Is your new years’ resolution to earn a million dollars? If so, PETA may have the answer for you. PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals” has offered a $1 million dollar reward for the first laboratory to produce “in vitro” chicken meat made from chicken cells. How does this work? It is very similar to how we grow an organ for human transplantation. Stem cells from an adult animal are placed into a 3-D supportive scaffolding structure in a medium which would allow the cells to grow and reproduce. When fully developed, these cells will have grown into a product that mimics animal flesh that can be cooked and eaten.
PETA states that the chicken meat product must have the same taste and texture of “real” chicken, and will be judged via a taste test from meat-eaters and non-meat eaters alike. The million dollar prize also comes with the stipulation that the meat product will be produced in large enough quantities to be sold in at least 10 US states at a competitive price.
Why would an organization like PETA support the research for test-tube meat? According to PETA president Ingrid Newkirk, it all comes down to reducing animal suffering. “Americans eat 1 million chickens an hour. [In vitro meat] is both practical and pragmatic. We can’t afford to look at this from a purist’s standpoint. We need to reduce animal suffering now.”
Not only would large-scale production of in-vitro meat decrease animal suffering, it would also benefit the environment. There would be less greenhouse gas emissions caused by livestock digestion (especially in cattle). Less freshwater would be wasted from meat processing. In addition, since in-vitro meat could be produced in an urban area closest to the greatest consumer demands, transportation costs and environmental impact would be reduced. And all that corn, soy, and feed that chicken consume? These crops could be used for human consumption either here in America or overseas to help fight hunger in third world countries.
I think test-tube/cultured/in-vitro chicken is a great idea with many possible benefits. First, it has the possibility of being cheaper for consumers than buying traditional chicken. Secondly (and most exciting of all), when we are creating our own chicken meat, we could modify it to be more nutritious. Says Nicholas Genovese, PhD, researcher at the U of Missouri’s division of animal sciences, “In vitro, culture methods may be optimized to improve ratios of poly-unsaturated fats to saturated fats, thereby generating a healthier dietary protein source.” Also, “by engineering tissues on plant or fungus-based scaffolds, cultured meat technology opens the possibility to produce a meat produce rich in dietary fiber.”
I just recently over Christmas break watched the film documentary Food, Inc which has made me more aware of where my meat (especially chicken) comes from. The film covers the food industry in America today, at one point highlighting the shocking and very real process of how our chickens make it from the farm to our plate. After watching that film, I personally think that in-vitro chicken could be a safe and healthy alternative to traditional chicken meat.
Source: Food & Nutrition magazine, Jan/Feb 2013 issue “Exploring the Global ‘Cultured Meat’ Effort“