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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