AUSTRALIAN sheep producers are seeking greater labelling protection for real farm-produced lamb, as the world’s first cultured ‘lamb’ company was launched in Melbourne this week.
Melbourne-based company Magic Valley, founded by vegan Paul Bevan, is aiming to produce its first slaughter-free ‘lamb’ mince product within 12-24 months.
Magic Valley is currently raising a round of seed funding from investors to complete prototype development, with its first products expected to be available on shelves in the next 12 to 24 months.
Mr Bevan said that Magic Valley’s initial focus will be on developing the world’s first cultured lamb products including mince, strips, steaks and chops.
“Given Australia’s excellent reputation for food safety, security and producing quality sheep, lamb was the obvious choice for the company’s first product range.
“Not to mention the fact that lambs are also currently slaughtered at an incredibly young age using traditional farming methods,” he said.
“Magic Valley’s cultured meat products will provide Australians with a slaughter-free alternative to factory-farmed lamb.”
The Magic Valley website says that cultured ‘meat’ production begins with a small biopsy taken from a live animal to obtain starter cells – “the only animal product used in the entire process”.
These cells are then inserted into a nutrient-rich (FBS-free) culture medium where they can easily increase and multiply inside bioreactors. The cells are then characterized and differentiated into muscle and fat in order to produce meat, the company says.
Magic Valley says that cultured meat is real animal meat grown from animal cells.
“It is not a plant-based meat substitute or vegan product.”
Magic Valley is trying to ‘piggyback’ on Aussie lamb’s reputation
However, Sheep Producers Australia chief executive Stephen Crisp said the company should not be allowed to use the word ‘lamb’ in any way.
“Of course they should not be allowed to use ‘lamb’ in any way.
“They can develop their product and market it as freely as we do, but we do not have the right to call our product any other type of meat, even though it is a lot closer in its product type than what is being developed in a lab, by these types of operations,” he said.
“This synthetic cell protein manufacturer is blatantly trying to piggyback off the reputation of Aussie lamb.
“Whatever it may be, the fact is this highly manufactured artificial test-tube grown cell culture is not lamb,” he said.
Mr Crisp said Sheep Producers Australia is looking at options, like the bill introduced by Texas lawmakers, to ensure truth in labelling for synthetic ‘meat’ products.
“The status quo isn’t working and something needs to be done to fix it.
“It is illegal for private companies to infringe upon trademark brands and the same should go for these highly processed synthetic products,” Mr Crisp said.
However, Mr Crisp said there was currently no regulatory protection for farmed lamb products against cultured product labelled as ‘lamb’, ‘beef’ or ‘meat’.
“There has been recent press around the FSANZ and labelling laws, and SPA will be working with RMAC and through them the rest of the animal protein sector to push for the protection of the brand that has been developed at great cost, and strict regulation.”
He said the industry has been, rightly or wrongly, relying on the definition of lamb as coming from a slaughtered animal, as per the AUS-MEAT language.
“We are trying to work out how and if we can enforce that, but if think it would require legislative change, which is what RMAC is looking into right now.
“There seems to be a requirement for the strengthening of regulations around what terms can be used for what purpose and the definition has to be strictly adhered to about what those products are.”
Mr Crisp said there seemed to be a great push for the synthetics ‘meat’ products.
“But once the method of production and the ingredients used to make these products becomes common knowledge, their appeal may wear off quickly.
“Lamb and sheep meat in general is the natural and green option, along with being a fantastic Australian product,” he said.
“It will more than hold its own.
“You only have to look at what was purchased in the lead up to the lockdowns, and what was left on the shelf, to know how Australians feel about their lamb,” Mr Crisp said.
“Lamb is already a highly valued product in the Australian market, and the work currently being undertaken on eating quality, and ensuring a good experience for the consumer will ensure that continues.”
Click here to see a Magic Valley video about cultured ‘meat’.