The Japanese Scientist and His Crappy Meat

pufferfishIt sounds believable. After all the Japanese do eat some strange things. They eat “fugu,” prepared from puffer fish which if not properly eviscerated contains enough tetrodotoxin to kill the diner. I suppose there is a certain excitement in eating and waiting to see if you will survive. Then of course they eat raw fish. So it sounds possible that they would eat turd burgers. Indeed numerous blogs, newspapers and radio reports picked up on a video that shows a Japanese researcher isolating protein from sewage and turning it into a meat-like concoction that can be consumed as a burger.

An interesting story to be sure. But interesting for a different reason than people think. The interesting part is that the video is a hoax, but one that managed to sucker all sorts of people. It shows how easily people swallow crap. The video looks like a documentary but there is no identification as to its origin. That’s the first clue it’s a hoax. Then there is the scientist, Mitsuyuki Ikeda. Google his name and the only reference is to this video. Go to PubMed and search for his name. Doesn’t exist. Had he published anything of a scientific nature ever, it would show up there. But the ultimate giveaway is his name. Mitsuyuki Ikeda. Say it slowly..”meat..so..yukky..I kid ya.” And would a scientist actually label his fridge with a sign that uses the most common colloquial term for excrement? Hardly. Some clever chaps are having a good laugh when they see all the crazy comments being made about their cagey handiwork.

I must say they did a good job. They got a British announcer since everything sounds more authentic with a British accent. They filmed in an authentic looking lab and had an authentic looking scientist. It does look a little silly though when the pointer he’s using is a hand with an extended forefinger that features red nail polish. The study was supposedly commissioned by the Tokyo Sewage Authority and carried out at Okayama Laboratory, a place that doesn’t exist.

Isolating protein from sewage would not be impossible, but it would be quite a challenge to separate it from the numerous other substances that one would not want to have in food. It would certainly not be an economic venture. But the people who swallowed this story hook, line and sinker often went on to lament that it’s too bad people would have an aversion to this type of protein that could boost our food supply. Some hoped that Ikeda could bring the cost down so the poor could be fed. Others commented that this was the ultimate reason to become a vegetarian.

Even some real scientists were taken in. Doug Powell, a noted food safety expert at Kansas State University commented that the “idea is not all that different from eating plants that have been fertilized with manure or other excrement, because the nutrients in the poop become part of the plant.” That is of course true. He went on to say that “in the food safety world we say, don’t eat poop, but if you’re going to, make sure it is cooked.” And according to the story Ikeda’s concoction was cooked. But what he really cooked up was a hefty serving of malarkey. Powell, and everyone else should have checked out the story first. But there is a saying in journalism: “That story was too good to check.” But the real poop on the poop burger is that the story is full of crap.

 

Joe Schwarcz

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