Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The What? Why? and Really?: In Vitro Beef

Scientists in the Netherlands are working overtime to try and unveil the first beef patty made in the lab by this year October.  Thinking about that suddenly made my appetite non-existent.  Straight up unsettling. 

Photo from VegNews

The best response for this is literally,"What? Why? and Really?".  Are these really the options we have to consider in order to combat the problem of meat-production exacerbating global warming?  This is some next stuff right here. 

The beef is grown using cow stem cells and is expected to replicate the same texture and taste as "real beef".  This endeavor is a response to the widespread concern about the harmful effects meat-production is having on our environment.  The scientists are hoping that this will be a cost-effective and sustainable solution for the future.  The final product will start out at a superfluous price of $350,000 a portion.   Ummmm, I think you lost the battle before it started bud.  The price is expected to scale down with the increase of mass production and consumption over the next 10 years.  These scientists are not even playing around. They have a consortium!   

Photo from the article, "The Steak of the Art: The Fatal Flaws of In Vitro Meat"

Some scientists who have responded to this news don't seem that excited about it.  Scientist Christina Agapakis rather intelligently addresses the real challenges of such a proposal in the article, Steak of the Art: The Fatal Flaws of In Vitro Meat.  She highlights the already expensive and resource-heavy technique of culturing cells in petri dishes, the incredibly labor intensive task of maintaining and growing the cultures in vats free of contamination and the use of elaborate technology to exercise the meat with stretching machines, technology of which has not even been invented yet.  She's pretty beast in her objective and analytical assessment of the implication of this vision of the future:  

"Even beyond this mechanical engineering issue, when we consider the other raw materials, the nutrients that will feed and sustain these stem cells as they grow into our dinner, the large scale sustainability of in vitro meat can be called into question.  In fact, of the fantastic claims of lab-grown meat, the most far-fetched given the current technology is that in vitro meat will be cruelty-free.   In vitro meat proposals imagine a "donor herd" of cows that will give some cells to make meat without having to be slaughtered, so yes, the first in vitro hamburger, if it is successfully unveiled this October, will be made of cells that started out as just a few cow stem cells from a still-living cow.  But donor cells aren't the only animal product needed to grow in vitro hamburgers; the growth medium that provides nutrients, vitamins and growth hormones to cells is currently made with a mixture of sugars and amino acids supplemented with fetal bovine serum---literally the blood of unborn cows."

She also goes into detail about algae as a possible replacement for the fetal bovine serum and discusses how it isn't any more cost effective to use our little green friend that sustains the entire marine world.  

She concludes with a simple yet profound series of statements:

"Grand technological fixes can look good if you don't peer too close at their workings...the meat problem won't really be solved with flashy tech...The real issue is the ever-growing demand, and our unwillingness to eat less of it, regardless of the environmental cost."

Sources in full:
In Vitro Beef Breakthrough
Steak of the Art: The Fatal Flaws of In Vitro Meat

Thank you for reading.  My people, I appreciate you all so much.  Be healthy and happy.  Ciao!

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