Animal-less meat?

Posted on May 27, 2011 by elcaworldhunger

Would you eat a hamburger that was never part of walking, breathing cow? Apparently we’re not too far from that as an option. Stem cell research is allowing scientists to take two cow stem cells, put them in a petri dish, and grow cow muscle, just like the kind we normally remove and consume from an actual animal. Okay, in practice the process of growing meat in a dish is a little more complicated than that. But not in concept or result. Because the petri dish meat came from cow cells to start with, the resulting meat is, indeed, “real” meat.  You can read about it in an article in the May 23rd issue of The New Yorker titled, “Test-Tube Burgers.” 

Why would we want to eat meat from a lab? The article cites the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization when it explains “the global livestock industry is responsible for nearly twenty percent of humanity’s greenhouse-gas emissions. That is more than all cars, trains, ships, and planes combined. Cattle consume nearly ten percent of the world’s freshwater resources, and eighty percent of all farmland is devoted to the production of meat.” Then there are the well-documented problems of waste lagoons, use of antibiotics, and the treatment of animals in industrial meat production facilities. Add to all that the growing world population and the increase in demand for meat as countries like India and China get wealthier, and the current system for providing meat seems rather unsustainable. The petri dish offers a potential alternative that could mitigate or eliminate many of these issues. Perhaps the better question is why wouldn’t we want to eat meat from a lab?

There’s certainly an ick factor.  It’s similar to the notion, in the culture of the U.S., of eating insects, though they, too, offer an potentially excellent source of protein without some of the drawbacks of meat (something I blogged about a long time ago). But at least bugs are naturally occurring in nature. Meat in a lab wouldn’t happen without people and labs, which makes it more suspect – at least to me. The New Yorker article points out “lab-grown meat raises powerful questions about what most people see as the boundaries of nature and the basic definitions of life.” And yet, if lab meat could be produced in large quantities inexpensively (as they think will ultimately happen), could help provide food and good nutrition to people who can’t afford “traditional” meat, and if it could be done without many of the currently problematic impacts of meat production, what does refusing to eat it say?

I hesitate, but I think I would eat it. What do you think? Would you try lab-grown meat?

Nancy Michaelis

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