Scientists aim for lab-grown meat
BBC News | August 13, 2005
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.
The technology could benefit both humans and the environment.
"With a single cell, you could theoretically produce the world's annual meat supply. And you could do it in a way that's better for the environment and human health.
"In the long term, this is a very feasible idea," said Jason Matheny of the University of Maryland, part of the team whose research has been published in the Tissue Engineering journal.
Growing the meat without the animal could reduce the need to keep millions of animals in cramped conditions and would lessen the damage caused by the meat production to the environment.
Laboratory-grown meat could also be healthier, proponents say.
Tissue engineering techniques were first developed for medical use and small amounts of edible fish tissue have been grown in research conducted by Nasa.
To industrialise the process, researchers suggest the cells could be grown on large sheets that would need to be stretched to provide the 'exercise' for the growing muscles.
"If you didn't stretch them, it would be like eating mush," said Mr Methany.
Whilst the technology to produce processed meat is here now, producing a steak or chicken breast is still quite a way off, the researchers say.
The new techniques could also provide a dilemma for vegetarians.
Some may feel able to eat meat that has been grown without an animal being harmed.
Others feel that question marks remain about the way the cells would be taken from animals.
"It won't appeal to someone who gave up meat because they think it's morally wrong to eat flesh or someone who doesn't want to eat anything unnatural," Kerry Bennett of the UK Vegetarian Society told the Guardian newspaper.
How regulators might react is also unclear.
The US Food and Drug Administration has asked companies not to market any products that involve cloned animals until their safety has been evaluated.