Meat from Petri Dish to Plate??


The following article is from the Kansas City Star:

By Scott Canon

Nicholas Genovese is a lab-coated collection of incongruities.

He’s being bankrolled by an animal-rights group to make meat.

The molecular biologist is working in a lab at a land-grant university that pulls in millions in grants for its research on livestock. Yet the money backing him pushes the desire to end the use of animals as food.

And the guy he answers to at the University of Missouri makes clear that he sees just three reasons for a cow to exist: breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Genovese’s work explores a hope — certainly distant, perhaps fanciful — to grow muscle meat separate from an animal. It would start in a laboratory and move to a factory. It aims for a world that would leave both meat lover and animal lover with a satisfied burp.

“One of the interesting things about being a human being is that we advance things,” Genovese said. “Think of what we’ve done in the last several years with computers and cellphones. … Why can’t we make the same kind of advances with food?”

Whether you refuse to eat anything with a face or can’t enjoy a patio party without indulging your carnivorous side, Genovese thinks the petri dishes he’s toying with now may yield part of an answer to make you guilt-free and satiated. The technology is touted by those concerned about animal cruelty, energy shortages and climate change.

But the path to meat without feet won’t be easy. It would rework Midwestern agriculture, which is centered on raising grain that feeds livestock. And it won’t come without resistance that starts, for many, in the gut.

“We really need to figure out what we’re putting in our bodies rather than making something bigger and cheaper,” said Michael Foust, the owner and chef at The Farmhouse restaurant in Kansas City’s River Market. “If I served it, I’d be out of business in a week.”

Nobody will be serving it anytime soon. And the work Genovese is doing at Columbia isn’t directly about making meat. Rather it involves research about self-replicating cells that might solve just one of the many technological and industrial obstacles that stand between you and animal-free meat.

But if he and the handful of other scientists can overcome the herd of practical problems, so-called cultured meat could end what some people consider mass animal cruelty — eliminating the need for operations that jam cattle in feed lots, stuff hogs in massive containment barns or crowd chickens in places where they never see the sun.

“There’s the potential to continue to produce meat while you reduce an enormous amount of factory farming,” said Paul Shapiro, who advocates farm animal protection for the Humane Society of the United States.

The goal would be facilities that grow muscle tissue, multiplying endlessly a single cow, pig or chicken cell to create ton after ton of meat. And just the meat. No hooves, snouts, beaks and other things that make an animal an animal — but don’t land on the dinner table.

That increased efficiency could allow more people to eat higher on the food chain even as the planet struggles to meet its growing appetite for meat.

The impact

Such futuristic in vitro meat technology might also more gently coax protein from an ever more crowded planet.

Consider that animals raised for our dinner tables now use 30 percent of the world’s ice-free land. They consume 8 percent of the Earth’s fresh water. They produce — in ways that go far beyond flatulence — 18 percent of the planet’s greenhouse gases. That’s more than all forms of transportation.

One Oxford University study concluded the factory flesh route might require slightly more energy per bite than poultry but would offer savings on all other key measures. Compared with conventional beef production, cultured meat would take barely half the energy, belch out less than 4 percent as much in greenhouse gases, use 4 percent as much water and tie up about 1 percent as much land.

Building the new burger should be possible. Scientists already grow individual organs in vitro for transplants. With meat, that work shifts to making muscle tissue.

But in labs across the world — the small field of research is concentrated in the Netherlands — only matchstick-size bits of cultured muscle tissue have been grown.

There are but two reports of consumption. One by a performance artist in Australia who gulped a small bit of frog flesh. The second was a Russian TV reporter who ate a sample before a researcher could object. He pronounced it tasteless.

Much more is left to be done. Scientists will have to identify the right cells to serve as seed stock — stuff that will grow easily and prove tasty. Everything grown so far has been sustained by animal products, typically fetal bovine serum. A replacement needs to be found first, to get the efficiencies that make the new meat worth the bother, and to gain consistency and safety from pathogens.

Meat makers will also need to find a way to essentially exercise the tissue. They might use electrical stimulation or add neurotransmitters. And a sort of meat scaffolding will have to be devised so the tissue has texture and form. Hot dogs, rather than being pieced together from the less romantic parts of a farm animal, could simply be grown as hot dogs.

Government also will need to sort out how to regulate a new class of food.

“There would have to be a pretty long list of things to do to figure out if this is safe and wholesome,” said Patty Lovera, a spokeswoman for the consumer advocacy group Food and Water Watch.

Genovese and others think a commercial product might be only a decade away. The first meats will probably be akin to ground beef or chicken nuggets. It’ll be harder to grow something that resembles a steak or a pork chop, but scientists imagine millions of identical cuts of meat with the marbling of fat made just so.

He was awarded a fellowship by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals for three years of research. He started that work at the University of South Carolina until that laboratory shut down for reasons unrelated to the research. He came to Missouri this month to lab facilities run by R. Michael Roberts, a professor of animal science and biochemistry.

Roberts has made advances with induced pluripotent stem cells — technology that takes an adult cell and transforms it into something with the regenerative qualities of embryonic stem cells. He’s clear that he doesn’t much care for PETA or its goals and that he thinks commercialization of artificial meat is “far-fetched.” But the PETA money isn’t coming to the university, just to Genovese, and Roberts sees him as a promising researcher.

“He and I,” Roberts said, “have similar scientific goals.”

Future farms

If this meat of the future were a success, it would certainly upend the lives of cattle ranchers and pig and poultry farmers.

“You would no longer need a feed yard. You wouldn’t need a processing plant,” said Glynn Tonsor, a livestock economist at Kansas State University. “If you remove the need for a traditional live animal, you lose the need for the operators in those segments. … That doesn’t mean it’s necessarily bad for society.”

The need for agriculture would hardly disappear. Grains, perhaps even the same corn and soybeans grown for livestock today, would be a likely source of the raw materials that would be fed into a meat plant.

But there would be less waste — a pound of grain would produce nearly a pound of meat. In today’s agriculture, various estimates suggest three to 16 pounds of feed are needed to grow a pound of meat.

Do we really need to shift? Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition at New York University and the author of “What to Eat,” declared the idea of manufactured meat “revolting.”

“What’s wrong with food? Food seems just fine to me,” she said. “Maybe it’s what the world’s coming to, but I don’t want it.”

Tom Field, a cattle production specialist for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, said that “of all the things I’m worried about, it’s not even on my list. The majority of consumers … like a product that comes from the farm.”

Still, consider the reaction of Jonathan Justus. He created the Justus Drug Store restaurant in Smithville in the spirit of the locavore movement, which puts a premium on knowing where and how food is raised and getting supplies nearby.

The idea of steak without steers twists him in knots.

He sees a real upside — more food for a malnourished world and a way to produce meat on a large scale without subjecting animals to inhumane conditions. And some argue it could be safer, because the problems of fecal contamination would be eliminated.

Then he worries about potential downsides. Isn’t this, he said, bound to be left to the biggest of corporations, which would force out family farmers? How long, he wonders, will it take to know what such meat would do to our bodies?

“There are issues on both sides of this,” he said. “It would take an ethicist, or teams of ethicists, to figure it all out.”


Source:  Kansas City Star

Posted by Haylie Shipp


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