Saturday, June 23, 2012

Franken-Meat May Be Closer Than We Think


This has been a bad year for Big Meat. The meat industry has lost in multiple court rulings over the public health threat stemming from the use of antibiotics in animal feed that threaten to upend the industry. And they have been brutalized in the court of public opinion over pink slime.
But, if two researchers are right, it's about to get much, much worse…
Today’s Guardian has a fascinating story on a pair of scientists who are on the verge of rolling out what they claim is viable meat created in a lab. No, not the meat-substitute slop that’s out there like seitan or quorn. This is the long-dreamed of substitute for flesh, worthy of PETA’s million-dollar bounty. As Dr. Patrick Brown, a Stanford molecular biologist who is one of the two scientists profiled in the piece, puts it:
"I have zero interest in making a new food just for vegans. I am making a food for people who are comfortable eating meat and who want to continue eating meat. I want to reduce the human footprint on this planet by 50%."

Brown sees his work combining plant and animal proteins to create meat as essential to stave off climate change, given the massive greenhouse plume that wafts from the planet’s meat production (can't wait for the trolls on that issue) as described by the Guardian:
Meat production accounts for about 5% of global CO2 emissions, 40% of methane emissions and 40% of various nitrogen oxides. If meat production doubles, by the late 2040s cows, pigs, sheep and chickens will be responsible for about half as much climate change impact as all the world's cars, trucks and aircraft.
On the other side of the world, a researcher in the Netherlands is taking a different tack in the meat-fakery race. Dr. Mark Post is using stem cells to grow meat in test tubes. While this sounds like the stuff of science fiction, Post is promising to debut his in-vitro meat with a bang this fall as UK super-chef Heston Blumenthal grills up the first non-beef beef burger.
But the race is on—Brown allowed Michael Hanlon, one of the UK’s most respected science writers and the man who penned the Guardian story, to taste his creation. While Hanlon is legally prevented from detailing the experience, he did reveal this:
I am not allowed to say what I tried, nor which chef helped create it, and certainly not what it tasted like. But I can say this: I would have had no idea it wasn't "real".
And that is the Holy Grail here. Nobody is going to eat frankenmeat unless it is tasty and they cannot tell the difference (the "meat is murder" crowd whose diet shifted for ethical reasons are already suffering through the current crop of substitutes). Interestingly, both scientists point out that more than half the meat consumed in America is processed: think hamburger and sausages. That is the target for both until their technology gets sharp enough for T-bones, which could be a while.  Really, is this stuff all that far off from the meat-meld we get at the corner gyro shop? And, since you can grow meat from any animal in the lab, Heck, that White Castle diet that is shown below could save the world!


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