Growing Flesh

A recent BBC news article caught my eye:

An international research team has proposed new techniques that may lead to the mass production of meat reared not on the farm, but in the laboratory.

Developments in tissue engineering mean that cells taken from animals could be grown directly into meat in a laboratory, the researchers say.

Scientists believe the technology already exists to directly grow processed meat like a chicken nugget.

Exactly what does it mean when it says ‘grow processed meat’? Should we expect fully-formed and genetically perfect burger trees? Are we heading to a Matrix-style ‘Field Of Flesh’, with our daily Meat intake provided by the latest harvest of Meat cubes?

As the article suggests, this whole area could lead to a lot of conflicting ethical decisions for vegetarians. Is synthetic meat really meat, or is it something else (a vegetable, for example)? If the main objection to eating meat is that it came from an animal, and this meat doesn’t come from any animal, then is it ok to eat?

If this science does become a practical reality then I can see it being initially very expensive. Should people ever feel safe enough eating synthetic meat (I’ll call it Smeat), then market forces will probably drive the price down to the point where naturally ‘grown’ meat is a premium, and lab grown meat is the norm.

I can certainly see a lot of benefits to this. A bountiful supply of protein-rich food with none of the messiness – no slaughterhouse, no battery-farms, no rampant diseases caused by greed and poor living conditions.

Of course, I do wonder exactly what flavour this flesh will be. I’m sure chicken is the primary aim, followed by beef and the usual meats. But what about something different – lion maybe, or alligator? Could this be used to fuel exotic appetites without worrying about moral obligations. What about human meat? What about your own meat, grown from cells taken from your own body?

Anyway, I felt the need to use Photoshop to explain how I see this working:

What interested me most about this is that I recall, many years ago, having a conversation discussing the exact same thing. Back then I wondered that if we had the ability to grow meat, would we see products offering us ‘100% solid meat’. It seems only reasonable to expect that artificially grown meat will be made more ‘perfect’ – no veins, no fat, no bones and sinew. Just pieces of solid un-spoilt meat. But then, is this really meat or a new form of food entirely?

It’s certainly something to chew over.

3 thoughts on “Growing Flesh”

  1. That is one of the sickest things I have ever heard. Is that a real news story, because I can’t imagine science is considering growing “fake” meat. To answer your one question, as a vegetarian myself, I would never eat any kind of “meat” product grown in a labratory.

    I find most vegetarians I meet are against any kind of non organic foods and or at least prefer to know the foods they are eating do not contain a lot of preservatives or other chemicals. So I doubt you woud ever catch one eating fake meat.

  2. It’s from the BBC so I’m assuming it’s as real a news story as you’re going to get… but after watching the movie The Island I’m thinking we’ve got some pretty big ethical decisions to make in the near future.

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