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Saturday, November 7, 2009

Would You Eat "Meat Without Feet"?

 Americans eat about the same amount of meat today that they have for some time, about eight ounces a day, roughly twice the global average. About 5 percent of the world's population, Americans grow and kill nearly 10 billion animals a year, more than 15 percent of the world total. (Mark Bittman, The New York Times, January 27 2008)

World meat consumption is expected to double again by 2050. Growing meat uses great numbers of resources. For example, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, 30 percent of the world's ice-free land is directly or indirectly involved in livestock production. And, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, the environmental impact of growing so much grain for animal food is profound. Agriculture, much of which goes for meat, contributes to nearly three-quarters of the water-quality problems in America's rivers and streams.

Are you ready for Meatro? Meatro is meat grown in a laboratory and involves a process in which no animal is killed for its production. It isn’t soy, or seaweed, or some new-fangled polyester. It’s the actual flesh of a cow, but not from a cow that has ever actually lived, breathed, or died. Folks, this is not a scientist's prediction of the future.
The process is already here. Brian Trent of the Cleveland Independent Examiner (January 28, 2009) reported that now the companies are just trying to figure out how to mass produce it.

Welcome to "meat without feet." This scenario could be considered somewhat of a compromise between meat-lovers and vegans, and a petri-dish reality. Carol Midgley reported (, May 9 2008) in Norway, the first international In Vitro Meat Symposium was held, and scientists seem to agree that “victimless” meat - be it beef, pork or chicken - bought off the shelf could become a reality within the next decade.

In 2008, the technology still had a long way to go and was prohibitively costly (it would cost nearly $1 million to turn out a 250g piece of beef). But with enough research and funding, it is not inconceivable that one day the scientists could produce results. Currently, the idea of guilt-free - or, at least, less cruel - animal products is increasingly appealing to consumers who are waking up to the horrors of factory farming. Sales of organic foodstuffs have soared and “ethical” versions of luxury foods are catching on fast, even though they are generally more expensive.(, May 9 2008)

And, to add incentive to the idea, the process can make someone a millionaire. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta), the organization that has long promoted vegetarianism, has offered a $1 million prize to “the first person to come up with a method to produce commercially viable quantities of in vitro meat at competitive prices by 2012. The rules specify that the meat in question must be chicken, with the same taste and texture as meat taken from a living bird. Peta says that the world's use and abuse of chickens is the most urgent issue to be tackled, as billions of them are slaughtered each year - 100 times more than pigs and 200 times more than cattle. (, May 9 2008) 

The Washington D.C. research firm New Harvest is just one group developing the technology to actually clone meat cells without the need, expense, or health concerns of raising entire legions of beasts to slaughter.

New Harvest is a nonprofit research organization working to develop new meat substitutes, including cultured meat — meat produced in vitro, in a cell culture, rather than from an animal. New Harvest contends, "Because meat substitutes are produced under controlled conditions impossible to maintain in traditional animal farms, they can be safer, more nutritious, less polluting, and more humane than conventional meat." (, 2009)

Production of such "cultured meat" begins by taking a number of cells from a farm animal and proliferating them in a nutrient-rich medium. New Harvest says cells are capable of multiplying so many times in culture that, in theory, a single cell could be used to produce enough meat to feed the global population for a year. After the cells are multiplied, they are attached to a sponge-like "scaffold" and soaked with nutrients. They may also be mechanically stretched to increase their size and protein content. The resulting cells can then be harvested, seasoned, cooked, and consumed as a boneless, processed meat, such as sausage, hamburger, or chicken nuggets. Voila, Metro!

Despite its popularity, meat, as the public knows, has a number of adverse effects on human health, environmental quality, and animal welfare. New Harvest reports these include: "diseases associated with the over-consumption of animal fats; meat-borne pathogens and contaminants; antibiotic-resistant bacteria due to the routine use of antibiotics in livestock; inefficient use of resources in cycling grains and water through animals to produce protein; soil, air, and water pollution from farm animal wastes; and inhumane treatment of farm animals." (, 2009) As meat consumption continues to increase, worldwide, these problems are now a global concern.

True, cultured meat is unnatural, but unnatural in the same way that bread, cheese, and wine are unnatural. All of these foods involve processing ingredients derived from natural sources. Some argue that 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.

The question then would be: will people eat it? No one doubts some of the disgusting conditions existing in meat production today. Chickens may sit for weeks in their own excrement, with bodies five times their natural size, with leg abscesses the size of 50p pieces, and end their lives strung upside down with their heads hacked off. On the other hand, in vitro meat was never a conscious animal in the first place and never had to travel hundreds of miles in an airless van, live in a cage or come within a country mile of the slaughter house knife.

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