Monday, February 20, 2012

Test Tube Meat

Test tube meat is here. Well, it exists, but at $300 000 for a hamburger, it's not yet on the market.

Is it disgusting? Possibly. Tasteless? Potentially. Environmentally sound? Some say yes. I can't tell. I'm in favour of ridding the world of factory farming, but I'm not convinced this is the best way. 

"I want to live!"

The lead researcher, Dr. Post, tells us, "To produce the meat, stem cells are placed in a broth containing vital nutrients and serum from a cow foetus which allow them to grow into muscle cells and multiply up to 30 times." The first question I had was from what, and where, do the nutrients in the "nutrient broth" come from? I had to search for the answer, which is a form of cyanobacteria that grows in ponds. But none of the news articles have commented on its production - what are its requirements? What does it cost, environmentally, to produce these nutrients? Is it a closed loop, as cattle eating grass, excreting to fertilize it, being eaten, and (if humanure was widespread) fertilizing some more can be?

Is there anything else going into this nutrient broth? "Dr Steele, who is also a molecular biologist, said he was also concerned that unhealthily high levels of antibiotics and antifungal chemicals would be needed to stop the synthetic meat from rotting." How about growth hormones? MSG?

Surely it is still healthier, grown in laboratory conditions? This blog post had an interesting comment: "We're supposed to be so divorced from food origin and growing practices that this is just the next step in the American culinary continuum." Think of people who are grossed out by the fact that plants grow in dirt, or scrub themselves obsessively with anti-bacterial soap, unaware that we have over 500 types of bacteria in our own digestive systems. I guess lab-cultured meat (how do they sterilize the vats?) could be as healthy as a Lysol-drenched home.

But we can always rely on the "it can feed the world!" argument to surface. In response, I will quote a very lucid comment on this article (I know, a good comment!?!): 
"This makes as much sense as trying to resolve the problems of industrial pollution by manufacturing fresh air in a laboratory. How is the output from an industrial process going to find its way into the mouths of hungry people more easily than the flesh of the poultry and cattle which already exists - everywhere - in sufficient abundance to make our whole species obese?"
And, because you know I'm political, one last question. Who is going to gain control of this technology, and thus, who will benefit from it? If you're guessing Big Agribusiness, and their shareholders, rather than All of Us and The Poor, I think you're on the right track.


  1. Well, as you suggested, two things are for certain and that is that big business will make great money off of this and the hungry masses will be, once again, used as guinea pigs. All I know for sure is that I won't be trying it...nope, not one little bite.

    1. It amazes me how much research money goes in directions like this when it is so obvious where the money would be better spent.