Grass fed artificial meat

2015-11-25 11.22.09I heard an article on the news about grass fed artificial meat this morning.  This was from a group from a University in the South of England trying a new approach.  The artificial meat cells were grass fed but in culture.  The big problem with experiments in growing meat in culture up until now is the problem over the protein source.  All cells need a protein source or at least a source of amino-acids.  What normally happens is that any proteins provided are then broken down to their constituent amino-acids.  These are then used to make new proteins by the cells.  Having worked in animal cell lines I personally don’t fancy eating cells grown on animal serum. The issue is two fold. The cells still require the use of animals to grow animal serum.  This to me defeats the purpose.  The second problem is the viruses that might be present in the serum. This is to be fair is a potential problem in many vaccines, where the viruses are cultured in mammalian cell lines.  It doesn’t seem to be problem with vaccines since hundreds of millions of people are vaccinated every year without a problem. However, there is a difference between the way vaccines are produced and cultured meat cell would be produced.  Vaccines are freeze dried before use.  That is the vaccine material is cooled under a vacuum, then the vials are sealed aseptically.  This promotes “viral kill”, (although technically viruses aren’t alive). The reader will be aware that every time you’re vaccinated the nurse or doctor has to reconstitute the lyophilsed material with sterile water. As part of the development of the vaccine, virus models are used to determine that the virues have been removed.  I’ve been involved in some of this work in the past. The point is meat grown in culture will not be freeze dried, but merely recovered and processed in some way. The alternative is to use serum free media.  In this amino-acids are added individually not formed as proteins.

The work described on the radio was merely changing the carbon source of the cells grown as artificial meat.  All cells require this as well as amino-acids and vitamins/minerals.  The researchers are not literally adding grass but breaking the grass down to glucose.  Does this really help though?  The grass has to come from somewhere? So do the proteins or amino-acids.  The people concerned reckoned their artificial meat had carbon emissions are less than a cow in a field. But really supplying all the nutrients etc. takes energy.  Its a little bit to believe any industrial process is more efficient than an animal in a field.


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Diet for the planet

homegrown saladWe have just spent a week following the EAT commission’s “diet for the planet” based on a healthy diet that the planet could produce sustainably for a population of 10bn (see here).  Its got lots of nuts, legumes and vegtables and modest amounts of dairy (250g… but that’s only a small glass of milk), chicken (29g), fish (28g), and very little eggs (13g) or red meat (14g) per day. But when you add those up over the week it makes for a decent portion of meat, fish or eggs every other day.

It was a pleasant surprise to find out little we needed to change our normal diet… with the exception of snacks where we had to swap biscuits for fruit, nuts, and homous and carrots. Fruit juice was off the menu as a small glass would have constituted the daily fruit allowance. But these “sacrifices” were not hard and we ate very well. H ere is our menu:

Monday: Miso ramen with beef, mushrooms and pak choi
Tuesday: nut roast wellington
Wednesday: chicken curry and rice
Thursday: (We’d planned to eat lentil and sweet potato bake but there was plenty of left over chicken
Friday: fishfingers and chips (keeping the 4yr old on board !)
Saturday: vegetable tagine
Sunday: cheese, egg and spinach pie with pinenuts.
Lunches: leftovers, sardines or vegetable and legume soup
Breakfast: toast an marmalade or cereal with oat milk
Treats : banana bread, pumpkin pie, chocolate cake, dark chocolate (does cocoa count as a legume, nut or vegetable?)

Whilst far from vegan, we have been gradually cutting down on foods we know to be high in carbon emissions.  We generally eat very little red meat and swapped from cow milk to oat milk last year.  Having followed the diet for the planet I think we should cut down a bit more on our fish and eggs, but not by much.  We were probably cheating a bit on fruit as we use dried fruit as bribery to get my daughter to keep cycling.
If it was a long term diet, we’d request to swap our allocation of cow pasture for an oat field (we went slightly over on carbs when we included the oatmilk, but we were well under on dairy).

It was good to know that, if the rich nations cut down on meat and dairy a bit, everyone on the planet could eat well and sustainably. But that remains a very big “IF”.

A spreadsheet of the menu is available diet for the planet menu here in excel format and diet for the planet menu here in libreoffice calc format.


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last subsistance lunchLent has crept up on us all this year perhaps since it is so early (can we please have a fixed date for Easter).  My lent guide book started talking about food.  Its a little known fact that the medieval church tried to limit meat consumption, not just in lent but all the year round.  In feudal Europe the church attempted to direct both when and what people could eat.  Consumption of meat was forbidden for about at least a third of the year for one reason or another.  Meat free days were to remember various saints or the virgin Mary (all Saturdays).  There were also periods of fasting throughout the year, 4 days at the start of each season than advent and lent.   Some people say a particularly devout person would have spent 8 months of the year being vegetarian.  Fish was not completely banned and this led to those with money fish farming.  Fish farming perhaps is not the right word but the local lords of the manor in the town where my parents lived got permission from the King to dam streams in the royal hunting ground and they stocked these pools with fish.  These rules also seemed not apply to the monastic system at one monastery near London in the late middle ages historians have worked out the calorie intake was 5000kcal/day (recommended intake 2000kcal/day).  Much of this was meat.

What does this teach us?  It easy to sacrifice something or give something up for the wrong reasons.  You do wonder whether the church did ban meat entirely due to religion.  Providing enough meat for everyone would have been a challenge for medieval farming.  However the medieval peasant diet was very low in protein (the rich probably ignored the rules).  For us giving up something for lent can have mixed motives but still can be useful.  What is more useful is if that change carries on beyond lent.   To help you this blog has a No oil in the lamp lent guide.


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Energy use and stuff

Energy use and stuff, what’s the correlation?  Quite a lot as we put in our book.  Our editor didn’t like the use of the word “stuff”.  He thought it was not descriptive enough.  The problem is  we all know what we mean by stuff.  If you are reading this in the west then you probably only need to look around your room.  The problem is all this “stuff” takes a lot of energy to make.  There are two problems here.  First the world is using more energy.  Renewable energy has increased vastly in scope and scale.  But global energy demand is going up faster.  This is leading to climate change.  A lot of this energy demand is due to making stuff.  The second problem is resource depletion.  All this stuff takes a lot of other resources such as metals and oil/gas to make.  The classic that is in the news at the moment all the time is plastic, especially single use plastics.  Whilst plastic is in almost everything (including until recently teabags) we are using metals and other materials up at a rate of knots as well.

As we enter lent maybe this is a good time to think about reducing our consumption of energy use and stuff.  What practical ways could we do this?  One way would be to build in exceptional reliability so that products lasted decades.  A classic example is the Queen Mothers fridge which is supposed to be still working after at least 50 years.  The second is to design in recycling or repair.  This means something can be reused (or bits of it can) more easily.  The last thing to do is either buy less or buy second hand stuff.  One thing we have done as a church homegroup is to have bring and swap evenings.  These latter ideas  are things we can all do as well as seek out products that are made with recycling and reuse in mind.


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Bike theft

Bike theft mostly affects the poorest in UK society (or at least in England and Wales).  This is the outcome of the latest survey on cycle theft.  Most people who have their bikes stolen have an income of less than £10,000/year.  This is of itself a surprise until you work out that a lot of these will be students or children.  My experience of cycling is that its a middle class pursuit.  The biggest hotspots for bike theft are the big cities and university town.  This is hardly a surprise.  Its always been said that bikes are stolen almost to order in Cambridge and sold in Oxford or visa versa.

Here are what the survey says.

  • Most thefts take place during the week.  Again not a surprise, the bike is either out in use or is more vulnerable since its owner is out.
  • Most thefts take place in flats.  Again this is not a surprise since there is no where to leave it except the stairwell in most cases and taking the bike into your flat when its wet or fills the place up is unacceptable to most users.
  • 40% of thefts took place when the bike was locked up.  This figure this misleading though since it excludes bikes locked in sheds.  The figures also do not include cycles stolen as part of a break in.
  • Higher bike theft took place amongst students and in lower income areas.
  • Under 35’s were more likely to be victims than those over 35.

What’s interesting is the trend by whatever measure is downwards (graph below).

ons bike theft dataI’m very lucky not to have had any bikes I’ve owned stolen ever.  My daughter has had bits nicked off hers.  I often leave my bike outside shops for very short periods unlocked, when I go to get something.  I got away with it so far.  My advice is leave it somewhere public, have a good lock, take it into your flat and not have quick release wheels.


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One thing we have learnt this week – banning gas boilers

DSC_1715Banning gas boilers and gas cookers from 2025 is the suggestion UK Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has just made.  It has suggested using low carbon energy sources instead and not even connecting he houses to the gas grid.   Banning gas boilers is perfectly feasible in new build since we know we can build houses that require no heating whatsoever.  There are a number of potential problems.  The first is that building such houses is very expensive at the moment.  Having said the housebuilders are making plenty of profit and only by actually getting on with it will prices of such buildings fall.  The second issue is that if the developer does decide to put renewable energy in (which is probably cheaper than a passive house) then technologies such as heat pumps could overload the local grid and the distribution network and require grid reinforcement.  Certainly the CCC seem to be going for the second option which also needs the builders to improve their quality of build otherwise such houses will be cold.  This is another of the CCC’s recommendations, improve training for builders.

The CCC make some other interesting recommendations.  Houses should be climate ready, flood ready, have provision for cycling, walking and electric vehicles and the houses should use wood in their construction.  This latter point is to add lower carbon construction and to sequester carbon for the long term.

The big problem that the CCC only address in passing is what to do about existing housing.  They state correctly that its not pit for purpose.  But as this blog has suggested before renewable heat is very difficult and expensive to retrofit and making homes fit for such technology is expensive and difficult.


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Greener fashion

1024px-CM_Juarez_District_5_Tour_-_Mary's_Place_(24513339843)A report suggesting ways to promote greener fashion has been produced today.  Whilst as I mentioned in passing last week the average shelf life of an item is not as little as 5 weeks, it is certainly true that clothes are treated as a disposable commodity.  Clothing produces an astonishing 8% of global climate emissions, which is bigger than aviation and shipping combined.  There are also continual questions of the ethics of its production.  Mostly concerning child labour and health and safety rules in the developing world where its made.  There is also the issue of artificial fibres.  These end up in the worlds oceans.

The cross-party environmental audit committee have suggested that a tax be put on each item of 1p.  This would aid recycling.  To me this does not seem nearly enough.  There are 1 million tonnes of clothes thrown away every year.  In addition retailers attempts to reduce waste since 2012 have been outweighed by an increase in sales.  The other main recommendation is to introduce sewing classes to schools.  This seems a sensible idea.  I was taught to sow.  I can do very basic repairs but no more than that.  There is no question greener fashion could be an easy win.  Apart from a recycling tax my recommendations would include wearing clothes longer (in all senses since washing puts fibres into the sewage and hence ultimately the sea).  Buying less clothing and trying to buy clothing that has no oil based fibres in.  A search on some images brought up nettles and traditionally clothing has been made from this plant.  You can also buy clothing made of bamboo and hemp.  This latter clothing looks indistinguishable from any other fashion item.  The advantage of all these plants are that they are essentially very easy to grow and grow quickly.   So there are natural alternatives and any tax should encourage these niche expensive products to go mainstream.


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One thing we have learnt this week – renewables to dominate by 2040

electricity production data 2019Renewables to dominate electricity production by 2040.  That’s the main conclusion in the BP energy outlook 2019.  The graph shows the data provided by BP and replotted by me.  There a number of things to say about this.  Firstly some of this data is historical so in the graph renewables share of the data has doubled 2015-18.  Second, BP persistently underestimate the growth of renewables, so its likely that this latest projection will be an underestimate.  As you you will see from the graph this figure does not include hydro.  Whether big hydro especially in the tropics can be regarded as sustainable is a moat point.  It shows gas staying pretty level, with a huge drop in the use of coal.  Lastly this does include a big increase in electric vehicles, although not as high as other people would see the penetration although much of this is seen as shared rather than owned vehicles.  When this is taken into account the % of journeys is much higher.

Other things to note from the report apart from the renewables to dominate part.  The report talks about the circular economy as far as I am aware for the first time.  It also (surprise surprise) sees oil as the still dominate form of energy but sees much of the demand going forward as coming from need for oil to make plastics.  It warns a ban on single use plastics without an alternative will increase carbon emissions and energy demand.  Precisely why this is not made entirely clear, but one reason given is an increase in food waste.  So some encouragement here we need this transition and we need it fast.  The last thing to say is of course there are lots of other areas to decarbonise apart from electricity.


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We need to talk about woodburners

Woodburners come up in the news a lot at the moment.  And not in a good way. They are much maligned as a source of air pollution.  Confession time I have a woodburner which I love, so it was with interest and some trepidation I heard that the the radio 4 programme DSC_2911“More or Less” was covering the issue.  For those of you this programme throws a unbiased eye over statistics in the news.  For example the same programme briefly has a look at the statistic that had been in the news that week that the average length that someone (women) kept new clothes was 5 weeks.  It turns out that is completely untrue and was plucked of thin air.  But I digress…

All combustion produces oxides of nitrogen (NOX), soot and carbon monoxide (a product of incomplete combustion).   Most combustion produces sulphur dioxide as well.  NOX is produced largely since air is nearly 80% nitrogen.  This is present as a molecule made up of two nitrogen molecules joined by a very stable triple bond.   The energy of combustion is enough to break this bond and the nitrogen reacts with any oxygen present.  This is true of central heating, wood burning,  in fact any combustion.  Gas central heating produces soot, NOX and sulpher dioxide since the compound added to give it odour is a sulpher based organic.  After the concern over acid rain in the 1980’s cars in all Western countries had to be fitted with catalytic converters.  In addition NOX is carcinogenic.  Petrol cars have three way cats fitted these remove the NOX, organic hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide.  Diesel cars have two way cats fitted these remove the last two but not the NOX for technical reasons.  Under EU rules new diesels have particulate filters fitted to remove the smallest particles.  These are known as PM2.5’s due to their size (2.5 millionth of a millimetre).  These particles are now known to have a very wide range of health effects, none of them good.  Its been found that 100 µg/m3 increase of PM2.5, the morbidity of residents increased by 12.07% (1).  There has been a clear correlation between some asthma deaths and PM2.5’s.  So its a serious problem.

Now getting back to woodburners.  The UK government states that 38% of all PM2.5’s comes from burning wood (notice the subtle distinction).  Up until now my view as been as the following*;

  • I have been wary of accepting this figure.  One reason for that is the ratio of cars to woodburners is very high.  There are about 2 million woodburners in the UK and over 30 million cars.  To give an example.  I left my woodburner (reluctantly) to give my daughter and her friends a lift on Friday evening to the Theatre (since they were late).  It took me nearly an hour to make a return journey of 3 miles.  The reason was wall to wall cars (mostly diesel).  It seemed to me that my stove and the relatively few others compared to car numbers in my city would have be pushing a lot of filth to compete.
  • My stove has been thoroughly tested and is exempted under the clean air act.  I burn dry wood and regularly check to see what’s coming out the flue.  Usually this is invisible (yes I know PM2.5’s are not going to be visible, but it seems like its a reasonable check on general pollution levels).  When I bought the stove manufacturers were complaining the tests were too onerous and it was taking them 5 years to get a model licenced.
  • We are not sure what people are actually burning.  You can tell its wood but it could be wet wood, open fires (these are not legal), coal etc.

However, as a scientist I have to take peer reviewed scientific data seriously.

So where does this 38% figure come from?  “More or Less” explained.  Apparently according to the programme its from taking all woodburning combustion (from a survey) divided by all PM2.5 emissions for the UK.   This uses an assumption on PM2.5 emissions on cars but I wonder whether this is high enough, since the manufacturers cheated on their emission data?  Anyway the question is what happens when you measure real data?  By measuring particle size and using a mass spectrometer you can tell where particles come from.  One of the much maligned experts has done this and in urban areas found that woodburning makes up 6-9% of PM2.5’s.  This figure is also falling.  Notice the use of that word  woodburning since we still don’t know quite what’s being burned or how.  Also as the programme pointed out air quality is much better than it used to be although the problems it causing are certainly acute particularly regards childhood asthma

The last issue is why are asthma rates rising?  A number of theories have been put forward that are given in that link.  In addition warnings have been made about air quality within increasingly well sealed buildings as well as without which would be interesting to look at.

To conclude.  I’ve felt that woodburners are being blamed unfairly. This seems to be true looking at hard scientific evidence.  Its a lot easier to go after 2 rather than 30 million especially when this involves the motor car.  To really cut PM2.5’s we need to cut road traffic.  I would also point out I mainly burn scrap wood from skips and that saves me a whole lot of greenhouse gas emitting natural gas.  The programme can be heard here.

*they are not worried about the NOX presumably since the contribution is low compared to cars and central heating.

1) Kan HD, Cheng BH. Analysis of exposure-response relationships of air particulate matter and adverse health outcomes in China. Journal of Environment and Health 2002;19:422-4


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Has something clicked over climate change?

Hockey stock - 21st centuryHas something clicked over climate change?  Over the last year I’ve seen a big change in levels of concern over those I know concerning climate change.  My church has put protecting the planet if not at the heart of its new five year strategy then as an important plank.  This in itself is quite a major change.  In addition most weeks the environment is prayed for and increasingly mentioned in sermons.  We now have an ethical challenge (environmental) in our news sheet every month.  Its not just at church that concern seems to be rising.  My children are increasingly asking how they can cut their emissions.  They may not be ready to give up flying yet, but one has gone to Berlin/Amsterdam by train this week and two are now vegetarian.

What has brought this change about?  In my view it was last summer’s heat wave.  As one comedian put it one the BBC Radio 4 comedy “The News Quiz” last week.  “You can tell climate change is real since I got a tan in Edinburgh last summer”.  I’ve always thought people in the West would only take the issue seriously once the impacts could be seen close to home.  This does seem to be the case now.  Crazy weather is now commonplace and almost expected.  Australia has just had the most amazing drought and record temperatures of almost 50 degrees C followed by huge floods in Queensland over the last few days.  Obviously people have to move from concern to action, but concern is the first step and has to be encouraging.  Has something clicked over climate change?  It looks like it to me.


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