In Vitro Meat: Could It Really Happen?

By Ratha Tep Posted April 28, 2008

As much as I cringe at the idea of in vitro meat—meat developed in a cell culture instead of in an animal—the field looks like it's gaining traction:

—Last week, PETA announced a $1 million reward to the first scientist "to make the first in vitro chicken meat and sell it to the public by June 30, 2012." Details of the contest include producing "an in vitro chicken-meat product that has a taste and texture indistinguishable from real chicken flesh to non-meat-eaters and meat-eaters alike."

—Earlier in the month, the first-ever In Vitro Meat Consortium Symposium was held in Norway. (As New York Times reporter Andrew Revkin put it recently, "They might want to do something about that name.") A study presented at the conference concluded that the costs of cultured meat would be substantial, but so, too, would the environmental impact of meeting the forecasted demand for meat worldwide—270 million tons in 2007 and growing at a rate of 4.7 million tons a year.

—But the biggest surprise came in my inbox. Here, the detailed, impassioned email from "Mouthing Off" reader Rina Deych, a registered nurse at the Lutheran Medical Center in Brooklyn, in response to my March blog posting mentioning in vitro meat:

"As a registered nurse, humanitarian, and environmentalist I am strongly in favor of in vitro meat. A 400-page November 2006 UN report entitled 'Livestock's Long Shadow' stated that animal agriculture is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than all the cars, trucks, buses, planes, and all forms of transportation combined. The best way to help the environment is to switch to a plant-based diet. Since the whole world is not likely to do this overnight, I see in vitro meat as a compromise.  In vitro meat has the potential to eliminate the heinous factory farming system, in which 10 billion animals suffer and die every year. It is a less unhealthy product than that obtained from sick, stressed-out, medicated animals who receive 70% of all the antibiotics produced in this country, not to mention steroids and hormones.  Additionally, since there is no excrement or methane emission, it is not insulting to the environment. Naturally, as a staunch vegan, I'd prefer it if the whole world went vegan overnight. Realistically, in vitro meat provides a win-win situation for environmentally conscious herbivores and carnivores alike."

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