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Lab rats

(article, Culinate staff)

Growing meat in a lab isn't a new idea, or even a new process; the sticking points are taste (the stuff's just not very appealing yet) and expense (still prohibitive). 

But as Michael Specter points out in his recent New Yorker report on lab meat (and an accompanying podcast), more and more money and effort is being expended on producing in-vitro flesh, for a variety of reasons:

bq. Teams are forming at universities around the world. Some are interested primarily in animal welfare, others in regenerative medicine; still others see lab meat as a potential solution to an environmental crisis. They all share a goal, however: to grow muscle with the use of animals, and to produce enough of it to be sold in grocery stores.

Cheap, lab-produced meat could address a number of serious problems, ranging from human health (eating factory-farmed animals laced with drugs and disease isn't good for the animals or their eaters) to planetary health (getting rid of factory farms would reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and water pollution, among other benefits). And of course, live animals themselves would no longer suffer tortured existences on factory farms.

But the very idea of lab-grown meat can be a tough sell; as Specter writes, "The moral and ethical issues that would accompany the use of lab-grown beef may ultimately prove more intractable than the scientific issues."

Some vegetarians and vegans support in-vitro protein as a way to prevent animal cruelty, while others believe that eating meat in any form is wrong. And meat-eaters — even those who cringe at the thought of what actually happens when an animal is slaughtered — may never be comfortable with the concept:

bq. How we grow, prepare, and eat our food is a deeply emotional issue, and lab-grown meat raises powerful questions about what most people see as the boundaries of nature and the basic definitions of life. Can something be called chicken or pork if it was born in a flask and produced in a vat? Questions like that have rarely been asked and have never been answered.