Test tube meat — sadly, it’s no joke!

The idea of food that’s not grown by conventional agricultural methods is actually not so far from reality as we’d all like to think. Check out these excerpts from recent stories in Wired magazine about meat grown in test-tube like conditions in vats.

Click image above to view spoof video from Onion News Network.
Click image above to view spoof video from Onion News Network.

Imagine that, meat that’s grown without ever being part of an animal. How unnatural is that? What possible consequences and ramifications might that have for human health? Judging by how GMOs are being handled by the regulatory community, we’re not likely to find out what effects this new form of artificial “meat” will have until it’s “tested” on unsuspecting customers. Also, going by the GMO marketing precedent, we’re perhaps unlikely to see labelling to indicate whether the meat we’re buying came from an animal or a vat. 

And now, the Wired stories — first “Scientists Flesh Out Plans to Grow and Sell Test Tube Meat”:

In five to 10 years, supermarkets might have some new products in the meat counter: packs of vat-grown meat that are cheaper to produce than livestock and have less impact on the environment.

While in vitro meat is not currently produced industrially, Australian artists in the Tissue Culture and Art Project grew this test tube steak for their exhibition Disembodied Cuisine.

While in vitro meat is not currently produced industrially, Australian artists in the Tissue Culture and Art Project grew this test tube steak for their exhibition Disembodied Cuisine. Photo via Wired. See original story and photo caption for their embedded links.

According to a new economic analysis (.pdf) presented at this week’s In Vitro Meat Symposium in Ås, Norway, meat grown in giant tanks known as bioreactors would cost between $5,200-$5,500 a ton (3,300 to 3,500 euros), which the analysis claims is cost competitive with European beef prices.

With a rising global middle class projected by the UN to double meat consumption (.pdf) by 2050, and livestock already responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gases, the symposium is drawing a variety of scientists, environmentalists and food industry experts.

“We’re looking to see if there are other technologies which can produce food for all the people on the planet,” said Anthony Bennett of the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization. “Not only today but over the next 10, 20, 30 years.”

Rapidly evolving technology and increasing concern about the environmental impact of meat production are signs that vat-grown meat is moving from scientific curiosity to consumer option. In vitro meat production is a specialized form of tissue engineering, a biomedical practice in which scientists try to grow animal tissues like bone, skin, kidneys and hearts. Proponents say it will ultimately be a more efficient way to make animal meat, which would reduce the carbon footprint of meat products.

“To produce the meat we eat now, 75 to 95 percent of what we feed an animal is lost because of metabolism and inedible structures like skeleton or neurological tissue,” Jason Matheny, a researcher at Johns Hopkins and co-founder of New Harvest, a nonprofit that promotes research on in vitro meat, told Wired.com. “With cultured meat, there’s no body to support; you’re only building the meat that eventually gets eaten.”….”

Read the whole story here on Wired.

And here’s an excerpt from another Wired story on a similar subject “Beef Battle: Tissue Engineered Burgers vs. Humanely Raised” 

The FDA’s decision to approve cloned meat for sale is, while interesting from philosophical or regulatory angles, not much of a food story. You’re not going to be eating cloned cow meat anytime soon. Still, the announcement was enough to drive some people, i.e. my girlfriend, to seriously consider a turn to veganism. The peek that the cloning discussion provides into industrial meat production is a bit sickening (See Michael Pollanas linked by Brandon) and begs the question: do you care how your food was produced or do other concerns — health, taste, or cost, say — predominate?

There are signs that the backstory, as smart people call it, of your food is gaining increasing economic value. Whole Foods, the retail standard bearer for the organic industry, has doubled revenue in the last five years from $2.8 billion to $5.6 billion. Its stores aggregate niche consumers looking for pesticide-free, hormone-free, free-range, non-GMO, farmer-friendly, and fair trade products. All these issues relate to the way that our food is produced and introduced into the market, not just its cost, taste, or traditional nutritional value.

Most current food movements look back to earlier, generally more “natural” times: heirloom tomatoes, pre-chemical farming methods, free-range animals, etc. But what about technophiles who care about their food production? They might be able to pin their hopes on using tissue engineering to create test tube meat, which doesn’t come wrapped in an animal with a brain.

New Harvest is a research funding entity trying to catalyze the development of meat-substitutes. They are drawing on the leading lights in the in-vitro meat field.

One novel line of research is to
                  produce meat in vitro, in a cell culture, rather than from an
                  animal. The production of such “cultured meat” begins
                  by taking a number of cells from a farm animal and proliferating
                  them in a nutrient—rich medium…The resulting cells can then be harvested,
                  seasoned, cooked, and consumed as a boneless, processed meat,
                  such as sausage, hamburger, or chicken nuggets.

Steaks, chops, and a variety of other meat cuts won’t be available any time soon, but the work of the many scientists working on engineering tissue — like the researchers who grew a beating mouse heart — will eventually bring those cuts within the range of the technology….”

Read the rest of this story here.



6 Comments

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6 responses to “Test tube meat — sadly, it’s no joke!

  1. I fail to see the problem here: it’s the best of both worlds.

    The only thing it does expose is the hypocrisy of vegetarians. I’ve predicted that they would reject lab-grown meat, because to them dogma is more important than animal welfare.

  2. thebovine

    Personally speaking, my concern here is not the morality of keeping animals to kill for meat but rather the effects on human health of eating such unnaturally-grown meat.

    Nevertheless, I do see how this mode of turning animals into vegetables could be “marketed” to vegetarians as a way of getting around issues regarding animal “abuse”.

  3. theyum

    awesome, I like this idea much better than eating meat from animals. However, I hope we will be able to figure out if it is as healthy, or possibly more healthy than real meat. If we can get to that stage, with an easy way of producing it, then I don’t see why we can’t adopt this into society.

    Plus getting rid of the animal abuse is good too, you wouldn’t want to be killed and eaten, or raised on those huge commercial beef farms under companies like conagra, they are horrible, makes me almost not want to eat beef.

    However we must remember, meat eating is in our culture, and our bodies are now built to eat some of it, (note the canine teeth in our mouths) So this could be a better way to solve the problem that eating animals causes.

  4. Cheyenne

    totally! im doing a research ppr on it, and i think its a great idea!! not only does it provide a way 4 vegitarians 2 eat meat (assuming tht they can get it 2 the point where its as nutritional as meat) but it cuts down a ghastly economical footprint. it also saves a few cows along the way 🙂

  5. thebovine

    Cheyenne,

    That all sounds great on the surface, but like GMOs, one won’t know for sure how the theory plays out until it’s tested on real eaters. And then, given our experience with GMO testing, how confident can we be that the science won’t be compromised by the financial interests at stake?

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