Why Vegan, Cow-Free Dairy Milk Presents a Major Problem for the Organic Food Industry

"Dairy To Go" may be more accurate than you think. Source: Author image.

You're standing in the dairy section of your local supermarket, ready to cross one of the staple items off of your grocery list. Which milk product do you reach for? If you factor in the treatment of dairy animals and what gets injected into their bodies, you may reach for an organic product. After all, foods produced organically have the lowest environmental impact of available foods, right?

Not so fast.

Several teams of biohackers are leveraging the fast-falling costs of designing with biology to produce dairy milk and derivatives such as cheeses, desserts, and toppings that are 100% vegan and free of lactose, LDL cholesterol ("bad" cholesterol), hormones, pasteurization, and antibiotics -- not to mention dairy animals. Animal-free milk boasting all of those benefits -- and more -- presents an interesting dilemma for the organic food industry and consumers. Whole Foods Market (NASDAQ: WFM  ) and WhiteWave Foods (NYSE: WWAV  ) have cashed in on the marketing machine of the organic food industry, which uses terms such as "happy cows" to persuade consumers to purchase its products. I'm sure removing the cow from the dairy process altogether would make for some pretty happy animals, too. So how will the industry approach ultrasustainable cow-free milk?

What is animal-free milk?
The only difference between animal-free milk and what you buy today is the pureness; it's free of everything that is not a component of milk -- a simple mixture of six proteins (for structure and function) and eight fatty acids (for flavor and richness). Synthetic biology start-up Muufri (pronounced "moo free") has set out to use fermentation to engineer yeast in producing each component, which can then be combined in various ratios to create cow milk, goat milk, buffalo milk, and more. It's a biotech company founded by animal lovers who want to make dairy production more humane and ultrasustainable.

There will certainly be a "yuck factor" to the first food products created with industrial biotech and tissue-engineering platforms, but a steel fermentation vessel is a heck of a lot more sterile than a dirty cow or dairy farm. As Ryan Bethencourt, co-founder of synthetic biology incubator and accelerator hybrid Berkeley BioLabs, recently quipped:

Besides, you don't drink milk because it comes from cows; you drink milk because you want milk. In other words, the milk is the product, not the cow. So why should the production system come into play in your purchasing decision? If you truly care about the impacts of your food, then you'll consider the benefits of each on a case-by-case basis, not because one is labeled organic.

Why animal-free milk blows up organic food arguments
The organic food industry relies heavily on advertising. Discussions about food are often framed as black and white, organic versus biotech, natural and good versus lab-grown and evil. Whole Foods Market is among the worst offenders in spreading this dichotomy. The argument works well because the benefits of biotech crops are largely invisible to the consumer (lower food prices, less pesticide use, and the like), not directed at the consumer at all (easier pest management and higher yields for farmers), or portrayed as a corporate biotech extending its reach over the food supply. The argument may be less relevant when it comes to dairy milk, but that hasn't stopped the organic food industry from hyping the benefit of organic products in this space as well.

Consider the vast differences in total sales and advertising costs between WhiteWave Foods, owner of the popular organic milk brand Horizon, and Dean Foods (NYSE: DF  ) , the largest processor of milk and dairy products in the United States.

 

2013 Advertising Budget

2013 Total Sales

% of Total Sales

WhiteWave Foods

$169.5 million

$2,542 million

6.7%

Dean Foods

$22.0 million

$9,016 million

0.2%

Source: SEC filings.

Perhaps larger ad budgets are necessary for organic products, but more advertising comes with added scrutiny. WhiteWave Foods was named in a class action lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for six different jurisdictions alleging it lacked scientific evidence for claims surrounding its Horizon Organic products supplemented with DHA Omega-3. Worse than false and misleading claims, Horizon has been accused of using factory farms to produce its organic milk. This suggests that as long as animals are used as production vessels, it will be difficult to offer consumers truly sustainable and low-impact dairy products.

Animal-free dairy products provide the only real solution. Consider the comparison between the proposed benefits touted by organic food companies such as WhiteWave Foods and biohacker-led companies such as Muufri.

 

Organic Milk

Animal-free Milk

Growth hormones used

No

No

Antibiotics used

No

No

Factory farms used

Yes

No

Pasteurization used

Yes

No

Shelf life

Weeks

Months

Vegan

No

Yes

Lactose

Removed with enzymes

Never present

LDL cholesterol

Yes

Never present

U.S. pasture lands required

2,500,000 acres

0 acres

Do-it-yourself kits available

No

Yes

All of the benefits of organic dairy milk are offered by animal-free milk -- and then some. It's a landslide victory for biotech.

What will the organic food industry and consumers do?
The goal of WhiteWave Foods and Whole Foods Market is to make a wide range of premium and organic products accessible to a larger population. Many consumers happily purchase foods they believe are better for the environment and free of residue from synthetic chemicals and pesticides, which are widely believed to be benefits associated with the organic label.

However, the benefits of organic foods will soon be bested by biotech platforms that remove inefficient agricultural or animal production systems from the equation altogether. If you really care about the environmental impact of your food -- which is independent of the production system -- then animal-free dairy products will be your only choice.

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  • Report this Comment On August 10, 2014, at 12:41 PM, lpurl wrote:

    Horizon is some of the worst "organic" milk out there! It is ultra-pasteurized, which means it is heated to a high point to kill germs, giving a longer shelf life, therefore killing all the good bacteria and healthy benefits out of the milk! This ultra-pasteurization give is a longer shelf life than other organic milks. It also changes the taste and makes it taste like any other non-organic milk out there. I would not buy Horizon EVER! Clover Organic milk is the real thing. Humboldt Creamery is also awesome milk! Stay local, you will get better products, rather than a corporate giant like Horizon that ships it's dairy across the country. Check the labels yourself!

  • Report this Comment On August 10, 2014, at 1:42 PM, NoiTall wrote:

    I think this is a great idea.

    All sorts of reasons could decimate cow dairy farms: viruses, bacterial plagues (both regular enemieis of livestock), parasites, flies (including bot flies in southern texas that the USDA had to help eliminate, lay eggs under skin of cattle), drought affecting grazing fodder and water shortages. Also these are often in remote areas so transportation is increased.

    The only way to feed the overpopulated and growing earth is this type of production. One food already done this way is nutritional yeast. Takes about half the energy and very much small amount of land (not zero as in the article but effectively zero).

    And yes, it may not be vegan but you are likely to get tissue culture meat. Some mushrooms are grown like this in china already, you can buy sheets of black mushroom grown on agar in chinese shops. One sci-fi story had each apartment building with a tank under it where a 'meat mountain' was grown. Presumably using some of the nutrients people excrete (eewww). Soylent green is People Poo!

    Ok, so probably would be made cleanly in a stainless steel tank in a place like a brewery.

  • Report this Comment On August 10, 2014, at 3:48 PM, iambattey wrote:

    Let me get this straight - a chemical lab uses chemicals to make the proteins and fatty acids to make a healthy milk.

    I thought the whole idea of eating healthy was avoiding GMOs and chemicals in food. Now some one has invented a milk made from chemicals and is touted as better and healthier than real milk.

    Sort of defeats the purpose of eating healthy.

  • Report this Comment On August 10, 2014, at 4:36 PM, cc54 wrote:

    I do not buy organic, I never have. There is no proof that its any better for you and it is expensive, I'm on a limited budget, I have 5 people to feed including myself. I would never buy fake meat or milk, if it doesn't come from an animal, I do not want it. It just doesn't sound good at all. If other people buy strictly organic, that's fine, that is their choice and that goes for vegans also, I know people who are vegan, but we never say anything to each other about what we eat.

  • Report this Comment On August 10, 2014, at 6:41 PM, PammLarry wrote:

    Actually iambattey- Synthetic Biology is a process whereby they genetically engineer yeast or algae to produce these new products. They are grown in a vat, fed with GMO sugar. You will notice they don't talk about the process very much as we know from conferences they hold on how to approach the public, they are cautioned to keep it secret and use special language that hides what they are doing.The first product slated to be on the market is SynBio vanilla. The industry is pushing to be labeled "natural". Friends Of The Earth has a few reports on this new technology soon on our shelves, touted to be the answer to everything. http://www.foe.org/projects/food-and-technology/synthetic-bi... All we ask is transparency and a true, free market. Label it.

  • Report this Comment On August 10, 2014, at 9:19 PM, TMFBlacknGold wrote:

    @iambattey

    "Let me get this straight - a chemical lab uses chemicals to make the proteins and fatty acids to make a healthy milk."

    No, an industrial food fermentation facility -- similar to how beer is made -- would produce these compounds. The negative tone you take about "chemicals" suggests you aren't very familiar with basic chemistry. After all, humans are a massive collection of chemicals. Everything you see and eat and drink -- including organic food -- is a collection of chemicals.

    "I thought the whole idea of eating healthy was avoiding GMOs and chemicals in food."

    Eating healthy has nothing to do with organic.

    Maxxwell

  • Report this Comment On August 10, 2014, at 9:23 PM, TMFBlacknGold wrote:

    @PammLarry

    "ynthetic Biology is a process whereby they genetically engineer yeast or algae to produce these new products."

    Whoah! We can enhance any organism -- even humans. Don't sell us so short!

    "You will notice they don't talk about the process very much..."

    It's good old fashioned fermentation. We've been using it for thousands of years, actually. No secrets!

    "The first product slated to be on the market is SynBio vanilla. The industry is pushing to be labeled "natural"."

    It's actually not the first, but it is a lot better than the vanilla flavoring you currently eat. That stuff comes from petrochemical processes and beaver behinds (ask Solvay about that...). The "synthetic biology" vanilla flavor comes from a yeast that has a metabolic pathway very similar to that of the vanilla plant.

    Maxxwell

  • Report this Comment On August 10, 2014, at 11:50 PM, EweRBaad wrote:

    It's almost funny how this article is built on some assumptions:

    That somehow cows produce more methane than the herds of bison that once roamed the plains. (Maybe domestic cows do. I don't know. Of course, this raises the question whether or not eliminating domestic cattle would REALLY have any positive environmental impact, or if it would only please people who're philosophically vegans.)

    That it's more merciful to deny an animal existence than to milk it. (After all, if humans don't drink milk, there's no reason to breed dairy cows. No dairy cows means that certain genetic lines of cattle would disappear.)

    That human overpopulation is at such critical mass that there's absolutely no room for cows. (It might seem so in New York City, but there's abandoned dairy farms and empty land going back to seed in many rural areas.)

    I'm not a fan of industrialized agriculture, but many dairy farms really are still "family farms." If you have a problem with mass-produced milk or the feeds being fed to dairy cows, buy from a raw-milk or small local dairy where you can get to know the dairy farmer...or buy from a goat-dairy or buy a share in a milk cow. If you really have a problem with the calves been taken from the mothers at 3 days old or so and bottle-fed, then buy your own cow and let the calf nurse part of the time. A dairy cow produces WAY more milk than a calf can drink; you could have all you need and the calf could, too. This way you would also only have to milk once a day.

  • Report this Comment On August 11, 2014, at 12:18 AM, Nanimc wrote:

    I do not think that it is so simple to mimick the properties of milk. In fact, food companies have been trying to do this for over 40 years as they try to reproduce the components and properties of human breastmilk to make baby formula. They have not been successful and formula does not have all the properties of breastmilk. Is cow milk composed of so few components or are the ones mentioned in the article just the main components?

  • Report this Comment On August 11, 2014, at 8:31 AM, investorL2014 wrote:

    I appreciate the author's research on this subject. We need to boycott any type of modified food from biotech companies, as it is not "food" buy synthetics. It's bad enough that milk from cows is adulterated with hormones and other chemicals, and that pasteurized milk actually leeches vital calcium from your bones. Ultra pasteurized is the worst form of milk to put in your body. Most of the nutrients in pasteurized milk are destroyed during the pasteurization process, and this includes the new method of flash pasteurization. Do not be fooled when biotech companies say they have a way of "saving the environment" because they are killing off the human race.

  • Report this Comment On August 11, 2014, at 9:05 AM, Mz321Undastood wrote:

    If it is not dairy it is not milk, pretty simple. Call it something else, and use it, fine, but do NOT call it milk!!!

  • Report this Comment On August 11, 2014, at 9:42 AM, TMFBlacknGold wrote:

    @Nanimc

    "I do not think that it is so simple to mimick the properties of milk...Is cow milk composed of so few components or are the ones mentioned in the article just the main components?"

    Food companies attempting to "mimic" the properties of milk have done so through synthetic chemicals and powdered formulations. This is a new approach. Cows (biological vessel) are simply being replaced by a simpler organism, yeast (biological vessel), to produce the same compounds needed for milk without the unnecessary components such as lactose, LDL cholesterol, pesticide residue, feces, and the like.

    Maxxwell

  • Report this Comment On August 11, 2014, at 9:43 AM, TMFBlacknGold wrote:

    @investorL2014,

    "It's bad enough that milk from cows is adulterated with hormones and other chemicals, and that pasteurized milk actually leeches vital calcium from your bones. Ultra pasteurized is the worst form of milk to put in your body. Most of the nutrients in pasteurized milk are destroyed during the pasteurization process, and this includes the new method of flash pasteurization. "

    And animal-free milk alleviates all of those issues. What's your point?

    Maxxwell

  • Report this Comment On August 11, 2014, at 9:47 AM, TMFBlacknGold wrote:

    @Mz321Undastood,

    "If it is not dairy it is not milk, pretty simple. Call it something else, and use it, fine, but do NOT call it milk!!!"

    Actually, milk is just "a simple mixture of six proteins (for structure and function) and eight fatty acids (for flavor and richness)." Has nothing to do with cows or goats or yeast. Milk is milk.

    Think about it in terms of a simpler compound: water. Some of the water molecules you drink comes from plants via transpiration, some of it comes from animals via perspiration, and some of it came from comets billions of years ago. It's still water, isn't it?

    Maxxwell

  • Report this Comment On August 11, 2014, at 1:27 PM, PammLarry wrote:

    @Maxwell. I won't use or eat synthetic vanilla or vanilla flavoring. I use real vanilla made with real, whole vanilla beans in real, organic alcohol. Takes like two minutes to plop the bean in the liguid and is cheap. Imagine that. Even a gene hacker could do it.

    Re: the vanilla. To clarify- I meant on a large scale in our food system.

    I don't want to buy anything produced this way. But I'm not saying you can't. If it's transparent it's a free market.

    But again- It is fermentation done by genetically engineering yeast or algae using GE sugar. All your other fancy wordsmithing does not change that fact.

    Like I said, If you are OK with that, fine. Just tell the truth about it, label it. FYI- I know about the conference in San Francisco where all the SynBio folks converged to figure out which fancy words to use, which ones not to use to make your products more palatable to consumers so they will buy something they don't want to buy. So don't tell me there isn't a concerted effort to slip this in the market with all sorts of "enhanced" sound bites about what it is.

    If the market thinks it has value, then you should be able to flourish with the truth.

    If you can't tell the truth about it, what does that say about your ethics or your business model? "I can only sell my stuff if I can lie about it." Great lesson to teach business students. Great future for our economy and our world.

  • Report this Comment On August 11, 2014, at 2:07 PM, TMFBlacknGold wrote:

    @PamLarry

    "Re: the vanilla. To clarify- I meant on a large scale in our food system."

    Still not correct. Rennet has been produced with genetically engineered microbes since 1990.

    "I don't want to buy anything produced this way."

    I suppose you don't eat much dairy to begin with then: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rennet#Fermentation-produced_ch...

    "FYI- I know about the conference in San Francisco where all the SynBio folks converged to figure out which fancy words to use"

    If you want to believe what Friends of the Earth wrote about the closed-door meeting go for it. But you may be happy to know that regulators were present, startups dominated (much different that corporate biotech many people despise), and the small group of attendees simply discussed what opportunities and obstacles the emerging industry faced.

    There was no secret planning for shoving it down consumers' throats. If consumers don't want the products, then fine. But they should be able to make up their own minds with facts and statistics from unbiased sources (U.N., FDA, USDA, EU Committees) not biased ones (FOE, ETC, industry organizations). That was discussed at the meeting. Did you know that?

    The FOE blog post misrepresented the meeting greatly by quoting individuals with off the wall talking points as it was. The "syn" likened to "sin" quote spreading across activist circles came from an industry outsider and had everyone roll their eyes. Other quotes clinged to by FOE were misrepresented in much the same way. Did you know that?

    We agreed that more regulatory oversight was necessary and are working with regulators to provide a special task force for synthetic biology products, since current teams do not currently exist. Did you know that?

    There may very well be labels on such products, but they would certainly fit within the current labeling system (labels are pretty useless as it is, anyway). Did you know that?

    There was nothing secret or misleading about the meeting. I'll be releasing the schedule from the meeting eventually and FOE will look pretty stupid after its public. I think the synthetic biology industry should be applauded for attempting to connect with consumers early on (something biotech crop producers have yet to do) and treating business-to-business industries as business-to-consumer industries. You are right that you have to right to choose what you want to purchase, but you should also have access to unbiased information.

    Thanks for reading and keep an open mind and be careful with what you read on the Internet =)

    Maxxwell

  • Report this Comment On August 11, 2014, at 5:53 PM, birdlady1 wrote:

    I reach for almond milk, never dairy milk. And Mackey's comment "Besides, you don't drink milk because it comes from cows; you drink milk because you want milk" is baloney. Why aren't people reaching for dog or cat milk, or elephant milk, or tiger milk then? It's because of the dairy industry wouldn't make a dime if you drank another animal's milk.

  • Report this Comment On August 11, 2014, at 8:06 PM, usc1801 wrote:

    @cc54. WRONG! It's been proven on numerous studies that organic milk is better for you. It is high in nutrients, and if the cows are 100% grass fed, organic milk is rich in omega 3 fatty acids and has the PERFECT ratio of omega 3s to omega 6s. Organic grass fed beef is proven substantially healthier too. I buy as much organic as possible because 1. it's better for the environment, 2. it's better for you, and 3. the animals are treated in a humane manner. Most people into organics who aren't vegan will not buy genetically modified or any other frankenfoods.

  • Report this Comment On August 12, 2014, at 4:43 PM, jargonific wrote:

    Love it, have small amt. shares in WWAV.

    Do you all think it will keep rising or level off here?

  • Report this Comment On August 12, 2014, at 5:43 PM, watson14 wrote:

    The algae milk will probably have a big picture of a cow on the container and some very, very small fine print at the bottom.

  • Report this Comment On August 12, 2014, at 8:22 PM, TMFBlacknGold wrote:

    @watson14

    Yeast are not algae. And Muufri is pretty clear that it's out to protect cows and the environment by sparing them from the production process:

    http://www.muufri.com/

    Maxxwell

  • Report this Comment On August 13, 2014, at 12:18 PM, watson14 wrote:

    Have at it then Maxx, I'll take a pass though. I've worked on a few small family dairy farms, the cows seemed happy, there's music in the barn during milking, the gutter conveyor takes the manure to a spreader - which is spread on the fields, everything seemed to work pretty smooth - but seven days a week is long week!

  • Report this Comment On August 13, 2014, at 3:19 PM, n8larson wrote:

    Mmmmmm.... the smell of disruption.

    Hat's off to you, Maxx, for your use of facts. Too bad they tend to confuse us so.

  • Report this Comment On August 13, 2014, at 3:44 PM, Turfscape wrote:

    @birdlady1 - "Why aren't people reaching for dog or cat milk, or elephant milk, or tiger milk then? It's because of the dairy industry wouldn't make a dime if you drank another animal's milk."

    More goat milk is consumed world-wide than cow milk. And as to why not cat milk and dog milk? Ever try milking a cat? Get much milk from it? We use cows because they have been selectively bred over hundreds of years to produce high quantities of milk, balanced against the cost and effort to raise and keep the animal.

    Breed a species of cat that can produce up to seven gallons of milk per day and I'm certain the dairy industry will pay attention.

  • Report this Comment On August 13, 2014, at 3:46 PM, djtetsu wrote:

    Organic milk and butter is better than standard kind, and milk and butter from grass fed cows are even better (nutrient profiles, Omega 3/6 ratio as someone else mentioned).

    And here comes synthesized milk. Let's be real.. The s**t isn't easy.

    I'm not optimistic artificial milk will have the ideal omega 3/6 ratio and beyond this, real food has properties that can't be tied down to simply mimicking its micronutrient profiles (that's why vitamin pills don't work), properties we don't understand a lot of the time.

    Mankind has historically just f**ked things up when they try to make it themselves, and I can't see this being any exception, HFCS, bread, you name it. Wheat is a good example, we strip it of its real nutrients and then add micronutrients later, resulting in a longer shelf life. Sounds great as it does here. I've found that bread that doesn't go bad are the ones you shouldn't be eating. Same would apply here. Only guarantee that things are going to be okay for you, generally speaking, is when men didn't mess with it.

    Enjoy.

  • Report this Comment On August 13, 2014, at 4:33 PM, anindakumars wrote:

    I believe the opinion will be split along two strongly disagreeing groups. I respect opinions from both groups and there are strong points on either side. For myself, I don't think I am going to eat lab grown food. FDA doesn't even have a good definition of natural. How do I know lab raised food/ dairy will not have long term affects? Of course I won't go mad about it or oppose it, but I don't want to be a test subject either.

  • Report this Comment On August 13, 2014, at 4:42 PM, TMFBlacknGold wrote:

    @djtetsu

    What makes this milk "artificial"? It's not mimicking the properties of anything -- it is milk. Are you implying milk (a compound) is only milk if it comes from cows or goats or another animal and not milk if it comes from a microorganism with the same metabolic pathway? That doesn't make a lot of sense.

    Take water as a counter example.

    Where do you draw the line with the water you drink? Do you only drink water if the molecules came from a plant (transpiration)? Or do you also drink the molecules that come from land animal sweat (perspiration) and ancient comets?

    This is not to be confused with artificial compounds. Milk is milk.

    Maxxwell

  • Report this Comment On August 13, 2014, at 4:45 PM, TMFBlacknGold wrote:

    @anindakumars

    Actually, the FDA already has robust guidelines for biotech products (cloned cows, genetically engineered goats, and more).

    http://www.fda.gov/AnimalVeterinary/SafetyHealth/AnimalCloni...

    Since Muufri makes milk, there's no need to fear being a "test subject". You'll even be able to buy a DIY kit -- similar to a home brewing kit. Cool, huh?

    Maxxwell

  • Report this Comment On August 13, 2014, at 4:49 PM, watson14 wrote:

    FDA? What's that got to do with food safety? It's just a revolving door between BB and the gov, c'mon man.

  • Report this Comment On August 13, 2014, at 5:00 PM, djtetsu wrote:

    @maxxwell C'mon, let's do more than pick at symantics. Here's one:

    Milk is a white liquid produced by the mammary glands of mammals (according to Google).

    Truth be told, if it was labelled as biofat + bioprotein I wouldn't have a problem.

  • Report this Comment On August 13, 2014, at 6:09 PM, TMFBlacknGold wrote:

    @djtetsu

    It's not semantics, it's breaking it all down to the simplest biological level. Those mammary glands producing the milk are using essentially the same cellular machinery as the yeast at Muufri.

    Maxxwell

  • Report this Comment On August 13, 2014, at 6:31 PM, jargonific wrote:

    Here are some known knowns:

    Scientists have linked various diseases with pesticides including Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, and most recently Autism.

    That enough reason to buy organic?

  • Report this Comment On August 13, 2014, at 7:27 PM, djtetsu wrote:

    @maxwell

    Ok, if you want to twist it that way, to break it down to its simplest biological level, we can call it bio-fat plus bio-protein. But it is NOT MILK. Milk by definition comes from animals.

  • Report this Comment On August 13, 2014, at 7:35 PM, djtetsu wrote:

    Anyways... we can just have our own interpretations and labels, no sense with taking that further..

    If this forum is any indication of how people will react out there, I'd say they would need some good amount of convincing. People are JUST getting started on going organic and it's a going to take an army to convince them, hey we are MANUFACTURING something equivalent!

  • Report this Comment On August 13, 2014, at 8:19 PM, TruthBe wrote:

    Personally, I prefer to drink milk that actually comes from a cow. If someone else wants to drink bio-chemical milk produced in a steel vat, then go for it. I do, however, want it clearly labeled so that I know which is which at the store.

    So many of the purveyors of GMOs and bio-engineered products are resistant to labeling them as such, it really begs the question of why?

    BTW: Maxwell, who do you work for?

  • Report this Comment On August 13, 2014, at 9:48 PM, ADrumlinDaisy wrote:

    Interesting article.

    I am also from Pittsburgh -- a physicist now (specializing in neutrino oscillations) but an organic beef rancher and farmer in a prior life.

    I always wonder if we can replace whole foods (e.g., broccoli) with an amalgam of components -- vitamins, minerals, fibers, etc. In particular, I wonder if we are not missing micronutrients that are significant.

    This concern does not really apply (in my mind) to milk, which is (apart from infants) clearly not an essential food -- enough people do not drink milk to establish quite firmly that we would be just fine missing a few micro-ingredients as we attempt to duplicate it. Even in the infant case, there are a lot of infants who get by just fine without dairy-based milk.

    In short, I really like the idea and effort to duplicate milk using eco-friendly and humane processes. And any minor differences in the final product (apart from the intended differences you outline) seem likely to be insignificant.

    I imagine the day is coming when this approach will be extended to meat as well.

    I believe -- based on years of research, analysis, and work in the field, not based on the uncritical introspection that seems to provide the foundation of so many opinions one finds on these boards -- that the principal benefit of organic practices is protection of the environment, the second benefit is humane treatment of animals, the third benefit is taste (from use of local agriculture and the resulting ability to choose varieties for reasons of taste rather than transportability), and a very distant fourth benefit is a minor potential health benefit to consumers.

    Your approach preserves -- in fact, increases -- the first benefit and elevates the very important fourth benefit to a much higher level. I have no idea how it will rank on the taste benefit, and think there is probably a decent argument to be had about the ranking of nonexistence versus humane husbandry practices on the humane scale. I will point out that even the most humane dairy operation must slaughter calves at a very young age -- no matter how this is done, it is hard to characterize it as "humane."

    Anyway, kudos on calling attention to this important new technology. In twenty years I imagine it will be dominant across many parts of the food chain -- a solution to the "how do we feed the world population" dilemmas that have so worried Jeremy Grantham these past few years.

    Rich

    A Drumlin Daisy

  • Report this Comment On August 13, 2014, at 10:16 PM, beetlecat77 wrote:

    Guess what? Thirty years ago, when I lived in the Aleutians, we drank (and enjoyed) synthetic milk. The real stuff (even from the "local" Matanuska Valley) just didn't last long enough. Ever try to milk a seal? A walrus? They have great milk, but not easy raising a herd of them. Besides, the only really good milk for humans is mothers' milk. I gladly have local milk (Rhody Fresh, available in all local grocery stores), but the whole frankenmilk argument is just plain silly.

  • Report this Comment On August 13, 2014, at 11:24 PM, calanus wrote:

    @TruthBe - if you take the time to read Max's "bio" at the top of this article, you will see his interest in the topic.

    I do find it rather interesting that there is so much emotion regards the definition of "milk" in this context, while soy, coconut, and almond milks barely raise an eyebrow. I cannot say that I am comfortable with the prospects of bioengineered foods, but in all honesty I am not surprised that we are at that point.

    Given the small amount of almond "milk" I currently ingest, I don't think I will get too excited over this, one way or the other.

  • Report this Comment On August 14, 2014, at 12:01 AM, vidar712 wrote:

    All of these comments and not one of you monsters is considering the health and welfare of these yeast animals. They are taking yeast, modifying them, force feeding them some sugar liquid in steel vats and stealing the substances that they produce. That is just cruel!

    These yeast need to be free - out in nature. Where the wild free happy cows run next to the adorable tigers and friendly wolves.

    Yeast are PEOPLE too!

    I'm going to start an organization to stop this sort of abuse before it becomes widespread. People for the Ethical Treatment of Yeast. PETY!

    You will all learn to fear my PETY friends!

  • Report this Comment On August 14, 2014, at 7:25 AM, deckdawg wrote:

    Maxxwell, excellent article! I think your comparison of this process to the making of beer (and I would add cheese and wine ... and maybe even bread) is apt. I do disagree on one point. Under the organic milk column, you have "do it yourself kit available" marked as no. Actually, do it yourself kits for making organic milk have been available for thousands of years. And these do it yourself kits actually have the ability to make more do it yourself kits!

  • Report this Comment On August 14, 2014, at 8:04 AM, jaypdw wrote:

    @djtestu: I agree, and thanks for injecting some thoughtfulness.

    I'm honestly surprised this article made it online as it is, it seems like the author is just trolling us. Not the same caliber of careful, measured research I've come to expect from the Fool, and I hope it's not a glimpse of things to come. No soapboxes, please.

  • Report this Comment On August 14, 2014, at 9:33 AM, flightning wrote:

    Why does it always seem that when we humans try to synthesize something to be "just like" the real thing, it ends being nothing like the real thing. And then we find out the thing that was left out was actually quit beneficial.

    I wish them all the luck in their endeavors, but I don't think this will be a product I'll buy.

  • Report this Comment On August 14, 2014, at 10:14 AM, vidman81 wrote:

    The yuck factor is pretty high on this one - I suspect it'll crash and burn in the US.

    Take a page from the irradiated beef folks: here's a product that's much safer than regular ground beef, has a longer shelf life (so it should be cheaper) but it's sold in such small quantities that costs more. Nobody wants it. Do a web search and you'll get a zillion poorly researched articles about how irradiated beef causes disease. I'll probably even get a handful of flames to this post saying that irradiated beef causes disease.

    So someone thinks they can market a synthetic milk substitute and not get a whole bunch of pushback from the organic foods advertising machine? Crazy.

    This is the opposite of the organic foods market, and it will be a very tough sell.

  • Report this Comment On August 14, 2014, at 12:36 PM, hbofbyu wrote:

    It took my northern European ancestors thousands of years to genetically adapt to animal milk consumption and now you want to go eff it all up. :)

    I would be more interested in synthesizing tomatoes, spinach, sweet potatoes, bananas, oranges, and other fruits and vegetables.

  • Report this Comment On August 14, 2014, at 3:22 PM, mrblond2 wrote:

    Why focus on the impact to the organic food industry? While organic doesn't equal local, milk is one of those items that is almost inherently local due to the cost of freight associated with liquids. The reason I ask is because Muufri themselves, right on their homepage, indicate they are not "going after" local farms. I suppose the distinction must be between local small scale/"artisan" farms vs. local organic large scale productions?

    This might seem stupid, but to me they need to drop the word "Vegan" from their product. There is a significant portion of the population (bigger than the Vegan population) that will essentially avoid the product entirely just based on the labeling. I know I would. It may seem and actually be silly, but I make my own choices.

    On the flip side, this is exactly the type of company I would love to invest in (once they have a viable product in the market). If they can truly scale the operation (note issue with transporting liquids), then this is absolutely a necessity in certain parts of the world.

    As for me, I don't buy milk anymore. It's not essential. But on the rare occassion that I have a glass of organic milk at work and compare to a glass of the regular milk they also have, the taste test is won hands down by the organic. Now if only I could try raw milk.

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