What’s More Terrifying: Clean Meat or Cannabinoids as Functional Ingredients?

Posted November 14, 2018 by Keith Seiz

Featured image courtesy of cleanmeat.org.

In my role at Brightly Creative, I have the pleasure of attending and speaking at quite a few food industry conferences every year. The Food Evolution Summit in San Diego was one of my favorite events this year. Why?

First, I had the opportunity to present to a room full of product developers on behalf of a new client and passion: walnuts. Over the last three months, I’ve immersed myself in the world of walnuts and it was a thrill to talk to product developers about this amazing tree nut.

Second, this year’s conference had an extremely diverse speaker slate ranging from leaders of global food giants to founders of small startups. Two of my favorite sessions dealt with topics I knew little about: clean meat and cannabinoids. What I heard in these sessions overwhelmed me with a potent mix of fascination and absolute terror.

“Soylent Green is people!” Clean meat is…animal cells?

Let’s start with clean meat. It’s probably not what you think. Heading into the session I assumed we’d learn about sustainability, hormone-free beef and responsibly-raised animals. Instead, I learned about biotech firms spending vast sums of money developing meat in a lab, and then attempting to scale the process.

According to cleanmeat.org, clean meat “is produced by taking a small sample of animal cells and replicating them in a culture outside of the animal.” The end result is a petri dish of “beef” without ever needing to slaughter a cow. Sound science fiction-y? It is, and to date, we’re still in the early phases of clean meat with scalability being a major obstacle.

The optics of clean meat are confusing. On the positive side, I love the idea of reducing our reliance on slaughtering animals to feed people around the world. It’s better for the animals, our environment and most likely our overall health. Conversely, I’m a big believer in clean label, all-natural, whole foods. Give me honey, nuts, seeds, fruits and a well-crafted meal that’s not processed.

The thought of feasting on a burger grown in a lab terrifies me, even though I know the corn and soybeans I eat are most likely genetically modified. For me, clean meat seems different, and not a path I feel very comfortable with. But I’m also a realist and know it’s almost inevitable. You can’t stop technology. Especially technology that has the potential to improve our climate and feed more people.

Reefer Madness

From clean meat to cannabinoids…this is my kind of conference! I didn’t know what to expect from a presentation titled “Cannabinoids as Functional Ingredients,” but I was pretty excited to learn more. And, Justin Singer, Stillwater Foods’ CEO and cofounder did not disappoint.

This fascinating presentation covered the differences between Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabidiol (CBD), then treaded into food science with details on absorption rates and encapsulation methods, and finally ended with a jaw-dropping look at the lack or regulations and guidance regarding the use of cannabinoids as ingredients in food products.

Basically, it’s the wild west out there. Products such as edibles and THC-infused beverages having little oversight, goods manufacturing practices or basic standardization of absorption rates.

The challenges start with a lack of FDA oversight because, well, cannabinoids are illegal. As a result, it’s up to the states, such as California and Colorado, to fill the gaps. However, Singer stated quite a few times that there are still quite a few large gaps. Issues such as standardization, testing practices, GMPs and traceability are woefully under-developed or inconsistent. In addition, Singer stated the supply chain is ultra-fragmented and chock full of unreliable players.

Basically, it takes more paperwork to produce a Pop-Tart than and pot brownie. Seems crazy, but that’s where we find ourselves in the food industry. Food technology, like all technology, is advancing at such a rapid pace it’s hard to keep up.

Kudos to the Food Evolution Summit for bringing some of these topics to light. They may be terrifying to me now, but I assume they will be old news by the 2025 Food Evolution Summit.


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