”In April, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals offered $1 million to the first successful candidate to produce a commercially viable chicken product in a laboratory—real chicken, but without killing a chicken.
The idea isn’t just science fiction. In 2005, the Dutch government gave a grant of 1.7 million euros to three universities to pursue “in vitro” meat research in the hope that a commercially acceptable product might come to replace slaughterhouses and feedlots. The basic science draws on the work of tissue engineers who have created skin and cartilage by cultivating stem cells in a growth medium.
There are several technological obstacles to applying this to meat. The most cost-effective growth medium on the market at the moment is made from fetal calf’s blood—hardly animal friendly. And if the new cultivated meat cells are not properly stretched and stimulated—mimicking muscle activity—the resulting product has a stomach-churning consistency that one tissue scientist described as “jelly on fabric.”
Oron Catts, a biologist and artist at the University of Western Australia, grew some small frog steaks in vitro several years ago and set up a performance-art piece where eight people sat down to have them for dinner. Four of the diners spat their portions out. Catts got his steak down, but he has been a vegetarian ever since. Charles Wilson
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