Please don’t read this if you have a weak stomach or aren’t feeling well right now. I’m not loving this thought, but I will tell you about it, regardless. Eating meat is a hotly debated topic. There are people who are adamant that you should eat it, while others are completely against it. Reasons range from health concerns to ethical reasons about how the animals are treated. And you can’t really blame them. We’ve all see the images from the mega-farms where an animal’s quality of life is secondary to the profit of the farm. As someone who grew up in a farming community, they’re not viewed as animals, but rather a commodity. I am not taking a stance on this issue as I think there are valid points on both sides. That said, would you eat meat if you knew it could be “created” without actually killing an animal?
How, you ask? Well, there is a movement underway to develop lab-grown meat products that are produced without the need for animals to be slaughtered. It’s known as cellular agriculture, and it makes me sick thinking about it. Why? Because it sounds like the meat would be rotten. I guess I have this idea in my head that meat should be kept in the fridge (for a certain amount of time), frozen or cooked. This idea makes it sound like you put something out on your counter and five days later you have a steak.
My idea of franken-meat is kind of off-putting, so I’d like to explain what it is. Meat is composed of a stable set of ingredients. The recipe for beef differs from that for pork, but the basics remain the same: water, protein, fat, and a pinch of soluble organic material (amino acids, vitamins, carbohydrates) and minerals. Cellular agriculture is a way to harvest products like meat, milk, and eggs from cell cultures instead of actual livestock. It is an agriculture that deconstructs the meat and then reconstructs it into some kind of edible form. This process has already been perfected when it comes to cheese, yogurt, bread, beer, and wine. For me, though I feel like those things are acceptable. There’s something about meat that makes my stomach churn.
The process of culturing meat leverages existing technologies and techniques that are currently used in tissue engineering and regenerative medicine. First, a small sample of cells is taken from an animal. The sample then proliferates in a nutrient-rich medium inside a bioreactor. After they’re done multiplying, the cells are attached to a sponge-like “scaffold” and soaked with nutrients. The resulting “cultured” meat is the same meat that would have resulted had those initial cells remained inside the animal—a bioreactor simply took the place of an animal’s body.
Fun fact, Winston Churchill actually predicted this kind of agriculture in December 1931. In an essay he wrote for Strand Magazine he said, “fifty years hence, we shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or a wing by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium”. That is an extremely visionary thought on Churchill’s part, in my opinion. Sure, his timeline was off a bit, but we all just pick a random date in the future when we’re prophesizing.
That said, this is a reality. As per usual, I have a ton of questions. Will it become mainstream? How healthy is this? This is genetic modification at it’s best, so it also raises some ethical questions. Societal concerns aside, I do want to know what kind of health issues this could raise. I’m not saying there are any, and in fact, it might be healthier than raising an animal because some farms use hormones etc. I am supportive of this in principle, but I think further studies are needed to determine safety etc. I am also extremely interested to see how this plays out from a societal perspective as this is incredibly groundbreaking from a technological perspective.