Meat From the Lab…Is This the Future or Just Plain Gross?
Imagine if meat was brewed in tanks like yeast, or could be manufactured using a 3-D printer. Would it still be meat, or would it just be protein? Could you eat it and still be vegetarian? Could you eat it and not gag?
I had a chance attend the Economist’s Annual Ideas Economy Event again today, and heard Andras Forgacs describe his new venture “Modern Meadow.” The early stage company is an offshoot of his medical venture Organovo, which is working on using 3-D printing to create ‘human tissue on demand’ for research and medical applications. If you can imagine someday having an HP printer 3-D printing a replacement for your kidney, you get the idea. It sounds like science fiction, but it’s not.
So the folks at Organovo asked the obvious question that any overworked tissue scientists at a start up would ask: “Hey , I wonder if we can use this to make a great steak?” Actually, they went after pork chops first.
As non live-animal sourced meat moves towards commercial testing, it will be interesting to see what — if any– process is acceptable to the general public. Maybe someday Modern Meadow will offer you a chance to make your hamburger to order, in any shape you want it (Mickey Mouse ears? President Obama’s profile? Cow shaped? )
Forgacs points out (quite correctly) that the resources, land use, and climate issues associated with beef are unsustainable. If you also add in the current controversy over ‘pink slime’, and the manufacturing techniques used to make Chicken Nuggets, a lab-grown option also starts to seem like a better idea.
For his part, Forgacs pointed out that Winston Churchill said way back in the 1930’s that “Fifty years hence, we shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing, by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium.” Of course Churchill also famously said that he never developed indigestion from eating his words.