PETA Offers $1 Million For Lab Grown Meat

April 25th, 2008
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Of all the press announcements that PETA has put out and various attention-getting stunts, this one actually bothers me less than any of the lot. PETA, (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) has been criticized on this site before, however they’re finally actually starting to realize something about meat: It tastes good and people are not going to stop eating it. Thus, they’ve come up with the surprisingly logical conclusion that the best way to get people to stop doing something is to offer them an alternative.

In this case PETA is hoping to spur the development of “artificial” meat, grown without the use of animals and they are doing so by offering a sort of “X-Prize” for the first to produce such meat. The one million dollar prize is not for any kind of “meat substitute” such as a soy-based product or veggie burger, but rather for the first to create a method for growing eatable, animal-like, “In Vitro” meat in a laboratory from stem cells. Whether or not the prize will actually stimulate any development in this area remains to be seen.

Culturing animal tissue, which is basically what meat is, is not anything new. It’s been done in laboratories for quite a while, but in general what is produced lacks structure and is just a big clump of cells. If a method were developed to use stem cells to produce real structured muscle-fibers with the same kind of characteristics as meat then the prize might not be so far off. Considering the developments made in medical applications of these processes, there’s every reason to think it’s possible. The bigger question is whether or not it could be done economically on a large scale. However, if it *could* be done in the future: that is, the growing of large amounts of meat in vats, as opposed to animals, then it could actually be a very useful technology to help produce more food in a more effecient and less resource-intensive manner. Of course, that kind of thing is definitely a long ways off.

The PETA contest is judged based on the ability to use the lab-grown meat in a Fried Chicken recipe. That is actually something of a lofty goal, since fried chicken usually uses whole parts of the chicken, complete with the subtle texture of stringiness, moisture and fat embedded into muscle tissues. I really think the task would be a lot more doable with some kind of processed meat product such as sausages or possibly ground beef. In these cases, the meat is ground up and homogenized in a way that does not depend on the structure of the meat. On the other hand, something like a steak, lamb chop or chicken breast would require reproducing the texture and structure of the meat and not only the basic content and consistency.


This entry was posted on Friday, April 25th, 2008 at 3:50 pm and is filed under Culture, Good Science, Misc. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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24 Responses to “PETA Offers $1 Million For Lab Grown Meat”

  1. 1
    Brian Wang Says:

    The prize does not bother me, but I think it is structured to be meaningless other than to grab some headlines.

    The goal is even loftier. Besides passing the fried chicken taste test, the winner must also be selling it in 10 states by June 2012.

    One KFC or Popeyes has average sales of $1 million per year. KFC chainwide sells $12.2 billion/year.
    $1 million is 5-10 minutes of KFC chainwide sales.

    If I have product passing taste tests and selling in 10 states then the $1 million is chump change.

    the bigger payoff is a successful commercial plan which as you (and I had noted in my posting on this) is to go for ground meat and sausages or to look at other meat protein ingredient substitution.

    at the invitro conference of industry and academia, researchers were talking about 5-10 year commercialization for the ground meat products.


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  2. 2
    KLA Says:

    One of the best bumper stickers I have seen:

    PETA = Preferably Eating Tasty Animals


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  3. 3
    Kevin Brennan Says:

    This is interesting, but it seems to me that PETA is just trying to gain attention by offering an unattainable prize on a tough deadline. At least it kind of makes sense, but I’m fairly certain nobody will be able to fulfill the requirements for the $1 million, and, even if they did, the prize would hardly offset the expenses.


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  4. 4
    Finrod Says:

    The timeframe is too short. Four years isn’t enough, unless there’s been some significant work already done on this I’m not aware of. On the other hand, I hadn’t realised that researchers were already working on this. I had believed that stem cell technology was still at the stage where the expense would render most applications too pricey for anything but serious medical applications.

    I’ve always thought that if we could grow meat artificially like this it would be a great boon to both agriculture and the environment, but I’d thought that goal to be at a considerable remove into the future. I’d be delighted to be proven wrong.

    I hope this isn’t just some tactic to come back in four years and claim that because their aims couldn’t be achieved on their schedule they cannot be achieved at all, and then try to shut down research in this direction.


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  5. 5
    DV82XL Says:

    What is interesting is that the decision to sponsor a prize caused a near civil war in their office, since so many PETA members are repulsed by the thought of eating animal tissue, even if no animals are killed and that they are expecting to have members leave over this. Since this will mean the most doctrinaire of the membership one might expect a more rational PETA in the future.


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  6. 6
    drbuzz0 Says:

            DV82XL said:

    What is interesting is that the decision to sponsor a prize caused a near civil war in their office, since so many PETA members are repulsed by the thought of eating animal tissue, even if no animals are killed and that they are expecting to have members leave over this. Since this will mean the most doctrinaire of the membership one might expect a more rational PETA in the future.

    Seems similar to the whole Greenpeace mentality. If some day someone invented a way to produce tons of energy from the fusion of hydrogen-1 and it could be done with a few dollars worth of items – thereby making energy effectively free and limitless, it would no doubt be the worst nightmare of some in the “enviornmental” movement.

    Anyway, I don’t know if this challenge is really that realistic in the time scale and everything, but it’s still surprising to me in the fact that it even condones or acknowledges that people like meat and will eat it!


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  7. 7
    Evil Henchman Says:

    Actually with regards to making sausage or something like that, I think that’s possible. The meat is ground all the way to a paste. You could probably culture some muscle tissue and some fat tissue and so on and throw it into the sausage machine and grind it up to the same basic consistency and material as a real meat wiener.

    I don’t think it would be at all economical or effecient. It would be way more difficult to the do the culturing than you could do on a large scale plus the whole thing with the fact that a culture will only yield so much.


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  8. 8
    Finrod Says:

    Ultimately, once all the bugs are worked out, cultured meat should be less energy intensive to produce than meat on the hoof. Most of the energy of the grain that livestock consumes yields itself to the purpose of keeping the bodies of our prey beasts at the right temperature for most of their lives until they’re slaughtered. Such is the way of the high-energy mammalian metabolism. If that burden can be removed, we can produce meat at a much greater energy efficiency… something like the efficiency with which we can produce cereal. This will have a big impact on the environmental footprint of agriculture.


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  9. 9
    Jason Says:

    It is an interesting idea, but it is hardly a new idea.

    The only problem I have with it is that meat will then fail probably the two most important principles of tasty food.

    1. Food with parents tastes better
    2. The cuter it is the tastier it is


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  10. 10
    Finrod Says:

            Jason said:

    It is an interesting idea, but it is hardly a new idea.

    The only problem I have with it is that meat will then fail probably the two most important principles of tasty food.

    1. Food with parents tastes better
    2. The cuter it is the tastier it is

    You are not, perchance, a Kiwi, are you?


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  11. 11
    Jason Says:

    “You are not, perchance, a Kiwi, are you?”

    My parents are actually. Why do you ask ? I’m an Australian.


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  12. 12
    Finrod Says:

            Jason said:

    “You are not, perchance, a Kiwi, are you?”

    My parents are actually. Why do you ask ? I’m an Australian.

    Because of this:

            Jason said:

    The cuter it is the tastier it is

    I’m an Australian as well.


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  13. 13
    drbuzz0 Says:

            Jason said:

    “You are not, perchance, a Kiwi, are you?”

    My parents are actually. Why do you ask ? I’m an Australian.

    Your parents are Kiwis? Um… the fruit or the bird?

    Wait, I don’t think either makes sense.


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  14. 14
    Finrod Says:

    Kiwi= New Zealander (in Aussie slang).

    I was just making a slightly off-color joke. A common slur against NZers by Aussies concerns improper relations with livestock.


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  15. 15
    Finrod Says:

    What’s odd about this is that I was just making a casual jest. I’d no idea Jason had such a direct NZ connection (I thought he was probably American), and certainly wasn’t expecting to find one. Go figure!


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  16. 16
    drbuzz0 Says:

    I had the worst and most insulting pizza of my life in Auckland. It was not a cheap-o pizza either. It was actually expensive. It had chicken on it and fruit – like banana and stuff. My friends chose it. I would consider it to not be a pizza.

    I’ve heard this stuff before about “We can make a pizza however we want” or “we can put whatever we want on a pizza” – you get this from the alternative pizza crowd in places like California and apparently Auckland as well.

    My own take on it is that yes, you can make your pizza however you want and if you want to say “We make our pizza here without cheese and with barbecue sauce instead of tomato sauce and we put fruit on it” – then I’m going to say that’s your right but that is NOT A PIZZA. I mean you could just as easily say “Here we make out pizza with a hole in the center and it’s made out of rubber and instead of eating it we put it on the rims of our cars and fill it with air and drive on it!” Again, that is your right to do, but to me, that is NOT A PIZZA, it’s a tire. Just as much as the afore mentioned concoction is not a pizza. I could also say “Here we make our pizza without a crust or sauce or cheese on it, but instead we take lettuce and tomatoes and cucumbers and chop them up and serve them cold with vinegar and oil on top.” – Again, you can call that pizza if you want but it’s NOT A PIZZA, it’s a feakin salad.

    As a native New Yorker, I take my Pizza very seriously!

    I was only in New Zealand for three days, but my impression (even if it may have not been representative) was that it was a place that pushed the concept of “alternative pizza” a bit too far!


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  17. 17
    Dave G Says:

    New Zealand for three days? What were you doing there for just three days? That’s quite a trip to take for such a short visit. You probably spent nearly as much time on the plane there and back! Or was it part of larger regional journey? If not, that’s a lot of time and money to spend to go to the other side of the world and dislike their pizza then come back.


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  18. 18
    Jim Baerg Says:

    Why bother with cultured meat?

    A few months ago I ate some quite tasty oxymorons, ie: ‘meatless meatballs’. I was told they were meatless after I’d eaten them & had said they were quite good.

    If vegetable protein can be turned into something that tastes like meat, thats good enough for sausage & ground meat, & will likely be cheaper than this meat culture. Duplicating the texture of a steak or chicken leg would be harder.

    If you ignore arguments about eating animals being unethical, & just look at how to feed humanity at minimum cost & environmental impact, there will still be lots of meat being eaten. There is a lot of land that is from poor to useless for growing crops, but which is fair to good for grazing cattle. We could raise cattle on such land & send them directly to slaughter, skipping the feedlot where they are fed stuff that humans could eat.

    Maybe we could also get some use out of the arctic tundra with reindeer herds (Yum, Roast Rudolph)


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  19. 19
    Finrod Says:

    I don’t think PETA is looking at it from an efficiency point of view.

    Humans can get by very well on vegetable protein with one important exception: Infants need a regular supply of a certain protein for proper brain development which is only found in red meat. I’m told the difference in IQ terms is quite pronounced if very young children miss out on this protein during this critical developmental stage.

    I’m not sure that normal grazing techniques will allow us to raise enough meat for the global demand which is likely to develop with the development of China, India, and the rest of the third world. Cultured meat will allow us to grow meat anywhere for whoever wants some.


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  20. 20
    Dave G Says:

    I don’t think it’s that at all but it’s just the fact that PETA does not like animals being harmed. They want a substitute for meat that involves killing animals so that in theory slaughtering of meat animals would not be necessary. They’re starting to realize people will not give up meat so they want a different option.


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  21. 21
    DV82XL Says:

            Dave G said:

    I don’t think it’s that at all but it’s just the fact that PETA does not like animals being harmed.

    They want a substitute for meat that involves killing animals so that in theory slaughtering of meat animals would not be necessary. They’re starting to realize people will not give up meat so they want a different option.

    Which in and of itself is the most stunning part of this story: an organization of doctrinaire, flaming ****s has a sudden attack of rationality and looks to meeting their objective in a way that minimizes the impact on everyone else.

    Can you ever imagine Greenpeace saying: “We have looked at nuclear and realize it is the best tool to stop global warming, but there are legitimate concerns on various issues. Consequently we will be funding a million dollar price for the design of the first ‘Green Nuclear Reactor’ that addresses these issues”?

    I thought not.


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  22. 22
    Brian Wang Says:

    In theory, factory grown meat can be 4 to 20 times more energy efficient than current cattle ranching.
    Plus it would be theoretically be easier to engineer the factory to be healthier.

    Of course corners could be cut and we could have the fish farming situation where most of the fish is farmed instead of wild and the farmed fish are somewhat less healthy to eat.

    I also do not think PETA intentionally structured the prize to be meaningless, I just think that they have no clue about business.


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  23. 23
    Finrod Says:

    It’d be a good idea for a space settlement.


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  24. 24
    Jason Says:

    A chicken McNugget wasn’t close enough for them?


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