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The amazing super happy meat ball

A recent paper in the journal Tissue Engineering suggests the possibility that meat could be produced in the lab by taking samples of animal muscle tissue and growing it out, as an alternative to the conventional method of raising cattle. While this is not a reality yet, it seems like this has been accomplished on the small scale, so if there was truly a market, it could be expanded into a real option for consumers in the not too distant future. Although it does seem quite futuristic, no? Then again, GM crops seem pretty futuristic as well.

I'm a bit torn on the whole idea. On the one hand it would do away with the claims that meat is bad for the ecology (something I feel is mainly true for factory-farmed meat, not more benign organic/grass-fed/free-range). On the other hand, the idea of meat grown in a lab is surprisingly weird. It's odd how this is somehow more objectionable to one's senses (well my senses anyway) than actually slaughtering a live animal, but I think it speaks to hundreds or thousands of previous generations who went out on the hunt. Not that I would be able to do that myself unless I was truly in survival mode, but it still seems more natural than cooking up meat in a lab, even if that meat comes from a cell of a real animal originally.

The scientists who created it suggest they could create a variety that includes more Omega 3 and less Omega 6 than the current meat we find in supermarkets. My question is how? Wild game and cattle that are grass-fed are supposed to have a significantly higher level of Omega 3 (and other great nutrients like CLA). Factory farmed meat get fed a diet of grains, something that are not part of the natural diet of a cow, but is dirt cheap and allows the cow to put on lots of weight (including a lot more fat mostly in the form of saturated fat). The question is how do you feed these cells? I don't pretend to understand how you would do this in a lab, but my guess is that you're not going to feed it grass OR grain, but something that can somehow be absorbed by the cells without a digestive track! How will this effect the meat is a big question mark. Will it taste, act, smell, and digest like real meat? I wonder!

In general, I'd rather not go messing with nature unless we're damn sure that what we are replicating is a true replication, which seems a little unlikely when you are producing something in a completely different way than it is actually grown. My bet is still on the replication technology that was suggested in Star Trek The Next Generation (and I'm sure in many other places), that would basically create an exact digital copy of an original "pattern" of matter, be it meat, precious material, or live humans. But that technology is still fantasy despite some recent work in quantum mechanics that hint at some possibilities. This lab-grown meat may yet become the new GM crop, and we know how controversial that has become, despite the fact that it's become ubiquitous in our food supply (at least as far as grains and soybeans are concerned).

I am curious to hear what others think about this possibility. Does it weird you out? If you are vegetarian, would you eat such a product, given it was proven safe and healthy for you? I'm curious in particular how vegetarians come down on this. There seem to be a collection of different reasons why vegetarians become vegetarians, including animal welfare issues, religious reasons, ecological reasoning, and even simply tastes issues. I myself only ate fish for about six years in my 20's in an attempt to progress to be a vegetarian, which I could never quite do. I did this only because I had read it was more healthy, but when I started reading Protein Power and other books and information about nutrition that weren't all just about low-fat, I decided that meat was a part of a healthy diet. I was able to make that logical decision even after not eating meat for 6 years that because my decision was based on health and I no longer believed the premise behind that decision, that I should reincorporate meat into my diet. So I just wonder how vegetarians would react to a meat that is offered in such a way that it might eliminate the premise behind their becoming vegetarian?

posted Friday, 22 July 2005

adam wilk made this comment,
Personally, I think it's weird and I'm concerned about anything made in a lab--including genetically modified grains, vegetables, fruit, etc. However--I do see a positive here--perhaps this technology can be used to feed the multitudes living in poor, nutrient-barren, starvation-prone lands? Just a thought. Adam
comment added :: 23rd July 2005, 14:21 GMT-05
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November 2005
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