The thought of growing meat in a laboratory without animals is quite disturbing to me, as I am sure it is to many of my readers. But more scary is the thought of eating meat cloned from dead humans. Quite possibly you could end up eating meat generated from, ugh, your father and mother and won’t even know it.
This brings to mind images of Motel Hell where the owners planted their guests in holes with their heads above ground and fed them minced meat through a funnel jammed down their throats. When the bodies were just right they were dug up and parts sold as smoked ham.
Meat as I know it is reared in your back yard or a farm. Animals chomping on grass or in the case of pigs, feeding on waste food. My grand-parents’ yard were always filled with clucking chickens, quacking ducks, turkeys, goats and at one time cows. It was messy at times, too. When they felt like eating meat they just grabbed a chicken in the yard and you know the rest. At Christmas, they had goat meat reared in the yard, too. They are long deceased but the lifestyle continues, no longer in my family but in many in urban and rural areas in Trinidad, where I was born. One day, however, it will become ancient history. The likes of animals wandering fields, chickens clucking in the yard and even the poor pig will cease to grunt.
Science is taking over. Call it mad science or whatever you wish. But the evidence suggests that we are heading into the world of science fiction where food will be manufactured in a laboratory and not in mills or grown on the land. Perhaps as some believe, meals will be served in tiny pills.
It’s not unusual nowadays to see and hear about things that were once considered science fiction and were seen only in the movies.
Bioengineers are growing nerve, heart and other tissues in labs. They recently grew artificial penises from rabbits, has cloned sheep, mule and cat and now meat for daily consumption has joined the list. They have cloned chicken, beef and pork. Even if its only nuggets as scientists claim, it is still cloned meat, engineered in a lab under certain conditions.
In the online edition of the journal Trends in Food Science & Technology, Biomedical engineer Mark Post, of Maastricht University, Netherlands, and his team recently announced that they had found ways to grow tiny nuggets of lab meat. One day they hope to grow steaks in vats as well as other types of meats. They believe meat cultivated in the lab could eliminate contamination, for example, salmonella, and other environmental infections associated with industrial livestock grown on farms.
The team of scientists believe that cloned meat could help meet the rising demand for meat worldwide. Among the advantages they cited are:
- Avoid animal suffering by reducing the farming and killing of livestock.
- Dramatically cut down on food-borne illness such as mad cow disease and salmonella or germs such as swine flu, by monitoring the growth of meat in labs.
- Livestock takes up 70 percent of all agricultural land, which accounts for 30 percent of the world’s land surface, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations. Labs require less space.
- Livestock generate 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, more than all of the vehicles on Earth, the FAO said. Animals are mostly responsible for these gases, reducing livestock numbers could help alleviate global warming.
Post explained that the meat can be grown from satellite cells, the natural muscle stem cells responsible for regeneration and repair in adults, via tissue- engineering techniques, where stem cells are often embedded in synthetic three-dimensional biodegradable matrixes that can present the chemical and physical environments that cells need to develop properly.
It would also involve the electrical stimulation and mechanical stretching of the muscles to exercise them, help them mature and to grow other cells alongside the satellite cells to provide necessary molecular cues.
Thus far, scientists have only grown small nuggets of skeletal muscle, about half the size of a thumbnail, which could be used in sauces or pizzas. If they were to embark on wide scale cultivation they would choose beef, chicken, pork, or fish.
Morbid as it may sound, Post said that cells could be harvested from human cadavers from which to grow the meat. “In principle, we could harvest the meat progenitor cells from fresh human cadavers and grow meat from them. Once taken out of its disease and animalistic, cannibalistic context. You are not killing fellow citizens for it, they are already dead, there is no reason why not.”
He did note that they had a long way to go before they could make a product that was remotely competitive with the meat currently on the market.
Would you eat meat that was cloned in a lab? What about from cells taken from dead people?