Vat-grown meat getting closer to reality as PETA offers million-dollar prize for “commercially-viable” test tube meat

Here are some excerpts from an LA Times story by Jason Gelt titled “In vitro meat’s evolution”‘

Test tube meat closer than you'd think?

“In 1932, Winston Churchill, appalled by the leftover bones and gristle crowding his dinner plate, predicted that in 50 years “we shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium.” It’s taken longer than that, but at the dawn of the 21st century we’re finally closing in on tasty and eerily healthy meat grown by scientists instead of Old MacDonald.

“It’s been a thought problem for scientists for decades,” says Jason Matheny, director of New Harvest, a nonprofit organization devoted to global efforts to produce cultured meat. With meat consumption in heavily populated countries like China and India multiplying every decade, the environmental complications resulting from industrial meat production have reached critical mass….”

“….Still, the road to cultured chicken nuggets faces obstacles. “There are lots of technical challenges,” Matheny says. “But those all appear to be solvable. The biggest challenge is one of marketing. There’s a yuck factor with the idea of producing cultured meat in a metal tank.” Many foods we take for granted are bioprocessed, including yogurt, cheese and fermented drinks. With the health of the world at stake, coming to terms with cultured meats is the logical next step, Matheny says. “If we shifted to cultured meat,” says Matheny, “it would reduce greenhouse gas emissions more than everybody trading in their cars and trucks for bicycles.”

With the efforts of organizations such as New Harvest, the term “mystery meat” may soon shift from a negative to a positive connotation. Squalid industrial animal farms would become relics of the past, and land, water and grain could be put to other uses. Says Matheny: “In principle, one could produce the entire meat supply from a few cells harvested from animals that don’t even need to be killed.””

Read the whole story on the LA Times.

Here’s an excerpt from another story on a similar theme from the Huffington Post:


Meat that is grown/ concocted in a test tube is also known as in vitro meat, victimless meat, vat-grown meat, hydroponic meat, cultured meat, or, finally, shmeat. This delicacy-of-the-future is grown from a cell culture rather than a live animal. Said cells are harvested from an animal, such as a pig, and placed in a nutrient-rich soup that mimics blood. Once the cells multiply, they are affixed to a spongy sheet (shmeat = sheet +meat) that has also been enriched with nutrients and then stretched to amplify cell size and protein content.

According to Lou Bendrick of Grist,

Earlier this year, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals announced that it will offer a $1 million X Prize for the creation of affordable, humane, and “commercially viable” test-tube meat by 2012. This announcement, not at all surprisingly, piqued public curiosity (for starters, why is PETA endorsing anything with the word “meat” in it?)
This shmeat could, in theory, be harvested in vast quantities and used in minced meat products: burgers, nuggety things, or potted meat-food products, etc. While scientists (they call themselves “tissue engineers”) admit that growing a pork chop with a bone without a real pig attached is not likely, the say also that affordable, palatable minced shmeat might be available at a grocery store near you within a decade….”

Read the whole report on the Huffington Post.

And here’s an excerpt from the NY Times story on the issue:

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals wants to pay a million dollars for fake meat — even if it has caused a “near civil war” within the organization.

The organization said it would announce plans on Monday for a $1 million prize to the “first person to come up with a method to produce commercially viable quantities of in vitro meat at competitive prices by 2012.”

The idea of getting the next Chicken McNugget out of a test tube is not new. For several years, scientists have worked to develop technologies to grow tissue cultures that could be consumed like meat without the expense of land or feed and the disease potential of real meat. An international symposium on the topic was held this month in Norway. The tissue, once grown, could be shaped and given texture with the kinds of additives and structural agents that are now used to give products like soy burgers a more meaty texture.

New Harvest, a nonprofit organization formed to promote the field, says on its Web site, “Because meat substitutes are produced under controlled conditions impossible to maintain in traditional animal farms, they can be safer, more nutritious, less polluting and more humane than conventional meat.”

Jason Matheny, a doctoral student at Johns Hopkins University who formed New Harvest, said the idea of a prize for researchers was promising. Citing the example of the Ansari X Prize, a competition that produced the first privately financed human spacecraft, Mr. Matheny said, “they inspire more dollars spent on a research problem than the prize represents.”

A founder of PETA, Ingrid Newkirk, said she had been hoping to get the organization involved in advancing in vitro meat technology for at least a decade.

But, Ms. Newkirk said, the decision to sponsor a prize caused “a near civil war in our office,” since so many PETA members are repulsed by the thought of eating animal tissue, even if no animals are killed….”

Read the whole NY Times story here.

And here’s yet more on the subject from the “Future Food” webpage:

“Some people, especially city folk, love eating meat, but are incredibly squeamish about where it comes from.  They want their bacon and chops and steaks, but they don’t want to be reminded of nasty things like abattoirs and what goes on behind the butcher’s counter.  Serve them sausages by all means, but don’t use this as a springboard for a lively conversation about what’s inside those plump, sizzling skins.  Meat comes from the supermarket in neat plastic-wrapped packages and let’s leave it at that.

Other people are less sentimental about what their mixed grill would be doing if it wasn’t playing the part of breakfast, but they regard all this livestock rearing and slaughtering as infuriatingly inefficient, dirty, and not at all in keeping with a bright technocratic age.  Wouldn’t it be better, they say in echo of Churchill, if we could just have the drumstick and not have the chicken?

The idea that you can grow cuts of meat in a laboratory without dealing with all that animal poo probably got its start at the dawn of Future Past in 1908 when the Nobel laureate Dr. Alexi Carrel (1873-1944) took a piece of embryonic chicken heart and bathed it in a nutrient broth.  Carrel discovered that not only could he keep the chicken heart tissue alive, but that it doubled in size each day.  Even more incredible, the tissue never seemed to age or die.  It just kept getting bigger and bigger until it filled its container.  At that point, Carrel would remove a tiny piece of the heart tissue, transfer it to a new container, and the whole process would start all over again.  This went on for weeks, months, and then years.  When Carrel died in 1944 the chicken heart had been alive and growing for 36 years and had become something of a celebrity with the New York newspapers wishing it a happy birthday every New Year’s Day.

Of course, Dr. Carrel didn’t just keep piling up container after container of chicken heart tissue around the laboratory.  People would have started talking.  Every time he started a new batch he discarded the old one.   It’s a good thing too, because if he’d kept all that growing mass of tissue he’d have needed a container 800,000 miles across to hold it.  And that’s a lot of giblets.

It was probably Carrel’s work that gave Churchill the idea of growing pot roast sans cow and it did have a certain bizarre appeal.  Some writers even envisioned a future device in the kitchen the size of  a refrigerator where cuts of meat would be grown to order in a process that gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “Frankenstein food.”

Others went back to the source and saw a potential market for spanking-fresh chicken heart, as in Frederik Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth’s classic science fiction novel the Space Merchants, wherein the world’s main source of meat is a monstrosity known as Chicken little.  Here is a description of the working day of Herrarra, head slicer in charge of harvesting the meat of the gigantic organ,

The aristocrat of Dorm Ten was Herrerra.  After ten years with Chlorella he had worked his way up– topographically it was down– to Master Slicer.  He worked in the great, cool vault underground, where Chicken Little grew and was cropped by him and other artisans.  He swung a sort of two-handed sword that carved off great slabs of tissue, leaving it to lesser packers and trimmers and their faceless helpers to weigh it, shape it, freeze it, cook it, flavor it, package it, and ship it off to the area on quota for the day.

He had more than a production job.  He was a safety valve.  Chicken Little grew and grew, as she had been growing for decades.  Since she had started as a lump of heart tissue, she didn’t know any better than to grow up against a foreign body and surround it.  She didn’t know any better than to grow and fill her concrete vault and keep growing, compressing her cells and rupturing  them.  As long as she got nutrient, she grew.  Herrera saw to it that she grew round and plump, that no tissue got old and tough before it was sliced, that one side was not neglected for the other.

So what happened?  Why isn’t there a chain of Kentucky Fried Chicken Hearts restaurants across the land?  One reason was that after Carrel’s death the chicken heart died at the hands of a careless lab technician and in the years since no one could duplicate the experiment.   They could get heart tissue to grow, but none of the tissue demonstrated the immortality of Carrel’s specimen and died in short order.  Certainly none of the later attempts grew large enough to break free and menace the countryside, whatever the radio had to say about such goings on….”

Read the whole story here.

Lead picture from this page.

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