Friday, August 7, 2009

Test Tube Meats

A group of scientists are working on ways grow real animal protein in the laboratory, which they not only claim is better for animal welfare, but actually healthier, both for people and the planet.

This technology to create vitro meat could be changing global diets within ten years. "Cultured meat would have a lot of advantages," said Jason Matheny of research group New Harvest. "We could precisely control the amount of fat in meat. We could make ground beef with an ideal fatty acid ratio, a hamburger that prevents heart attacks instead of causing them."
But it isn't just the possibility of creating designer ground beef with the fat profile of salmon that excites Matheny's work. Meat and livestock farming is also the source of many human diseases, which he claims would be far less common when the product is raised in laboratory conditions.
"We could reduce the risks of diseases like swine flu, avian flu, 'mad cow disease', or contamination from Salmonella."

"We could produce meat in sterile conditions that are impossible in conventional animal farms and slaughterhouses. And when we grow only the meat we can eat, it's more efficient."

We find this next claim very revealing: Conventional meat production is also hard on the environment. The contribution of livestock to climate change was recently highlighted by the United Nations' report, "Livestock's Long Shadow", while groups such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth have demonstrated how soy farming for animal feed contributes to the destruction of the Amazon.
In this context Matheny believes his project could significantly cut the environmental impact of meat production -- using much less water and producing far fewer greenhouse gases.
"We could reduce the environmental footprint of meat, which currently contributes more to global warming than the entire transportation sector," says Matheny.
Preliminary results from a study by Hanna Tuomisto, at the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, University of Oxford, suggest that cultured meat would reduce the carbon emissions of meat production by more than 80 percent.
It's a long way from the popular image of animals wandering round the farmyard in the sunshine, but then so is modern intensive farming. The factor that could take the research from the lab to the store and into refrigerators around the world is its remarkable commercial potential.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) have announced a $1 million prize for the first commercially viable in vitro chicken product.
"We think that a technology to produce cultured ground meats -- burgers, sausages, nuggets, and so forth -- could be commercialized within ten years," said Matheny.

"Social acceptance isn't guaranteed, but we all want meat that's safer and healthier," he said. "If cultured meat looks, tastes, and costs the same as regular meat, then I think acceptance will be high." "If cultured meat looks, tastes, and costs the same as regular meat, then do we care that it's produced in a steel tank, rather than in an animal farm?"

Our major concern is this story quietly suggests the new technology will make decisions for us. How much fat we will eat and the acceptance of the "Sky is Falling." (save the planet)

When we see the names PETA, Greenpeace and United Nations, we know the decisions we are told to accept come from these groups.
Well, we do care if our meat is produced in a steel tank; we'll take our chances with the farm raised meat.
Laboratory meat? What are the long terms effects? Are we simply to trust these scientist?
And what is it that make test tube meat meat grow anyway?
We don't imagine we will be buying a slab of tissue-engineered meat anytime soon.