This could come straight from the lab in 2014. Photo via the Telegraph
The prospect has always been intriguing, to say the least: producing meat without having to raise, feed, or butcher animals. It could prove to be a far less resource-intensive way to sate a meat-hungry populace and an answer to PETA's prayers. And it may be a mere five years away from becoming a reality: scientists in the Netherlands have for the first time successfully created edible meat in a laboratory. It's called 'soggy pork' and it could hit grocery store aisles by 2014.'Lab Fresh' Pork
Yes, they're probably going to have to come up with a more appealing name for their lab-created meat than 'soggy pork'--as if the tag 'made in a lab' isn't unappetizing enough.
According to the Telegraph, the lab-grown meat hasn't yet been tasted (I can't say I blame them). In its current form, soggy pork is made of muscle tissue:
Mark Post, professor of physiology at Eindhoven University, said: "What we have at the moment is rather like wasted muscle tissue. We need to find ways of improving it by training it and stretching it, but we will get there.Intriguingly, and somewhat creepily, he also notes the potential lab-grown meat presents: "You could take the meat from one animal and create the volume of meat previously provided by a million animals."
How to Grow Meat in a Test Tube
That's right--all you need is a little tissue sample, top-flight lab equipment, and some researchers from the Netherlands, and presto. Meat for millions. Sort of. The Telegraph describes the process:
The scientists extracted cells from the muscle of a live pig and then put them in a broth of other animal products. The cells then multiplied and created muscle tissue. They believe that it can be turned into something like steak if they can find a way to artificially "exercise" the muscle.
The Ultimate Genetically Modified Food?
In a way, it's the ultimate genetically modified food. There's not enough information on the nutritional value of the soggy meat to comment on its potential health risks--of which there are probably plenty. But I will say offhand that it poses huge environmental benefits. As we all know, a huge chunk of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions are attributed to the methane released by the world's massive cattle population (remember, the meat comes from pork tissue, but can be made to taste like steak)--some estimates put the number around 20%, more than the world's automobile emissions.
Growing all that meat in a lab would spare those emissions and prevent huge swaths of tress from being felled for ranches. Resources that meat production demands--namely water--could no doubt be more efficiently used in a controlled lab setting. And, of course, it could reduce the animal cruelty found in factory farms around the world.
Lab grown meat could reduce the need for factory farms like these
And since the meat is grown directly for consumption, unlike, say a GMO crop that can grow in the wild and cross pollinate, there's less reason for concern about such lab meat impacting ecosystems directly. Though certainly anyone bothered with the moral issues involved with cloning will be made queasy by the thought of consuming meat cooked up in a lab. The research is being funded by the Dutch government, and a prominent sausage company, which says the product could be available for mass market in as soon as five years.
Though questions remain, there's no doubt that it's an alluring idea: lab grown, emissions-free meat. Coming to a Whole Foods near you in 2014?