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Fake meat’s increasingly real future

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  • Alex@FARM
    http://www.salon.com/2013/08/22/saving_animals_from_factory_farms_fake_meats_increasingly_real_future/singleton/print/ Salon - Thursday, Aug 22, 2013 Saving
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      Salon - Thursday, Aug 22, 2013

      Saving animals from factory farms: Fake meat�s increasingly real future

      Excerpted from "Republic of Outsiders"

      When I first heard about those I consider to be animal rights futurists,
      they seemed like something out of the film �Soylent Green� or perhaps
      �Frankenstein� � and, in a way, they sort of were.

      Vladimir Mironov is a scientist focused on creating cultured meat, a
      �meat� produced in a lab from animal cells, not from a real live
      creature, in a process in which no more than one animal is harmed. It�s
      about as far from earthy nature as you can get, yet it could be the very
      solution to the problem of killing for meat that so many animal rights
      activists and vegetarians seek.

      It�s true that you initially need a few muscle cells from a cow.
      Hypothetically, tons of meat could then be grown and harvested using
      that cow�s cells. The process requires animal muscle cells called
      myoblasts, which must be taken directly from an animal, which is why at
      least one must die. Magnified, myoblasts resemble caviar. When they fuse
      together, they create skeletal muscle fibers, the kind we use to walk
      and to exercise. Out of these fibers, ultimately, meat could be created.
      If the cells are grown in the proper medium using the necessary
      technology, which involves a five-story bioreactor, they could make
      enough meat to feed America, Mironov says.

      With Jason Gaverick Matheny, Mironov co-founded New Harvest, a group
      that promotes work on artificial meat (one of the New York Times
      Magazine�s ideas of the year for 2005). Mironov and fellow scientists
      are using new technologies in order to give humans the food they desire
      without harming huge numbers of animals. If cultured meat is ever made
      in large enough quantities to meet the market demands of millions of
      people, it will constitute the biggest step forward ever for animal
      protection advocates. For those who want to eat animal flesh, cultured
      meat promises them a satisfying meal that is not made from a
      creature with a mind or a life. These activists� and scientists� great,
      elusive hope is that animals will no longer die on factory farms.

      The idea was that if you bit into a burger made of artificial meat, you
      might not even notice the difference between its taste and texture and
      that of a grilled hamburger made from beef. PETA had offered a $1
      million prize to any scientist or engineer who could produce
      commercially viable quantities of artificial meat grown in a lab from
      animal cells. As Bruce Friedrich, formerly vice president of policy for
      PETA and now senior director for strategic initiatives at Farm
      Sanctuary, put it to me, �Growing a corpse in a lab, to me, is less
      aesthetically revolting than eating a corpse of an animal that once
      lived. That animal had been mired in misery at a farm and then
      slaughtered in unhappy adolescence.� (The prize is somewhat ironic,
      since some food scientists regard PETA and its ilk as lab-hating
      enemies: PETA was sued by the Huntingdon Life Sciences lab after PETA
      sent in an undercover worker and then publicly released the results.)
      The contest�s catch: the winner must be able to make enough artificial
      meat to market the product in at least ten U.S. states at a competitive

      In 2012, outside of San Francisco, Patrick Brown, a vegan professor at
      Stanford University, was also trying to cook up both artificial meat and
      dairy products in a lab. Like Mironov, his main goal was to �make a food
      for people who are comfortable eating meat and who want to continue
      eating meat. I want to reduce the human footprint on this planet by
      50%,� he told the Guardian. Unlike Mironov, he was trying to use plant
      material to create simulated meat, rather than drawing on animal cells.

      Mironov worked alone. Born in a small town near Moscow, he conformed to
      the clich� of the Russian scientist: when I met with him in 2008, he was
      a fifty-five-year-old chain-smoker, a tall, bearish man with a loud
      laugh, a warmly nihilistic demeanor, and tobacco-stained teeth
      surrounded by a small gray beard. At his lab at the Basic Sciences
      Building at the University of South Carolina in Charleston, Mironov
      showed me a paper on which he had drawn animal muscle cells, a
      bioreactor that can turn these cells into meat, and a hamburger with
      arrows running between them. While we talked, he got a message on his
      answering machine about five fetal porcine hearts he needed for his
      experiments. Such is his life.

      Mironov�s preferred neologism for cultured meat was Charlam, �Charleston
      artificial meat.� He said the name gives the would-be meat what he
      called �the charm and dignity� that is its due. (A scientist can dream.)

      What if real meat didn�t come from an animal? It�s a radical notion. For
      him, the ambition to create it springs from a desire to solve a
      scientific problem and participate in a revolution rather than from an
      ethical principle. He had carnivorous eating habits to rival those of
      any red-blooded Russian; when we met, he boasted of the quality of the
      cut of beef he had eaten the previous night. But for those eagerly
      awaiting cultivated meat � who imagine we might split the difference
      between consumer pleasure and consumer guilt � affordable Charlam is a
      possible answer.

      Making artificial meat isn�t cheap; to make the cells blossom into
      savory burgers would cost millions. As Mironov put it, �The artificial
      meat hamburger is more expensive than gold, $5,000 or so.� Others have
      estimated that it may cost as much as $250,000 to develop a single
      burger, at least until it can be mass-produced. And there are
      significant taste challenges, for flesh is a complex mesh of muscle and
      gristle whose distinct flavor and texture have proved hard to fake.

      At Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands, tissue
      engineers supported by the Dutch government have already designed
      bioreactors that can make small-animal muscle tissue grow swiftly, but
      all agree that we are just at the beginning. Mironov, for one, wasn�t
      sure he would see mass-produced, widely available, affordable artificial
      meat in his lifetime due to lack of funding, although a Dutch artificial
      meat scientist has put the time frame closer to ten years. Before it
      reaches the mass market, Mironov suggested that Charlam might first be
      sold at a �food bar for Hollywood.� An exclusive bar could offer a
      mixture of artificial meat, nuts, and perhaps kinesin, a protein that he
      said was a weight-reducing ingredient found in cockroaches and
      shellfish. He imagined film stars of the future taking a special liking
      to it.

      When I checked in on him in 2012, his lab at the University of South
      Carolina had been shut down and his project had been suspended
      indefinitely, due to a confidential dispute with colleagues. He was
      working in Brazil. His �cultured meat� project had been transferred to
      the University of Missouri at Columbia, where a PETA-funded researcher,
      Nicholas Genovese, now presided.

      Eating artificial meat doesn�t necessarily mean that we see ourselves as
      animals, however. This is where the animal rights futurists and animal
      rights purists cleave. The purists use the phrases human animals and
      nonhuman animals, underlining the similarities rather than differences
      between animals and humans, stressing closeness and reciprocity. We must
      see animals as us, they say. The most truly radical challenge of animal
      rights is getting people to see that they are not substantively
      different from animals.

      /Copyright � 2013 by Alissa Quart. This excerpt originally appeared in
      �Republic of Outsiders
      The Power of Amateurs, Dreamers, and Rebels� published by the New Press.
      Reprinted here with permission./

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