone into overdrive on the subject of biodiversity this week.

They are right that there is a lot wrong with the world’s wildlife, that we can do much more to conserve, enhance and recover it, but much of the coverage in the media, and many of the pronouncements of Sir Bob Watson, chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), are frankly weird.

The threat to biodiversity is not new, not necessarily accelerating, mostly not caused by economic growth or prosperity, nor by climate change, and won’t be reversed by retreating into organic self-sufficiency. Here’s a few gentle correctives. . . 


Rural round-up

August 2, 2019

Can we make stone soup for rural wellbeing? – Michelle Stevens:

Executive Summary

The fable of Stone Soup tells the tale of a weary stranger arriving at a village. He convinces the villagers to each contribute an ingredient in order to make a meal for everyone to enjoy. The weary stranger elaborately makes use of a simple stone as the key ingredient, to start creating the soup, as a catalyst for the village coming together. As the stranger leaves, the villagers plead for the soup recipe. It is at this point the stranger reveals they have always had the recipe. Simply put, it took each of them making a small contribution which ultimately provided a significant result.

The moral of the story is that there is value in collaboration to achieve a better outcome. The question is – can we make Stone Soup for Rural Wellbeing? Mental health and wellbeing is a wicked problem for New Zealand. This report serves to explore if there is sufficient interest within the agricultural sector to pursue a working arrangement, commercial interest’s aside, in collaborating for the betterment of rural wellbeing. . . 

Zero Carbon Bill targets ‘unachievable’ – retiring National MP :

Outgoing National MP Nathan Guy says the public and government have got quite a way to go to see what shape or form the Zero Carbon Bill ends up in.

Ōtaki MP and opposition agriculture spokesperson Mr Guy told Morning Report the Zero Carbon Bill targets were “too extreme”.

“That methane target range from 24 to 47 percent is unachievable. It’s going to take some magic to get there,” he said.

“Yes, we need to do our part” but it slows down the economy. . . 

Plan threatens lowland farms – Tim Fulton:

A Canterbury farmer is quitting a top land and water post, fearing lowland agriculture is being regulated out of existence.

Rangiora dairy farmer and farm management consultant Dave Ashby is chairman of the Waimakariri zone committee, which recommended policy to Environment Canterbury for a local land and water plan change. The proposed plan change 7 is now up for public submissions. 

Ashby is meantime stepping down as zone committee chairman.

“I need to concentrate on my farm and business. Over 80 meetings and workshops over two years is a large commitment and it’s now time to stick to the knitting,” he said.

He will remain on the zone committee at this stage but is very concerned about the direction the plan is taking. . . 

Central Otago rural midwife crisis worsens

The Government must step up and help the Southern District Health Board as Central Otago’s chronic midwife shortage worsens, Waitaki MP Jacqui Dean says.

“The board is struggling to fill staffing gaps, with a shortage of relief midwifes affecting Charlotte Jean Maternity, in Alexandra, midwives in Wanaka and the Lakes District Hospital Maternity Unit, in Queenstown.

“I understand board staff are currently working day to day to ensure rosters are filled and that they are really struggling to find staff across the region. . .

Feds scorn firearms register

The practicality and cost of a firearms register will be a waste of money and resources, Federated Farmers says.

The second tranche of proposed Arms Act amendments features a range of tighter controls on firearms ownership and licensing, some of which beg serious questioning. Federated Farmers rural security spokesman Miles Anderson said.

Feds has previously opposed the compulsory registration of all firearms based on the complexity and cost of the process, questionable safety benefits and the likelihood of success.

“We haven’t had a firearms register in New Zealand for almost 40 years.

“The successful re-establishment of one now would require a considerable investment, both economically and socially,” Anderson said. . . 

Grass fed beef can help SOLVE climate change – Dawn Gifford:

150 years ago, much of the Midwest was still covered with chest-deep prairie grassland, providing valuable food and habitat for billions of plant and animal species, including millions of elk, bison and deer. These lands also supported natural environmental processes like carbon sequestration and seasonal flood control.

When Americans first settled the Midwestern prairies, they killed off the natural bison and other ruminants that lived there and began to farm highly fertile, virgin soil that was about 10 percent organic matter. . . 

 


Milk comes from udders not nuts

August 1, 2019

Federated Farmers might ask the government to get tougher on the use of dairy and meat terms for plant-based products, if similar moves overseas are successful.

In Europe, legislation is being considered that would restrict the use of descriptions like pattie and steak to apply only to products containing meat and not to vegetarian alternatives.

The case for this, with those examples, isn’t clear-cut.

Pattie applies to a recipe that can be used for a variety of ingredients including whitebait and vegetables; and steak is a cut that applies to both meat and fish, though not traditionally vegetables.

Australian dairy farmers are also seeking to restrict the term to bovine dairy products.

Federated Farmers dairy spokesperson Chris Lewis said it was closely watching what was happening overseas.

“We’ll support our farmers worldwide in their efforts to bring [about] … fair labelling and if they get success we’ll have a chat with out Minister of Ag [agriculture] and engage with him,” Mr Lewis said.

While it was up to consumers to choose what they buy, the terms used to sell some plant-based products, such as almond milk, did not accurately represent what they were, he said.

“Be proud of what you’ve got and call it almond juice, it’s definitely not a milk under the definition in the Oxford Dictionary… so just clearly label what you’ve got,” Mr Lewis said.

“I just encourage other food producers if they’ve got a great story to tell, don’t piggy back off us.”

 The case for restricting the term milk to the liquid that comes from animal’s udders is stronger than the one for terms that apply to ways of cutting or cooking meat. Fruit mince, for example, has been an ingredient of pies for centuries.

But as one of our sharemilkers put it bluntly – milk comes from tits not nuts.

He’s right and what differentiates milk from animals from the plant based pretenders is that the former has only one ingredient, the liquid for which it is named. In contrast to that, the pretenders, with the exception of coconut milk, have multiple ingredients.

The pretenders are also highly processed and often have added sugar, two things which people promoting healthy diets advise should be avoided where possible.

Fonterra chief science and technology officer Jeremy Hill said the dairy company held a firm view that consumers had a right to chose what they ate.

“But that choice should be informed, and at the moment I think these plant-based milks have a positioning that says they’re milk and plant-based, unfortunately from a content basis they’re providing inferior nutrition to what you find in dairy products,” he said. . . 

Calling plant-based liquid with several other ingredients milk, could fool consumers into thinking it has the same nutritional value as the real thing when it doesn’t and that provides solid grounds for the call to restrict the name milk to milk.

There’s a precedence for this in ice cream. The Australia New Zealand Food Code states:

2.5.6—2               Definitions

Note           In this Code (see section 1.1.2—3):

                                      ice cream means a sweet frozen food that is made from cream or milk products or both, and other foods, and is generally aerated.

2.5.6—3               Requirement for food sold as ice cream

                            A food that is sold as ‘ice cream’ must:

                            (a)      be ice cream; and

                            (b)      contain no less than:       

                                      (i)       100 g/kg of milk fat; and

                                      (ii)      168 g/L of food solids.

If ice cream has to be made from cream or milk then it shouldn’t be hard to require milk to be just that – milk and not a highly processed plant based alternative with multiple ingredients and less nutritional value.


Do we need a farm to fork revolution?

July 23, 2019

UK Environment Secretary Michael Gove has appointed Henry Dimbleby to pioneer a ‘farm to fork’ revolution:

Henry Dimbleby – co-founder of restaurant chain Leon and of the Sustainable Restaurant Association . . . will investigate the entire food system, from field to fork, and consider what changes are needed to ensure that it:

  • Delivers safe, healthy, affordable food, regardless of where people live or how much they earn;
  • Is robust in the face of future shocks;
  • Restores and enhances the natural environment for the next generation;
  • Is built upon a resilient and sustainable agriculture sector;
  • Is a thriving contributor to our urban and rural economies, delivering well paid jobs and supporting innovative producers and manufacturers;
  • Does all of this in an efficient and cost-effective way.
  • His recommendations will result in a trailblazing new National Food Strategy, set to be published in 2020.

Is this a good idea and if it is, should New Zealand do something similar?

Food security is already an issue in some places and could be under threat in more from the affects of climate change.

That isn’t an excuse for Soviet style central planning and control of the supply chain.

But it does highlight the need to ensure, as the Paris Accord stipulates, that any climate change mitigation policies don’t come at the expense of food consumption.

Andrei pointed out yesterday the human cost of the wrong policies on energy, it would be even higher if food security is compromised.


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