Murderless Meat?
September 14, 2005 10:28 PM   Subscribe

Think meat is murder? Grow it in a lab! Anyone for test-tube t-bone?
posted by dingobully (55 comments total)
ah, Animal 57.
posted by First Post at 10:30 PM on September 14, 2005

Ah yes, lab-grown might be a nice legal alternative to my favorite "meatish" product: HUFU.
posted by numlok at 10:40 PM on September 14, 2005

Exploiting the semi-living.
posted by tellurian at 11:00 PM on September 14, 2005

Far be it from me to suggest you could have looked around for some more material, but well, you know..
posted by peacay at 11:00 PM on September 14, 2005

What if they were to grow some sort of hybred organism with no feelings, that grows so fast that a ton of meat can be cut off it a day without seriously harming it. It might take up a city block, but produce more 'meat' than 50o acres of cattle production over the year.

How hard is it to 'grow' protiens? Can McDonalds slap some cheese on it and sell it for $2.25 for a meal combo?

Does it taste like food? can it be made to taste like food?

I dunno, but something like this is definately in the future.. Like months, not like decades.
posted by Balisong at 11:07 PM on September 14, 2005

peacay, I missed that thread the first time around, but now I wish I hadn't. I want to comment:
"don't you mean... in meatro?"
posted by blacklite at 11:41 PM on September 14, 2005

What if they grew cattle that wanted to be eaten. And were quite vocal about it? You could even buy it at Milliways.
posted by blue_beetle at 12:14 AM on September 15, 2005

I will be so happy once all meat is grown in vats. I won't eat it, though.
posted by Vulpyne at 12:22 AM on September 15, 2005

Nice eye, peacay. I knew I was a loser.

I do want to try some of that Hufu, though (just in case I ever have an arctic plane crash and wonder if my friends would be palatable).
posted by dingobully at 1:06 AM on September 15, 2005

I dunno. The killing is half the fun.
posted by uncle harold at 1:06 AM on September 15, 2005


Excellent thought! But, this is, of course, impossible.
posted by dingobully at 1:45 AM on September 15, 2005

How hard is it to 'grow' protiens?

Any idiot can do it really.
posted by fshgrl at 2:00 AM on September 15, 2005

My wife is a vegan (I'm not) and I've often discussed with her the idea of meat grown without it being attached to any sort of animal consciousness. After all, if nothing is suffering than it really has to come to a health thing, right? And a burger once in a while isn't much worse than breathing Dallas air, so wtf? This is good news. What I want, further, is to be able to grow meat in a small family plot, in my suburban back yard, without all the problems associated with poo and unnoisome noises.

The future plainly rocks.
posted by undule at 2:25 AM on September 15, 2005

re: joeforking

Ace Flip Book?
posted by undule at 2:26 AM on September 15, 2005

If we can make test-tube meat, would it be illegal to make test-tube human meat?
posted by Plutor at 3:58 AM on September 15, 2005

Soylent Green ISN'T people! It isn't peoppppllllee!
posted by kimota at 5:01 AM on September 15, 2005

If I can only get my meat from a test tube, I may finally go vegetarian. This is so weird, so alien and foreign. But in the future our kids will probably think it's the norm. We'll be paying extra for meat that was once "real", and our kids will think we're insane.

Also, really really interesting point Plutor
posted by poppo at 5:27 AM on September 15, 2005

blue_beetle: Let's meet the meat!
posted by Mach5 at 5:40 AM on September 15, 2005

"Skum-skimming wasn't hard to learn. You got up at dawn. You gulped a breakfast sliced not long ago from Chicken Little and washed it down with Coffiest. You put on your coveralls and took the cargo net up to your tier. In blazing noon from sunrise to sunset you walked your acres of shallow tanks crusted with algae. If you walked slowly, every thirty seconds or so you spotted a patch at maturity, bursting with yummy carbohydrates. You skimmed the patch with your skimmer and slung it down the well, where it would be baled, or processed into glucose to feed Chicken Little, who would be sliced and packed to feed people from Baffinland to Little America. Every hour you could drink from your canteen and take a salt tablet. Every two hours you could take five minutes. At sunset you turned in your coveralls and went to dinner --- more slices from Chicken Little --- and then you were on your own."

The Space Merchants by Frederick Pohl & C. M. Kornbluth
posted by thatwhichfalls at 5:52 AM on September 15, 2005

I have heard that cows actually enjoy being raised in small areas only to later be decapitated. Who are we to deprive them of this rite. Plus what will the band Cattle Decapitation do? Their name will lose all meaning.
posted by Acuba at 6:01 AM on September 15, 2005

At first consideration, the concept of eating vat grown meat is disturbing.

But on second consideration and thinking hard about how a real steak gets to the table, how disturbing is it, really?

My greatest concern would be protein compatibility, but then, who needs protein compatibility when you've got mad cow?
posted by loquacious at 6:26 AM on September 15, 2005

Good tasting and nutritive meat substitutes are already available. I'm not sure that this new technology would impact significantly the culture of meat eating.
posted by Morrigan at 6:31 AM on September 15, 2005

This lab meat thing is also a focal point in Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood.
posted by brina at 6:45 AM on September 15, 2005

This sounds like a weird combination of Darkman and Fullmetal Alchemist.

I felt really weird about this until I realized this is sort of how they make cotton candy, isn't it? I mean, they just take little particles of sugar and whirl them together until they become a big pink blob of edible goodness. The difference here is they want to do the same process only with proteins from organisms instead of sugar cane.

I guess that's where I don't see the issue anymore- lots of base materials can become different things. Coal and diamonds are the same element, etc. So the idea of making an edible substance with the attributes of meat isn't disturbing... I think the issue is the suggestion that they're "cloning" a cow, which they clearly aren't... if they're not reproducing and gestating an egg or embryo, nothing's being born. Would I eat this? Maybe. I would definitely object to making an edible substance out of a vat and calling it "steak," though, even if it looked like a steak and tasted like a steak. I don't see any more of a moral problem here than breeding animals for slaughter.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 7:03 AM on September 15, 2005

Could we grow this meat precooked with a tangy BBQ flavor?
posted by blue_beetle at 7:10 AM on September 15, 2005

I don't get the opposition to this. I've read articles on this topic before, and they seem to think lab-grown meat would not only be easier, but also healthier and tastier. If you can get over the weirdness of having your food made in a science lab -- and let's face it, it's just the logical conclusion from where we are now -- what's your beef with that?

posted by danb at 7:23 AM on September 15, 2005

How many vegetarians eschew meat because of the animnal rights issue? I suppose that it is a majority, but not a strong one. A lot of us do it for health reasons and don't care so much about the animals.
posted by Cassford at 7:48 AM on September 15, 2005

Better question- if they can grow animal tissue, can they grow human skin? Seems like a fantastic leap in technology for healing burn victims, plastic surgery, etc.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 7:48 AM on September 15, 2005

It has a kind of ick factor. But when you consider that our meat now comes from factory farms, where thousands of cows and chickens are force-fed corn and antibiotics and made to stand around in their shit all day, it actually seems like a better idea.
posted by fungible at 7:55 AM on September 15, 2005

...can they grow human skin?

...with a delicious BBQ flavor?

"Hey Stan, you want to go out and get some lunch?"

"Nah, i'm just going to suckle my arm for a few hours."
posted by tpl1212 at 7:55 AM on September 15, 2005

So lab-grown boneless meat huh? Will I still be able to enjoy ribs and wings in this brave new world?
posted by growli at 8:13 AM on September 15, 2005

In my limited understanding it would be my guess that it would also do away with e coli poisoning; since that is primarily introduced into ground beef by exposure to fecal/intestinal material.

As long as it is no more unhealthy than our current option, and even more importantly tastes as good, then i can only see this as a good thing.
posted by canucklehead at 8:14 AM on September 15, 2005

Mmmm, Quorn.
posted by greatgefilte at 8:17 AM on September 15, 2005

man, that quorn link is bent.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 8:52 AM on September 15, 2005

Would the first meat to be grown in a test tube end up being a fake hot dog? It seems like a no-brainer really.

I'm not thrilled at the idea of lab-grown meat but I'm also not thrilled at the idea of animals being led into a slaughterhouse to be killed for my dinner (not so much that I don't eat meat though). This seems like a more humane means of production but, if the cows are no longer needed (aside for milk production and I'm sure they're working on a lab-grown milk too), will we keep them around just for old time's sake?
posted by fenriq at 9:18 AM on September 15, 2005

the other issue might be: what drugs or hormones might be required to grow protein like this? And might the consumers of that protein also experience side effects like growing extra protein within themselves. (for example, uterine fibroids are just extra bits of muscle growing off the uterus) Might it cause tumors? Much as the extra antibiotics that we end up consuming because all these feedlot animals are loaded with them.

FWIW, I dont eat meat unless it is not from a feedlot, not fed hormones or antibiotics, and is preferably free range. I know that is difficult to prove at time of purchase but I'm trying. And that means I dont eat much meat.

Test tube meat sounds bad to me.
posted by Red58 at 9:21 AM on September 15, 2005

I can't really understand people's averstion to science-food. I think it's fucking fantastic.

Just think of how many people we could feed with this. Put away your personal aversions to meat, or science, or test tube food, and think about the 1/3 of the world who doesn't get to eat right now.
posted by zerolives at 9:27 AM on September 15, 2005

Do people think their food isn't industrially-produced now? If you eat practically anything processed, packaged foods, drinks or sauces, you're ingesting a witches brew of ingredients many of which aren't found in any similar form in nature. You also eat some pretty bizarre "natural" stuff as well, substances excreted from bug glands and the like. By comparison vat-grown animal proteins sound pretty wholesome and natural.

I've had quorn and it's tastier and has a better texture than most meat subsitutes, and certainly not as revolting as, say, chicken mcnuggets. But I stopped because I realized that the biochemistry is unproven; eating something so unlike what we evolved for strikes me as a bit of a crapshoot.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:40 AM on September 15, 2005

Fewer farting cows,
less ozone destroying gas,
the air recovers.

I can see an upside.
posted by IndigoJones at 9:50 AM on September 15, 2005

I think it's a good idea, mostly. It would do away with animal suffering, unsanitary meat, y'know, the horrors of the feedlots.

But like Red58, I worry about what drugs and hormones would be in the meat. (I don't eat meat very often, but when I do, it's gotta be all organic, free-range, locally grown, etc.)
posted by Specklet at 10:19 AM on September 15, 2005

XQUZYPHYR - In reference to your question about growing Human skin, you may be interested in this article: Spray-On Skin

As for the questions about growing Human deli cuts for the dinner table, that's what I was trying to get at with the HUFU link... In case you're unfamiliar with it, it should satisfy your Hannibal Lechter impulses until this vat-o-meat technology catches up.

On a related note: Unmentionable Cuisine
posted by numlok at 10:26 AM on September 15, 2005

The Vegetarian's Dilemma
posted by aubilenon at 10:43 AM on September 15, 2005

Two words: space food.

This process would be a pretty impressive way to produce nutritious food in space habitats, planet colonies, etc., with very efficient energy use and compact volume requirements inside the habitat. Cultured cells from lots of different food sources could be transported with great space and mass savings, and used to produce food on site once a base is established, rather than shipping bulk food.

I would think vegetable cells could be cultured the same way, so this shows a lot of promise.

There would have to be serious precautions taken against radiation that could damage or mutate the cultures, in any off-earth environment that is highly exposed, like an Earth-Mars voyage or orbiting space hab.

Also, back here on earth, we could use all that grazing land that the cows are on to produce plant feedstock for biofuels - as has been pointed out in most of the oil-related threads here, to switch our cars to biodiesel would require shifting our corn production from its current uses (mostly animal feed, apparently) to fuel production.

And of course, a compact food generator for local areas would be pretty handy all over the world.

I think the practical applications would outweigh the qualms, as has happened many times in history. And also, remember the first time you ate sushi? :)

(re Milliways): "Excellent thought! But, this is, of course, impossible."

No, it's merely highly improbable. So figure out the odds against, and I'll get the tea started.
posted by zoogleplex at 10:49 AM on September 15, 2005

I'm almost certain that this has been discussed before, and again I simply can't comprehend the aversion to lab-grown meat.

Is it distrust of corporations or does it stem from an incomplete understanding of what the process entails?

These cells are likely immortalized (ie., turned in a "cancer" or "tumour" but - there's nothing wrong with that. Eating it won't give *you* cancer.) and grown in culture. Right now the researchers are probably using "chemicals" since it's easier to control the nutrients given to the tissue. Those "chemicals" are exactly the same chemicals that's in, essentially, chicken broth. Probably more nutritious. I've taken a swig of media for growing human cells. It's a little salty, a little like watered down beef broth.

Hormones are steroids, and they have some resistance to heat, so that's a little troubling but adding it to culture is comparable to injecting it into animals. At least in culture, the steroid levels can be carefully controlled so that there's no excess of it floating around.

Almost everyone has probably eaten vat-grown "meat." Yeast (an eukaryote unlike bacteria) cells are remarkably similar to our cells - and yeast have a lot of glutamate and other proteins. Yeast is vat grown and used as a food additive to give processed food a greater impression of being meat.
posted by PurplePorpoise at 11:21 AM on September 15, 2005

Just think of how many people we could feed with this.

Think of how many people we could feed if we all went vegetarian and sent the surplus food that's no longer going to animals to hungry people.

Technology isn't the issue in world hunger, today; it's the will.

Any sufficiently advanced technology still won't make us give a damn.

And something this article omits is what does a meat machine need to be 'fed'? It's got to get its carbon, hydrogen and nitrogen from someplace. If it could eventually run on compost, that'd be a great boon. If it needs pure amino acids, it's not going to be much help for people in a famine.

On preview, that's some pretty creative use of quotes, PurplePorpoise. By "meat", you mean, of course, fungus. Which is to say, "a different friggin' taxonomic kingdom".
posted by Zed_Lopez at 11:43 AM on September 15, 2005

"Yeast is vat grown and used as a food additive to give processed food a greater impression of being meat."

Wow, so The Caves of Steel is really happening. Sweet!
"So if you used the expressway today, remember that it's greased strictly with S. O. Benedictae, Strain AG-47. Developed right here in this room."
Is it wrong to have most of that book memorized?
posted by zoogleplex at 11:56 AM on September 15, 2005

I retract my snarkiness towards PurplePorpoise's comment. On rereading, I see that s/he was just pointing out that a vat-grown ingredient in processed meat or imitation-meat products is commonplace today, not characterizing the yeast, of itself, as meat.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 12:07 PM on September 15, 2005

Zed_Lopez, it might just be my opinion, but I believe the answer to world problems isn't to disimprove society until we're all equal, but to find ways to improve society for those less fortunate.

Making everyone who can afford to enjoy meat today go meatless and sending that meat to others simply isn't an acceptable solution in my books. We can do better than that.
posted by shepd at 1:55 PM on September 15, 2005

1) I didn't say anything about sending meat to anybody.

2) I wasn't campaigning for world vegetarianism and redistributing the resulting surplus. There's a subtle difference between pointing out something's possible and advocating for it. I was saying that existing technology allowed ending world hunger. Yes, so will improved technology, but that improvement is redundant. It's not going to happen because the people with the means to make it happen don't care.

Basically, you're making my point for me.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 3:27 PM on September 15, 2005

shepd, it's not about sending meat to others, it's the fact that it takes 16 pounds of grain to get one pound of meat. that's a lot of food people could be eating instead of cows, and a lot of farmland that we could be producing crops on instead of letting cows shit all over it. (On Preview: Zed got to this first)

as a [not very good] vegan, i'm sort of ambivalent on the concept of test tube meat. i don't miss meat at all. it's gone beyond "i don't eat meat because of ethical, environmental, and health reasons" to "meat is amazingly gross and i have plenty of tastier ways to get my protein, so who needs it?" i hope they're not rushing this to market because they think the poor vegetarians need meat to be accepted back into society.

that said, though, for those who [very vocally, like my cow-orkers] proclaim their life is meaningless without meat, it would be nice if this could at least reduce the number of feedlots, slaughterhouses, and tons of toxic pig shit choking our nation.
posted by acid freaking on the kitty at 3:36 PM on September 15, 2005

shepd, it's not about sending meat to others, it's the fact that it takes 16 pounds of grain to get one pound of meat.

Bingo. This is the true advantage to vat-meat; it's vastly more efficient, and additionally will free up large tracts of land that are currently used by ranches/pastures/etc.
posted by mek at 6:12 PM on September 15, 2005

A hectare of land can grow:

Enough beef to feed 2 people,

OR enough wheat for 16 people

OR enough rice for 34 people

OR enough soya for 56 people.

This is an easy enough decision. I'm a vegetarian, but when the vat-grown meat is released, I certainly won't eat it. As the article clearly indicates, the meat is created from an animal cell. For those of us not interested in cutting up other sentient beings so that we can eat them, I think the animal cell thing would make it unacceptable. Unless you're a utilitarian.
posted by malusmoriendumest at 12:12 AM on September 16, 2005

As the article clearly indicates, the meat is created from an animal cell. For those of us not interested in cutting up other sentient beings so that we can eat them, I think the animal cell thing would make it unacceptable.

Nope, Dolly the cloned sheep was created from a cell, with no harm to the donor sheep. There is no reason to think that any animal will be "cut up" or even remotely harmed by harvesting a few cells. Take your finger, rub it against the inside of your mouth - you've just harvested a ton of cells.
posted by biscotti at 10:00 AM on September 16, 2005

aubilenon: Hah! There's a Bob the Angry Flower for every occasion.
posted by Popular Ethics at 8:44 PM on September 16, 2005

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