Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Lab-Grown Meat Could Be Coming to a Grocery Store Near You

Slate has an interesting—and somewhat disturbing—article about artificial, lab-grown meat. Now, I like meat, and I'm all for things that can make it more eco-friendly and less expensive. But I'm just not sure about the idea of eating meat that was grown in a vat from stem cells.

According to the post, the current ranching and slaughtering process for beef means that for every pound of beef we consume, 36.4 pounds of carbon dioxide—the same amount as driving an average car 155 miles at 50 mph—are released into the atmosphere. Raising cattle is also horribly inefficient... it takes seven calories of grain to produce a single calorie of beef. By not having actual cows, we can eliminate waste products and free up a bunch of land that is being used for ranching right now.

However, the author of the article does make one mistake, when he suggests that we can free up the food needed for the cattle. Obviously, in order to grow protein (even in a vat) the labs will need to provide a source of glucose and amino acids. True, the process will likely consume fewer calories than actual cows, but not as little as you might think.

But I'm not sure how I feel about the idea of eating meat grown from a vat. They can probably produce something similar to beef in taste and texture, and probably even come reasonably close to the nutritional content. But we learn new things about our food all the time, and we often discover that, somewhere along the way, we've lost something that was fairly important. For example, it turns out that whole grains (like whole-wheat flour) are better for us than refined grains (like bleached flour). It would be fairly easy, I think, to make the same kind of mistake with synthetic meat.

Still, I'm willing to try just about anything once, and if I can get a fine filet for considerably less money than I'm currently paying, and with environmental benefits to boot, I'll have to really think about mixing some of this into my diet. It will be a while yet, however, as the technology is in its infancy and rather expensive. In the case of one Dutch team, the lab-grown pork would currently cost about $45,000 per pound.

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