Monday, November 2, 2009

Understanding Cultured Meat (also called in vitro meat)

Cultured meat is a hot topic that everyone  should start learning about.  Essentially most of the products we eat are just a collection of cells that have been programed to work together in a certain way. That means that animal meat can be programed up from single cells and will be made of the exact same ingredients as traditional meat. But, by producing meat in clean controlled environments the product would no longer carry the environmental, ethical, and health concerns it faces today. 

Here is a quick top line summary of those concerns:
  • Environmental: Meat production is a major cause of green house gas - more than transportation and is inefficient to produce as much animal feed is wasted. Current methods are not sustainable.
  • Ethical concerns:  Factory farming and other forms of animal suffering. Anyone who has paid attention to the recent investigations into the food industry can see just how immoral the industry has become. 
  • Health:  Numerous illnesses, diseases. and health concerns arise from animal husbandry and packing animals close together. Avian flu, swine flu, mass antibiotic use leading to antibiotic immunity, and bacterially infected meats are just some examples. 

In Vitro Meat Nova ScienceNOW episode, aired on PBS January 10, 2006, discussing in vitro meat.

Discusses the environmental impact of meat and in vitro meat production - from August 09 - 2009.

Quoted from Mick Hartley who attended the 2008 In-Vitro Meat Symposium (

"...Here's the low-down on how we'll be getting our meat in the future:

In five to 10 years, supermarkets might have some new products in the meat counter: packs of vat-grown meat that are cheaper to produce than livestock and have less impact on the environment.
According to a new economic analysis presented at this week's In Vitro Meat Symposium in Ås, Norway, meat grown in giant tanks known as bioreactors would cost between $5,200-$5,500 a ton (3,300 to 3,500 euros), which the analysis claims is cost competitive with European beef prices. With a rising global middle class projected by the UN to double meat consumption by 2050, and livestock already responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gases, the symposium is drawing a variety of scientists, environmentalists and food industry experts. "We're looking to see if there are other technologies which can produce food for all the people on the planet," said Anthony Bennett of the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization. "Not only today but over the next 10, 20, 30 years." Rapidly evolving technology and increasing concern about the environmental impact of meat production are signs that vat-grown meat is moving from scientific curiosity to consumer option. In vitro meat production is a specialized form of tissue engineering, a biomedical practice in which scientists try to grow animal tissues like bone, skin, kidneys and hearts. Proponents say it will ultimately be a more efficient way to make animal meat, which would reduce the carbon footprint of meat products. "To produce the meat we eat now, 75 to 95 percent of what we feed an animal is lost because of metabolism and inedible structures like skeleton or neurological tissue," Jason Matheny, a researcher at Johns Hopkins and co-founder of New Harvest, a nonprofit that promotes research on in vitro meat, told "With cultured meat, there's no body to support; you're only building the meat that eventually gets eaten." Researchers can currently grow small amounts of meat in the lab, and have even been able to get heart cells to beat in Petri dishes. Growing muscle cells on an industrial scale is the next step, scientists say. "That's the goal and it seems pretty clear from this conference that it's achievable," said Matheny on Thursday by telephone from the symposium. Scientists are working on a variety of cell culture procedures. The cutting edge of in vitro meat engineering is the attempt to get cells to grow as if they were inside a living animal. Meat like steak is a complex combination of muscle, fat and other connective tissue. Reproducing the complexity of muscle is proving difficult. "An actual whole muscle organ is not technically impossible," said Bob Dennis, a biomedical engineer at both North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina, who attended the conference. "But of all the tissue engineering applications it is by far the most difficult one." While scientists are struggling to recreate filet mignon, they anticipate less trouble growing hamburger. "The general consensus is that minced meat or ground meat products -- sausage, chicken nuggets, hamburgers -- those are within technical reach," Matheny said. "We have the technology to make those things at scale with existing technology."

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