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Eight Ways In-Vitro Meat Will Change Our Lives
December 9, 2009 10:58 AM   Subscribe


 
In-Vitro Meat will be 100% muscle. It will eliminate the artery-clogging saturated fat that kills us. Instead, heart-healthy Omega-3 (salmon oil) will be added.

Uh... replacing cow fat with salmon oil doesn't exactly solve any problems as last I checked there were a lot less salmon (by mass) than cows.
posted by GuyZero at 11:00 AM on December 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


I'm surprised. I saw "Eight ways [thing] will [X]" and automatically assumed this was a link to Cracked.com.
posted by caution live frogs at 11:00 AM on December 9, 2009 [4 favorites]


I'm wondering if vat-grown meat would be considered a low-class kind of food, much as artificial textiles are less prestigious than cotton and wool.
posted by jason's_planet at 11:01 AM on December 9, 2009 [7 favorites]


In-Vitro Meat will squelch the subliminal guilt that sensitive people feel when they sit down for a carnivorous meal.

This, people, is what begging the question is. Not what everyone usually describes as begging the question. This is it. Right here.
posted by GuyZero at 11:02 AM on December 9, 2009 [29 favorites]


GuyZero: Uh... replacing cow fat with salmon oil doesn't exactly solve any problems as last I checked there were a lot less salmon (by mass) than cows.

But it's got all that tasty mercury in it that I think adds a certain je ne sais quoi to a dish.
posted by Greg_Ace at 11:03 AM on December 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


Also, mmmmmm...schmeat...
posted by Greg_Ace at 11:03 AM on December 9, 2009


If it's subliminal guilt, can you really be said to "feel" it?
posted by nickmark at 11:04 AM on December 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


Wonderful.
posted by mrgrimm at 11:04 AM on December 9, 2009


replacing cow fat with salmon oil doesn't exactly solve any problems as last I checked there were a lot less salmon (by mass) than cows.

I'd be interested to learn if they're really going to use actual salmon for that, or if salmon are actually involved at all. I kind of hate drive-by fact dropping like that, specifically because it directly misinforms the reader, and leaves them no avenue by which to properly inform themselves. the writer could easily have been putting (salmon oil) in parentheses like that as a way of saying "Omega-3, like what you find in salmon oil." or could have been neglecting to mention that there may be a way to synthesize the omega-3 found in salmon oil, or very simply have failed to mention that the reason this stuff is 3+ years away is because they're still working specifically on the salmon oil thing. lazy lazy writing.
posted by shmegegge at 11:05 AM on December 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


I'm wondering if vat-grown meat would be considered a low-class kind of food

Yes, most definitely, I think. Like the author of the article, I think it will catch on in the stuff that's already mystery meat, e.g. hot dogs.
posted by mrgrimm at 11:05 AM on December 9, 2009


I'm not 100% certain, but I think the linked web page means in-vitro meat will be genetically modified to produce oils containing omega-3 fatty acids, not that actual salmon will be ground up and mixed in.
posted by miyabo at 11:05 AM on December 9, 2009


Actually, jason's_planet, I could easily see this being marketed as a high-end "gourmet" type item...with a price to match (gotta pay off all that R&D, you know).
posted by Greg_Ace at 11:05 AM on December 9, 2009


But it's got all that tasty mercury in it that I think adds a certain je ne sais quoi to a dish.

Tuna and lake fish get the mercury. Salmon, especially farmed salmon, is basically the same as feedlot cattle from an environmental point of view. Plus farmed salmon are typically fed fishmeal caught by bottom-trawlers that basically destroy the sea. It's such a bizarre suggestion that somehow salmon oil has no environmental impact in an article about how bad beef is for the planet.
posted by GuyZero at 11:06 AM on December 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


I've been a vegetarian since I was 16, so, um, a quarter century.

I would eat vat meat.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:06 AM on December 9, 2009 [12 favorites]


Where do they teach these people to write articles nowadays? Ad agencies? I could barely get through that. (Of course, it could just be me.)
posted by Ron Thanagar at 11:06 AM on December 9, 2009


PETA supports it but many members complain

I'd be really interested in what their complaints are. I find it hard to believe that a vegetarian or vegan woud have a problem with this, unless it's some totally irrational hatred of meat for its own sake, instead of for environmental or cruelty reasons. but again, I'd like to hear the complaints, since that seems unlikely to me.
posted by shmegegge at 11:08 AM on December 9, 2009


Also: "Relax and ruminate now" - that's funny.
posted by nickmark at 11:09 AM on December 9, 2009


Today's meat industry is a brutal fart in the face of Gaia

Funnily enough, A Brutal Fart in the Face of Gaia is my second-favorite GWAR album.
posted by Sticherbeast at 11:09 AM on December 9, 2009 [34 favorites]


I can just imagine the future with synthesized meat sized exactly into a Tetra-pak.

One thing I'm wondering is if it will be manufactured in some nightmare factory or if they will have a soda vending machine like thing in supermarkets.
posted by wcfields at 11:09 AM on December 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


I could barely get through that. (Of course, it could just be me.)

no, it's not just you. he's a terrible terrible writer. and he cracks himself up, which is annoying.
posted by shmegegge at 11:09 AM on December 9, 2009


the writer could easily have been...
I think the linked web page means...


My complain isn't about what the author maybe could have sort-of meant.

Even if you substitute in "flax oil" for salmon oil, growing enough flax to put some fat in all the stringy vat beef is going to be a hell of a thing to do.
posted by GuyZero at 11:10 AM on December 9, 2009


It will eliminate the artery-clogging saturated fat that kills us.

I'm pretty sure there will be groups of people not only injecting said fat back into meat, but also proclaiming that they're doing it for moral or religious reasons. The article paints a naively positive portrait of all of this, when any sane person knows that humans will find a way to screw this up.

Hunting will become a major issue as once people have tasted synthetic rare animal, they'll want the real thing, if only for a status symbol, which'll put pressure on to hunt the animals.

Let's not even get into the issue of cannibalism and people wanting to try the "real thing".
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:12 AM on December 9, 2009 [5 favorites]


One thing I'm wondering is if it will be manufactured in some nightmare factory or if they will have a soda vending machine like thing in supermarkets.

The tofu-pops in the vending machine in the Simpsons episode where Lisa imagines herself getting married in the future... "Now with gag suppressant!"
posted by GuyZero at 11:12 AM on December 9, 2009


Where do they teach these people to write articles nowadays? Ad agencies? I could barely get through that. (Of course, it could just be me.)

OK, the dude ain't Marcel Proust or Henry James.

It just seemed a little slow on the Blue today and I happened upon this article while going through my feeds and it seemed like an interesting, easy read, if nothing else.
posted by jason's_planet at 11:12 AM on December 9, 2009


The various speculations on In-Vitro Meat always seem to miss a few key points:

1) Grown-on-animal meat will not go away entirely. At the very least, there will be a niche upscale market for it as a curiosity. One would assume, as a luxury item, the cattle (etc.) would be free-range and taken care of, but in the same way leather is still used despite substitutes, so would real animal meat.

2) No matter the quality, some people would refuse it, and industries would exploit this refusal. Look at the diamond industry: synthetic diamonds are more flawless and equivalent in price, but people still want "real" diamonds, and DeBeers has no interest in disabusing them of any delusions.

3) Meat would be fat/cholesterol free? Not a chance. The taste comes at least partially from the fat. Adding in fat later would not compare to a well-marbled cut of beef.

4) That whole urban/rural thing. Sure, right now it's grown in biology labs, but once the industry gets going, it'll move to where land is cheap and fuel/feed is plentiful. There's no reason to grow meat right in the city.

5) Maintaining a clean-room atmosphere would be nigh-impossible while growing literally billions of pounds of meat per year. Antibiotics will surely be a part of the IV Meat industry unless they find a way to also generate an immune system in these beef chunks. Given the price point, the sure bet is on antibiotics.
posted by explosion at 11:15 AM on December 9, 2009 [9 favorites]


Overall, I think this is a great development, but I doubt the regular livestock industry would collapse so completely and so quickly as the author imagines. I bet "real" meat would command a premium price for quite some time. I'd also be surprised if the dairy industry vanished. Not to mention heartbroken at the thought of losing glorious cheese. Mmmm....cheese.....
posted by Go Banana at 11:16 AM on December 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


I'd like to hear the complaints

Omnivore here, but I'd imagine that a strict vegan would not eat anything that an animal had to die (or be enslaved) to produce. It's not like you could go through the whole R&D process without involving animals at all.
posted by JoanArkham at 11:20 AM on December 9, 2009


I find it hard to believe that a vegetarian or vegan woud have a problem with this, unless it's some totally irrational hatred of meat for its own sake, instead of for environmental or cruelty reasons.

Unless live-animal-derived meat was eliminated entirely, the argument against IV meat would be similar to the argument against faux fur. That is, fur is abominable, and wearing it (even faux fur or inherited antique furs) sends out a contradictory social message that it is "OK" or acceptable. Therefore, despite there being no moral qualm with IV meat-qua-IV meat, eating a hamburger out on the street might feel like supporting meat of all kinds, rather than the particular type.
posted by explosion at 11:20 AM on December 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


Even if you substitute in "flax oil" for salmon oil, growing enough flax to put some fat in all the stringy vat beef is going to be a hell of a thing to do.

yes, but what if they don't need to grow or raise anything to provide the oil? that's what we were getting at. the article is totally unclear on that.
posted by shmegegge at 11:20 AM on December 9, 2009


I want a vat grown hyperleather jacket with reinforced nano-fiber stitching and integrated wireless that will interface with my deck and HUD-shades. Let me know when this product is available. Email in profile. Thanks.
posted by fuq at 11:22 AM on December 9, 2009 [12 favorites]


I'd be interested to know how the economics of the leather/wool etc industries would play out in this vat-grown meat future. Do they become more expensive because there's no market for the by-products or are they essentially isolated from meat prices?
posted by patricio at 11:22 AM on December 9, 2009


I think the salmon-oil comment was talking about the ability to "re-mix" meat - grow beef with tallow that is as healthy as salmon oil - not injecting oil from a salmon into it.

This was a terrible article, true, with a big ol' axe to grind, but this is a revolutionary breakthrough.

Industrial-scale farming and fishing produces an inferior product at a dire public health and environmental cost. Synthetic meat will mean lower prices at the checkout for hamburger and boneless chicken breasts, without a drastically reduced frequency of e-coli and salmonella outbreaks, and stuff like CJD will be just gone completely.

Boutique farms, especially those specializing in "heritage breeds", will still be in business, and actually see a spike in sales, as chefs look for something different than Kraft Pork-a-LikeTM to put in their dishes. Meat from animals as a commodity is pretty much done.

Eggs and dairy are going to be trickier to replace.
posted by Slap*Happy at 11:22 AM on December 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


If I understand it correctly, no animal produces omega-3s. Fish bio-accumulate it from eating smaller fish that get it from plankton and such. it grows in some land plants like flax and you can get it from algae. But you're talking about genetic modification to an extent that you might as well engineer soy bean plants to grow meatballs instead of soybeans which in itself is going to be a pretty big obstacle to getting people to eat this stuff.
posted by GuyZero at 11:23 AM on December 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


Mmm, ChickiNobs.
posted by anthill at 11:24 AM on December 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


If Congress would just get off their asses and approve the use of poor people as meat, none of this would be necessary.
posted by Joe Beese at 11:27 AM on December 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


My wife is the kind of vegetarian who would not eat in vitro meat because she doesn't like it.

Personally, I'd be a little leery – I mean, it's test tube steak – but if they get the flavors down it's probably not going to be a bad product. And there are other considerations: is it kosher? More importantly, is it halal? If enough clerics say it isn't halal that's a billion people who won't be eating it.

And am I the only one who can't stop thinking of the phrase "in meatro"?
posted by graymouser at 11:27 AM on December 9, 2009 [4 favorites]


Instead of growing all that muscle in a petri dish and then eating it in the hopes that some small portion doesn't find its way to the toilet, why don't we just get, so to speak, a hot beef injection and grow the muscle directly in our own bodies?
posted by Sys Rq at 11:27 AM on December 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


Why do I suspect "in-vitro meat will replace animal products" will be the 2010s version of "solar (or nuclear) energy will replace fossil fuels"? Been there. Haven't done that.
posted by oneswellfoop at 11:28 AM on December 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


Oh, and FINALLY! I can eat (synthetic) PANDA!
posted by Ron Thanagar at 11:30 AM on December 9, 2009


Good enough, is simply not good enough for Metafilter.

That's a rather annoying thing to say.
posted by muddgirl at 11:32 AM on December 9, 2009 [8 favorites]


It just seemed a little slow on the Blue today and I happened upon this article while going through my feeds and it seemed like an interesting, easy read, if nothing else.
posted by jason's_planet at 11:12 AM


I'm sorry, I didn't mean to be such a dick. I thought the subject was very interesting and I want to read more but that style of writing just grates and doesn't seem to fit. It's just me. Seriously, interesting topic.
posted by Ron Thanagar at 11:34 AM on December 9, 2009


So we've given up on genetically creating unicorns then farming them for meat?
posted by Danf at 11:38 AM on December 9, 2009


I'll have the tube steak!

I'm so ashamed.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 11:40 AM on December 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


This was a terrible article, true, with a big ol' axe to grind

Funny, cause I showed up to say that I really appreciated the writing style used for the article. I absolutely HATE the current journalistic tendency to say, "Well, here's what one rabid group of ideologues say - and here's what their equally rabid opponents say. And in the end, the debate rages on with no clear winner in sight!"

Want to grind your axe? Go for it. Just do it publicly, not subversively.
posted by greekphilosophy at 11:45 AM on December 9, 2009


oneswellfoop Been there. Haven't done that.

Haven't done that yet. The thing about solar and wind power is, once you make and put up the collectors, energy from it is (almost) free. It is the closest we can get to a perpetual motion machine. The Sun drives both, and it will continue to input energy into the system for billions of years to come.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 11:45 AM on December 9, 2009


I predict that this "meat" will taste like crap and have the texture of tofu.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 11:47 AM on December 9, 2009




The Sun drives both, and it will continue to input energy into the system for billions of years to come.

Yeah, that's what the liberal media wants you believe. Don't be a sucker, push for more offshore oil drilling!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:49 AM on December 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


First there were test tube babies. Now test tube meat. I have a bad feeling about this. I mean, what if there is a mix up?
posted by stormpooper at 11:51 AM on December 9, 2009 [3 favorites]


Isn't there still a massive engineering problem before we're ready for mass production?
posted by jeffburdges at 11:53 AM on December 9, 2009


I eat meat but am highly conflicted about it. A surprising number of my friends are the same way. Some (like me) tried vegetarianism for a lengthy period of time and felt it wasn't right for them. I think I'm not alone when I say this is something like a Holy Grail, and the fact that it's almost inevitably going to happen soon is incredibly exciting. My main concern is that the meat industry has tons of money and influence, and if they decide this is going to cut into their bottom line, you can expect lawmakers to side with them. I'm also expecting some intense patent fights.
posted by naju at 11:54 AM on December 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


If "mystery meat" products (e.g., hot dogs, potted meat spread, deviled ham, school lunch burgers) were to use vat meat and not the various and sundry animal parts that normally comprise these foods, what would happen to these parts? Would they be rendered for more cooking oil, so we can cook more vat meat? I doubt the demand for cooking oil is in any danger. So what we're looking at, then, is a glut of animal organ waste. A world dominated by veritable mountains of cow lungs, pig spleens, and ani as for as the eye can see. Are you ready to live in that kind of a world?
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 11:55 AM on December 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


I want meat from a meat-tube. A seasoned meat-tube.
Grrugugurgugle.
posted by june made him a gemini at 11:57 AM on December 9, 2009


If "mystery meat" products (e.g., hot dogs, potted meat spread, deviled ham, school lunch burgers) were to use vat meat and not the various and sundry animal parts that normally comprise these foods, what would happen to these parts? Would they be rendered for more cooking oil, so we can cook more vat meat? I doubt the demand for cooking oil is in any danger. So what we're looking at, then, is a glut of animal organ waste. A world dominated by veritable mountains of cow lungs, pig spleens, and ani as for as the eye can see. Are you ready to live in that kind of a world?

Burn it as fuel.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:57 AM on December 9, 2009


The Sun drives both, and it will continue to input energy into the system for billions of years to come.

Yeah, that's what the liberal media wants you believe. Don't be a sucker, push for more offshore oil drilling!


Yeah, I hate this idea that energy from the sun will solve our problems. Think about it: it is the sun. We'd be dealing with a monopoly. Wake up, sheeple!
posted by ricochet biscuit at 11:58 AM on December 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


Today's gentle drift into urbanization will suddenly accelerate as unemployed livestock workers relocate and retrain for city occupations. Rural real estate values will plummet as vast tracts of ranch land are abandoned and sold for a pittance (70% of arable land in the world is currently used for livestock, 26% of the total land surface...)

Getting rid of cattle would "free up" quite a bit of land for their grazing and raising feedstock, but that doesn't mean we should sprawl to oblivion. Why not leave the open space open? Sure, no one is making money with it then, but the suggestion that ex-ag land become sprawling vacation home tracts boggles my mind. It's like cutting down a forest to fill the land with rural cabins - you've just lost the reason to visit the rural areas!

(But I would be interested in seeing potential emissions numbers for a large-scale shift from ranching to vat-meat. Would those emissions "savings" be significant enough to offset the development of and travel to/from the never-ending ex-urbs?)

Mmm, ChickiNobs.

ChickiNobs were grown from engineered creatures that were incapable of living without human support. Potentially, vat-meat wouldn't need to grow by way of a modified animal with thousands of legs, but could grow more like crystals (except with an inflow of nutrients and removal of waste product).
posted by filthy light thief at 11:59 AM on December 9, 2009


Burn it as fuel.

Traffic would admittedly be easier to deal with if the streets smelled of KFC and not car exhaust.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 12:01 PM on December 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


That writing makes me pine for New Scientist!
The idea vat grown meat will be anything but a niche product is laughable. You can taste processed meat today if you buy Spam or similar, and that has the advantage of starting out as meat. Vat meat will be a product for vegetarians or those concerned by animal cruelty, but the vast bulk of meat eaters will continue biting into their steaks.
Most meat eaters are fine with an animal being slaughtered for their plate. They don't actively wish the beast harm, but are unfussed that it's life must end for their dinner.
posted by bystander at 12:03 PM on December 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


A few years ago, I was at a dinner party with one of the Hormel family. I asked him how Spam was made. His answer (this is a quote): "In a 3-story vat."

In our in-vitro meat future, what will become of the Spam Vat?
posted by grounded at 12:05 PM on December 9, 2009


I'm wondering if vat-grown meat would be considered a low-class kind of food, much as artificial textiles are less prestigious than cotton and wool.

They're less prestigious...if you can even say that...because they're not as nice as the original, jason's_planet. Wool is about a zillion times more effective than acrylic when it comes to sweaters in terms of holding in heat, being water-resistant, looking nicer and oh, hey, it's not made from petrochemicals.

My problem with vat meat is that if and when it goes into wide-ranging distribution, the companies are going to find some stupid way to inject it with high fructose corn syrup or 80 other nutritional monstrosities to cut the price/etc/etc/etc.

That said, on the artificial 'meat' front, I really do like Quorn. Especially these. Nom.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 12:12 PM on December 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


More importantly, is it halal?

IANAI, but probably yes: As vat-meat is not forbidden in the hadith (it is not because there was no such thing nor idea when Mohammad was running around saying stuff) and as long as it doesn't contain any DNA or proteins or whatnot from anything haram (i.e. pork DNA, grown in alcohol, etc) it is halal. Anything not specified as haram is eatable.

An interesting debate is whether it is permissible to eat pork-flavored vat-meat that doesn't actually contain any elements of pork, but rather the lab synthesized molecules that give pork its delicious flavor.
posted by fuq at 12:14 PM on December 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


Yeah, if you want fake meat eat Quorn. Vat meat has to be at least that good if not better to make it in the market. The future is today.
posted by GuyZero at 12:14 PM on December 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


This isn't snark, I am genuinely curious. How exactly does in-vitro meat save energy? The mass of animal produced in-vitro presumably consumes the same amount of raw materials (what do you "feed" to in-vitro meat, anyway?), and the same amount of energy (i.e., you have to keep it warm) to grow as it does in a regular cow. But by getting rid of the cow, you're getting rid of (what I assume to be) a fairly efficient mechanism for digesting food, turning food into meat, and keeping that meat warm and alive and healthy. Would it really be more efficient per pound of meat to supply and house meat factories than it is to supply and house a farm or feedlot or whatever? Where do the savings come in?
posted by aparrish at 12:16 PM on December 9, 2009 [4 favorites]


why don't we just get, so to speak, a hot beef injection and grow the muscle directly in our own bodies?

Holy cow, we're the test tubes!!!
posted by ServSci at 12:18 PM on December 9, 2009


What do I taste like?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:23 PM on December 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


shmegegge : yes, but what if they don't need to grow or raise anything to provide the oil? that's what we were getting at. the article is totally unclear on that.

"Omega-3" normally refers to alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), or eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). Of these, plant-based (eg flax seed) sources provide ALA almost exclusively, with some (currently very expensive) providing a decent, if not high, mix of DHA. Virtually no plant-based sources of EPA[1] exist (though for the pescetarians, a new extract from krill does contain a good ratio of EPA).

So first problem we have, humans simply don't convert ALA (the "parent" form of the Omega-3s, but largely unusable by the body) to DHA or EPA (the forms we can use) in enough quantity to matter. Most studies I've seen put it at under 5% conversion, with some claiming under 1% in certain populations.

Now, in a surprisingly vegetarian-friendly (though no doubt unintentially so) move, Glaxo (and others) seemingly solved this problem by making a purely synthetic EPA+DHA blend. Just one problem - Not only do they not work as well as plain ol' salmon oil, they make people worse than not taking Omega-3s at all.

So for the moment, no effective replacements for fish oil exist - And that includes merely for supplementing a vegetarian diet rather than any actual therapeutic uses.

1: Several plants do actually produce EPA, but in such low ratios that no one actually sells an EPA-rich extract yet, and it would dwarf the price of already-expensive vegetable DHA if they did.
posted by pla at 12:23 PM on December 9, 2009 [3 favorites]


I think a large part of "vat meat saves energy" stems from all the grain we'll have left over once we no longer need to feed it to livestock. Or maybe not. All I care about is, can they make steaks come in funny shapes? Like maybe Pat Sajak's face? Because that would be hilarious.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 12:25 PM on December 9, 2009


Early adopter of this technology: the sex toy and doll industry.

oh right, like you weren't thinking the same damn thing.
posted by Halloween Jack at 12:30 PM on December 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


That writing makes me pine for New Scientist!

The idea vat grown meat will be anything but a niche product is laughable. You can taste processed meat today if you buy Spam or similar, and that has the advantage of starting out as meat. Vat meat will be a product for vegetarians or those concerned by animal cruelty, but the vast bulk of meat eaters will continue biting into their steaks.

Most meat eaters are fine with an animal being slaughtered for their plate. They don't actively wish the beast harm, but are unfussed that it's life must end for their dinner.


I don't agree with one word of this. Meat production is a hugely expensive and inefficient enterprise. If this new technology can produce cheaper, indistinguishable meat (and I'm sure it can) it'll take about two weeks adjustment before most everyone is eating it - happily.

I don't eat Spam, but it seems to me that this technology might instead eliminate poor-quality processed meats in favour of higher-quality protein. To say that Spam has an advantage over this stuff for the sake of its authenticity is just false logic, and in fact it could be used as an argument that source doesn't matter.

I'm a meat eater but it does bother me that some animals suffer for the sake of food production. If this meat were even mostly as good as ranched meat, I'd jump over for those reasons alone.
posted by jimmythefish at 12:35 PM on December 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


grounded: In our in-vitro meat future, what will become of the Spam Vat?

They will be converted into dwellings. You're always at home in a VatHome.
posted by metagnathous at 12:36 PM on December 9, 2009


Those Quorn Southwestern nuggets are pretty tasty.
posted by box at 12:36 PM on December 9, 2009


The new documentary Food Inc. takes aim at corporate giants behind the U.S. food supply. In fact, say director Robert Kenner and food advocate and author Michael Pollan, America's food comes primarily from enormous assembly lines, where animals and workers are being abused. There are benefits to the current food system; as Pollan points out, Americans spend less than nine percent of their income on food — less than any other people in history. But, he adds, the benefits have come "at an exorbitant cost, because the system depends on cheap fossil fuel to work. The system depends antibiotics to work. The system depends on abuse of animals to work. And if people want to pay those costs for cheap food, that's great, but let's tell them about the costs first."
posted by brneyedgrl at 12:39 PM on December 9, 2009


I'd be interested to know how the economics of the leather/wool etc industries would play out in this vat-grown meat future. Do they become more expensive because there's no market for the by-products or are they essentially isolated from meat prices?
Almost all wool, and much if not most leather, is not a by-product of the meat industry - lambs are not being shorn before being butchered and it is not feedlots that are providing the leather for your shoes. So, yes, they are pretty much isolated from meat prices and are based on other things (this is even becoming so in countries such as Turkey where leathergoods were once very cheap because they were a by-product of the meat industry).
posted by Megami at 12:42 PM on December 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm guessing this article was somewhat inspired by the news that Dutch researchers have successfully grown in vitro pork. But the dirty little secret to any in vitro cell growth is what you grow the cells in. They need sugars for energy, buffers, and a certain je ne sais quoi mixture of growth factors, hormones, etc. Nearly every cell culture system uses fetal bovine serum to supply those factors. Now I'm not 100% sure if the new in vitro pork uses that as well, but Mark Post the researcher named in the article cites several articles including this one all of which use FBS in their cell growth system.

And even in non-serum cell growth systems (stem cell cultures all differentiate when you give them FBS) you need certain growth horomones, and they're typically isolated from animals. I'm not sure that we can synthesize or use bacteria to make a lot of these compounds.

(sorry scientific article may not be available to non-university IPs. It's mentioned in the Materials and Methods section if you're interested and can see it)
posted by Endure You Are Not Alone at 12:42 PM on December 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


One thing I've noticed about the IVM story is that everyone's mind immediately jumps to "steak." I think this is a more valid replacement for the lower-tier meats.

Ground beef, "4 for a dollar" packets of sliced sandwich meat, hot dogs, pizza pepperoni, whatever is inside Hot Pockets - all of these could probably be replaced by IVM without anyone being the wiser.

And omega 3s are indeed bioaccumulated from plant sources. My chickens get omega 3 from eating my lawn, which is then passed along to me through their eggs. So maybe in the future, IVM meat's omega 3s will be provided by our nation's accumulated lawn clippings.
posted by ErikaB at 12:43 PM on December 9, 2009 [4 favorites]


The horrors of the unclean, barely-regulated factory farming industry remain my one amd major source of guilt over eating meat.

I would eat the hell out of a lab-grown muscle cluster in a clean, sterile steel tube over a slaughtered cow carcass that spent a week living in its own shit before going onto my plate. Not even a fucking contest.

You all realize though, of course, that if they can adapt this cloning technology to any animal, they're going to eventually try doing it with human meat.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 12:53 PM on December 9, 2009 [4 favorites]


This isn't snark, I am genuinely curious. How exactly does in-vitro meat save energy? The mass of animal produced in-vitro presumably consumes the same amount of raw materials (what do you "feed" to in-vitro meat, anyway?), and the same amount of energy (i.e., you have to keep it warm) to grow as it does in a regular cow. But by getting rid of the cow, you're getting rid of (what I assume to be) a fairly efficient mechanism for digesting food, turning food into meat, and keeping that meat warm and alive and healthy. Would it really be more efficient per pound of meat to supply and house meat factories than it is to supply and house a farm or feedlot or whatever? Where do the savings come in?
posted by aparrish at 3:16 PM on December 9 [+] [!]


Well, another way to look at it is that you put a certain amount of energy into a cow, which, converts it into muscle, which we (or many of us) eat as meat. However, the cow, being a living being, also converts this energy for other things, right, like walking around and going moo and things that are hugely important to the cow as a cow but not important to humans who are interested in eating the cow's muscle. All of these things take energy which is not going into making cow muscle.

Now if you only put energy into growing muscle, theoretically this is less energy for the same amount of meat.

The things that bother me about vat meat is that, as far as I know, if you culture cells in vitro, you tend to select for cancer cells because they aren't as picky about their living conditions. This means that you're in a way probably snacking down on delicious tumor steak.

That, and again, as far as I know, growing big chunks of meat tends to be a big problem because nobody's whipped the problem of oxygenation -- every cell requires oxygen, right, which is why the body is filled with capillaries, only it's difficult to do this artificially, so people can grow lots of thin sheets of muscle cells, but that doesn't sound very delicious. This may be why people are thinking primarily of vat-sausage and not vat-steak.
posted by Comrade_robot at 12:53 PM on December 9, 2009 [3 favorites]


Vat-grown Quorn has already changed my life. Holy god, you would not believe how gassy it makes my partner.
posted by mudpuppie at 12:55 PM on December 9, 2009 [4 favorites]


I assume the meat will require some form of sugar to grow, right. And I assume that it will come from corn, which is incredibly energy intensive to grow. I'm just not sure how doing it this way would be more efficient.

Also, I'm betting the factory is going to look like a David cronenberg movie.
posted by empath at 1:00 PM on December 9, 2009


Early adopter of this technology: the sex toy and doll industry.

oh right, like you weren't thinking the same damn thing.
posted by Halloween Jack at 3:30 PM on December 9 [+] [!]


An internet hoax made real.
posted by bastionofsanity at 1:04 PM on December 9, 2009


ErikaB : And omega 3s are indeed bioaccumulated from plant sources. My chickens get omega 3 from eating my lawn, which is then passed along to me through their eggs.

Your chickens, in that scenario, do most of the conversion to the "useful" forms for you, effectively making it an animal source. But yes, we absorb ALA, and can even use a bit of it; just not enough to lead to the sort of health benefits shown by supplementing with cold-water fish oils.

Now, I honestly don't know if chickens have a drastically better ability to convert ALA to DHA and EPA than do humans - But I know that humans don't convert it well enough to make a difference.


mudpuppie : Vat-grown Quorn has already changed my life. Holy god, you would not believe how gassy it makes my partner.

Heh, some people have trouble properly digesting Quorn, with the results you note (or worse, some people get rather severe cramping as well). But for the rest of us, Quorn rocks. Great texture, and it doesn't have the annoying nutty hint present in most TVP-based fake meats.
posted by pla at 1:09 PM on December 9, 2009


What do I taste like?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:23 PM on December 9

Whoa....

posted by toastchee at 1:10 PM on December 9, 2009


They're Made out of Meat
posted by XMLicious at 1:15 PM on December 9, 2009


jeffburdges : Isn't there still a massive engineering problem before we're ready for mass production?

Sure, but that doesn't really mean all that much. 15 years ago LCD computer monitors were problematic to manufacture. Now they are ubiquitous. Given a public desire and sufficient funding, any proven technology will eventually become common. Assuming that the taste is there, once they figure out how to do this on a reasonably large scale, this will be huge.

Hell, I eat meat regularly and try not to think about the animal suffering behind it, if this was made available to me even at an added cost, I'd strongly consider it, and I'm certain that I'm not alone.
posted by quin at 1:24 PM on December 9, 2009


i'm surprised no one has mentioned transmetropolitan; spider jerusalem is always sending out for vat-grown exotic meats. it was kind of a fun concept to get my head around. and yes, the meat would have to be grown with fat for it to even begin to be palatable, let alone tasty, and no, i have no idea if vat-growing meat would be more green and efficient than growing it on the hoof, but i have a hard time thinking so--like the whole ridiculous Matrix idea, or like the objections students make in their papers against cloning: "then rich guys would grow spare bodies for the parts!" if it was efficient, etc, then i'd eat it. heck, i'd happily try the exotics, including long pork.

throws kind of a monkey wrench into the horror of "soylent green is people" though . . .
posted by miss patrish at 1:36 PM on December 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


So what do they feed the meat to make it grow? Puppies?
posted by blue_beetle at 1:52 PM on December 9, 2009


Hell, I eat meat regularly and try not to think about the animal suffering behind it, if this was made available to me even at an added cost, I'd strongly consider it, and I'm certain that I'm not alone.

The thing we don't understand is that naturally grown animals are more expensive up front, however, we pay later and way more in clean up of waste from these factory farms, recalls of tainted foods, our energy-intensive food system uses 19% of U.S. fossil fuels, more than any other sector of the economy. The way we farm now is destructive of the soil, the environment and us.

And when the rains come, the excess fertilizer that coaxed so much corn from the ground will be washed into the Mississippi River and down into the Gulf of Mexico, where it will help kill fish for miles and miles around. Time mag
posted by brneyedgrl at 1:56 PM on December 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


Is this vat meat going to be bathed periodically in low levels of antibiotics so that we breed up some more MRSA and antibiotic resistant bacteria? If so, we need to wake up now and start taxing the hell out of antibiotics used for non-medical purposes (or maybe prophylactic purposes).
posted by BrotherCaine at 2:03 PM on December 9, 2009


If you want to reduce or eliminate factory farming, focus on corn & antibiotics.
posted by BrotherCaine at 2:04 PM on December 9, 2009


Warren Ellis already predicted the drive-through buckets of caribou eyes.
posted by Foosnark at 2:24 PM on December 9, 2009


Why don't we just get, so to speak, a hot beef injection and grow the muscle directly in our own bodies?

What are you, some kind of caveman?

At least buy me a drink first.
posted by rokusan at 2:27 PM on December 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


For the record, my cynicism above ("Why do I suspect "in-vitro meat will replace animal products" will be the 2010s version of "solar (or nuclear) energy will replace fossil fuels"? Been there. Haven't done that.") had nothing to do about whether something new and amazing could or should replace something old and broken. Just that the old and broken fossil fuels industry has done such a great job not being replaced, I wonder if the animal meat industry just might do the same...
posted by oneswellfoop at 2:41 PM on December 9, 2009


Warren Ellis already predicted the drive-through buckets of caribou eyes.

"Predicted?"

You should see that fucker at a buffet.
posted by rokusan at 2:41 PM on December 9, 2009


Burn it as fuel.

Traffic would admittedly be easier to deal with if the streets smelled of KFC and not car exhaust.


Hah, I initially thought that sentence was going to go like this: Traffic would admittedly be easier to deal with if we burned all these wasteful assholes.
posted by FatherDagon at 3:10 PM on December 9, 2009


You all realize though, of course, that if they can adapt this cloning technology to any animal, they're going to eventually try doing it with human meat.

Realize? I can't hardly wait!
posted by FatherDagon at 3:16 PM on December 9, 2009


BUMP BUMP, BUMP BUMP, BUMP BUMP

But I’ll never eat this crap. I’m a star-class copywriter for Fowler Schocken. I might eat a swan tho.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:24 PM on December 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


#1: A good story to feed to self-righteous types so I can enjoy my egg, bacon, steak, cheese, and hash on a kaiser roll in peace.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 3:43 PM on December 9, 2009


Soon, I will be able to grow my own chef salad. At home. With already-cubed meat and already-hard-boiled yolkless eggs. I have seen the future, and it is delicious.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 3:44 PM on December 9, 2009


I was thinking I'd stop eating meet. But then again, what if we start growing lettuce buy the sheet or carrots a mile long?
posted by tomplus2 at 3:47 PM on December 9, 2009


I've been vegetarian for 18 years, and I'd eat synthesized meat, depending on where the source products come from, and what the process involved.

I think explosion has it right as to any objections from vegetarians, i.e. the "if you don't eat real meat, why would you eat fake meat?"

The commenters about quorn have a point. I don't think I've tried quorn, but there are a variety of excellent fake meats available in major grocery stores now. Would it be possible to create vat-grown meat as cheaply and of as high quality?

That seems like a tough task. They'll actually need to surpass the taste and efficiency of fake meat to get people over the technological creepiness of non-animal "meat."
posted by mrgrimm at 4:00 PM on December 9, 2009


It used to be that one was not supposed to discuss religion or politics over the dinner table (remember the pre-fast-food/microwave days when "the dinner table" was a vital part of our social fabric?). Now, food itself has ironically become something one does not discuss over the dinner table.

A lot of it has to with the visceral, not logical, basis upon which we base decisions on these topics. This opens up a huge can of worms (a food which will never have a big grown-in-a-vat fanbase). I spent a decade or so as a vegetarian, and am bemused by the veggies who say they would have no problem with vat meat. I guess we all have (had) different reasons for eschewing (there's a free pun for y'all!) meat.

As a meat eater, this sounds repulsive to me, despite the logical energy-based arguments. Perhaps it's because, like a couple of posters above, I've read Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake. But I will buy a tin and try it.
posted by kozad at 5:02 PM on December 9, 2009


I'm a little late to the party, but damn, that guy is an idiot. Does he think that the rural economy isn't already gone? Has he looked at land prices in Nebraska recently? Or does he believe those Monsanto commercials thanking America's family farmers and believe those images are typical?

Guy lives in the city and already thinks meat comes from a factory.

Incidentally, salmon contains omega-3 fatty acids not because they're salmon, but because they eat large amounts of the algae that produce omega-3s, and concentrate it all in their livers.

All that said, yeah, he's probably right in his basic idea - vat meat will sooner or later be the standard, and dead animals will be a boutique product.
posted by Michael Roberts at 5:35 PM on December 9, 2009


Perhaps it's because, like a couple of posters above, I've read Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake. But I will buy a tin and try it.


Yep, I'm reading the sequel right now...as in I was reading the book and came to the computer to do something else. This fake meat news gave me the shivers. Honestly, I'll probably let you guys try it for a few years and see how it goes. Synthetic meat (Now with more tasty chemicals!) just doesn't sound too appealing.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 6:10 PM on December 9, 2009


If Congress would just get off their asses and approve the use of poor people as meat, none of this would be necessary.

because InVitro meat is people
posted by pianomover at 6:20 PM on December 9, 2009


If Congress would just get off their asses and approve the use of poor people as meat, none of this would be necessary.

Mr. Swift? Is that you?
posted by toodleydoodley at 6:57 PM on December 9, 2009


Yeah. I think I'll wait a few decades to see what plagues develop.
posted by tkchrist at 7:14 PM on December 9, 2009


Funny, the Globe and Mail just published an article on "Petri Pork."

I think that it will take some time for acceptance to grow, but eventually IVM will dominate the marketplace. It has so many advantages - we can grow the tastiest, healthiest cut of meat, genetically modify the meat or adapt the growing medium to fill it with things like the omega fatty acids mentioned in the article, and get a consistent product without the risk of contamination. A lot of people will find this creepy, and there will probably always be people who are willing to pay a lot more for farmed meat, just as there are people today who are willing to pay a lot more for locally-produced organic grass-fed meat. Animal suffering for cheap protein? Gone. Methane emissions from farms and waste runoff? Gone. Rural economy? Possibly also gone, but, hey, we'll always need veggies.
posted by Dasein at 9:56 PM on December 9, 2009


I think the demand for IVM is uniquely American. Where only chicken breasts, pork chops, and beef tenderloin will do. It seems to me that more sophisticated cuisines are happy (if not ecstatic) with almost any part of the animal and the variety provided by the many cuts one gets from a single animal will not be matched by IVM for decades, if ever.

You guys can have your IVM tenderloins, I will take my pig cheeks, lamb shoulders and duck legs.
posted by mek at 11:28 PM on December 9, 2009


Strange that it's written like IVM is just around the corner... the last I heard anything, getting the meat to grow in any way that resembles familiar muscle tissue that might be nice to eat was a serious problem, and then you've got to worry about replicating things like fat marbling which is a product of exercise...

But really, my eyebrows finally climbed off the top of my head when it claimed that haggis is sheep stomach stuffed with oatmeal. If it was just oatmeal, people wouldn't say 'ick' and turn up their noses before they even try it.
posted by mathw at 1:51 AM on December 10, 2009


I guess we all have (had) different reasons for eschewing (there's a free pun for y'all!) meat.

Yup. Me, I would probably eat meat if the American meat industry was a lot more responsible. I doubt I'd eat much, as it's still not particularly healthy, but a humanely raised animal, properly taxed to account for environmental externalities? Sure, the meat might cost 10, 15, or more dollars per pound, but then it'd be the luxury it should be, and I'd feel better about eating it. That, and presumably the risk of food poisoning would be lower.

I'm sure there are a lot of folks who are vegetarian because of the unbearable notion of eating another animal, but that's not me. As long as they're humanely raised and slaughtered, animals exist (to a certain degree) to be eaten. That's true of any animals, and it's no more wrong for a human to eat an animal than for a tiger to eat an animal. In my opinion, of course.
posted by explosion at 5:59 AM on December 10, 2009


I really could have done without the PETA grade snide commentary in the article.
posted by MrLint at 7:06 AM on December 10, 2009


"It tastes like cat food!"
posted by gorgor_balabala at 2:17 PM on December 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


I would eat the hell out of a lab-grown muscle cluster

So the artificially cultivated penis transplant is just a matter of weeks away then?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 6:09 PM on December 10, 2009


I think the demand for IVM is uniquely American.

Have you looked at global population growth lately?

Squicky or not today, IVM is going to be the default meat for humans to eat forty or fifty years from now. "Real" meat from actual animals will seem at first exotic, and then (a generation later) sort of disgusting.

I think that a hundred years from now, it'll seem like barbarism that we ever killed and ate real animals.
posted by rokusan at 5:41 PM on December 11, 2009


Hey, SLoG, how is the sequel/companion book? I loved Oryx & Crake, but does the subject merit a second novel?
posted by mrgrimm at 12:57 PM on December 16, 2009


Absolutely. Let us just say the world of Oryx and Crake is more fleshed out.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 4:42 PM on December 16, 2009


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