The future of food has arrived:
Call it pork in a petri dish – a technique to turn pig stem cells into strips of meat that scientists say could one day offer a green alternative to raising livestock, help alleviate world hunger, and save some pigs their bacon.
Dutch scientists have been growing pork in the laboratory since 2006, and while they admit they haven’t gotten the texture quite right or even tasted the engineered meat, they say the technology promises to have widespread implications for our food supply.
“If we took the stem cells from one pig and multiplied it by a factor of a million, we would need one million fewer pigs to get the same amount of meat,” said Mark Post, a biologist at Maastricht University involved in the In-vitro Meat Consortium, a network of publicly funded Dutch research institutions that is carrying out the experiments.
Post describes the texture of the meat as sort of like scallop, firm but a little squishy and moist. That’s because the lab meat has less protein content than conventional meat.
Feeling queasy yet?
To dispel any notions that this is some sort of hoax, check out the very real and very sincere Web sites of The In Vitro Meat Consortium and the Orwellianly-named “New Harvest,” a man-made “cultured meat” advocacy group which insists,
Arguably, the production of cultured meat is less unnatural than raising farm animals in intensive confinement systems, injecting them with synthetic hormones, and feeding them artificial diets made up of antibiotics and animal wastes.
|21st-century cuts of pork.|
Personally, I’m a level-5 vegan — I won’t eat anything that casts a shadow — but even I get the dry-heaves just thinking of the possibility of test-tube meat.
While meat grown in a lab has until recently been the stuff of speculative fiction, even Winston Churchill had the foresight in 1936 to predict that we’d all be eating simu-meat eventually: “Fifty years hence, 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.”
As usual, Churchill was right on the money, and his prediction is about to come true — because lab-made animal tissue is, according to some scientists, only a couple years away from the supermarket shelves:
“To produce meat at an industrial scale, we will need very large bioreactors, like those used to make vaccines or pasteurized milk,” said Matheny. He thought lab-produced meat might be on the market within the next few years, while Post said it could take about a decade.
For the moment, the only types of meat they are proposing to make this way are processed meats like minced meat, hamburgers or hot dogs.
“As long as it’s cheap enough and has been proven to be scientifically valid, I can’t see any reason people wouldn’t eat it,” said Stig Omholt, a genetics expert at the University of Life Sciences in Norway. “If you look at the sausages and other things people are willing to eat these days, this should not be a big problem.“
The question now arises: Why make this stuff? What drives this urge worthy of Dr. Frankenstein — or, more appropriately in this case, Frank N. Furter — to create slabs in the lab?
Well, the idea was first pioneered by NASA, as a way to create food for astronauts on years-long space exploration flights. Which is a completely reasonable goal. But more recently the cause was taken up by vegetarian activists who (like me) just don’t like the idea of eating dead animals that once may have had a soul. But now (surely you’ve guessed at this stage) a new justification has been contructed — fake meat will stop global warming!
Hanna Tuomisto, who studies the environmental impact of food production at Oxford University said that switching to lab-produced meat could theoretically lower greenhouse gas emissions by up to 95 percent..
If bio-ethicists and religious-minded folks have moral objections to growing human stem cells in a lab for medical research, on the principle that even headless living human flesh possesses some kind of sacred spirit; then why wouldn’t the substantial contingent of “ethical vegetarians,” who refuse to eat animals because as living creatures they also possess some kind of spirit, object to and refuse to consume lab meat on the same moral objections — that even disembodied pork that was never part of an actual animal is still connected to the oneness of life?
As a long-time vegetarian, I’ve lost all craving for meat; and besides, there are so many soy-based and gluten-based vegi-meat products on the market now that are so tasty and protein-packed that vegetarians don’t even feel deprived anymore. And as for the typical American meat-eater, who has no compunction about chewing on his fellow creatures, what he wants is meat, real meat, and plenty of it.
So who, aside from astronauts and European mad scientists, would ever want to eat this stuff?
Would you eat a test-tube kielbasa in order to save Mother Gaia?