Synthetic Meat?

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Various proposals have been put forth to tackle the seemingly insurmountable task of ending world hunger. Though the causes of world hunger are still being debated, many argue that “people are hungry because they cannot afford food,” not because food is scarce.1 If healthy food were inexpensive, then it would be much easier to address the problem. It is through this approach that lies the vast potential of cultured meat: a procedure where stem cells are taken from livestock and proliferated to create edible muscle fibers.

Scientists across the world are attempting to use both embryonic and adult stem cells to produce muscle fibers. However, research has been costly and many challenges still remain. It has been difficult to program the embryonic stem cells to develop correctly; they often differentiate into neurons rather than the desired muscle cells. Adult stem cells are more easily programmable, but are also more difficult to culture. To add to the challenges, scientists still have to figure out an effective method of “exercising” the muscle fibers.2

Despite these obstacles, interest is steadily increasing in cultured meat; the possible benefits of such a technology are limitless. Ray Kurzweil, well-known inventor and entrepreneur, believes meat created through cloning can lead to “extremely low cost, avoidance of pesticides and hormones…greatly reduced environmental impact…improved nutritional profile, and no animal suffering.”3. The impact in environment alone may make synthetic meat worth considering; one study by Hanna Tuomisto and Teixeria de Mattos concludes synthetic meat will have “78-96% lower GHG emissions” and require “99% lower land use”.4

Meat grown in Petri dishes has startling and controversial implications. Some may speculate if this meat is really safe for consumption. Others argue that by eliminating the necessity for animal suffering, lab-grown meat is an imperative alternative.

So, NHSJS readers, we would like to hear your opinions! Is this a viable alternative to meat derived from conventional sources? Does it hold the potential for ameliorating the starvation rampant in our world? Or do the cons, including safety issues, ethical questions, and feasibility outweigh the pros? Express your views through the comment box below.

For more information, you can check out this Scientific American article.

  1. Shah, Anup. “Population and Feeding the World.” Global Issues. N.p., 9 July
    2001. Web. 7 July 2011. <http://www.globalissues.org/article/200/
    population-and-feeding-the-world>. []
  2. Bartholet, Jeffrey. “Inside the Meat Lab.” Scientific American, 304(6): 68. []
  3. Kurzweil, Ray. The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology. New York
    City: Penguin Group, 2005. Print. []
  4. Tuomisto, H. L. and M. J. Teixeira de Mattos. (2011, June). Environmental Impacts of Cultured Meat Production.Environmental Science Technology. Online. []