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Biotech The Almighty Buck

PETA Offers X-Prize for Artificial Meat 1130

Bored MPA writes "The Times reports that PETA is to announce plans on Monday for a $1 million prize to the "first person to come up with a method to produce commercially viable quantities of in vitro meat at competitive prices by 2012." PETA founder Ingrid Newkirk addressed the controversial decision by saying, "We don't mind taking uncomfortable positions if it means that fewer animals suffer." An unexpected and pragmatic move from an organization that has a strong base of support from pro-organic vegans." The question I always had about this- if they can take one sample from one animal and clone it in a vat and feed this world, will the vegans be ok with that?
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PETA Offers X-Prize for Artificial Meat

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  • Hmm... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 21, 2008 @09:05AM (#23141282)
    I think I've got a winning idea, thanks to this film [amazon.com]. Hopefully those PETA folks won't ask too many questions. Then things might get... unpleasant.
    • Instead of a movie they need to watch cable. Force them to watch the Discovery Channel and Animal Planet nature shows.

      If they are at all awake they will either realize that the whole world is designed around the idea of one thing eating another. (Or they might decide that God screwed up as they watch the lion take down that gazelle...)

      Remember if they weren't intended to be eaten they wouldn't have been made out of meat!
      • by aplusjimages ( 939458 ) on Monday April 21, 2008 @10:01AM (#23142560) Journal

        Remember if they weren't intended to be eaten they wouldn't have been made out of meat!
        Aren't you made of meat? Also not all creatures are designed to eat meat. And factory farming is far from natural.
        • by Applekid ( 993327 ) on Monday April 21, 2008 @10:05AM (#23142666)
          "Are you classified as human?"
          "Negative, I am a meat popcicle."
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by blakestah ( 91866 )
          Factory farming is a natural progression of human culture. We analyze our problems (steak is expensive and difficult to provide on a larger scale). We engineer and deploy solutions (farming).

          Without agriculture, humans would never have developped any modern science. Only scientific applications to agriculture freed up enough cultural labor to apply science outside the realm of feeding everyone.

          We ate meat before agriculture, and we eat meat now. And every last one of the vegans posting here (and even Ingri
      • by nostriluu ( 138310 ) on Monday April 21, 2008 @11:19AM (#23144396) Homepage
        I totally agree with you. I also consider slavery and torture to be completely natural. How about you?

        Totally unnatural - sending spaceships to the moon, or food cultivation (that habit that creates reliable food sources so you don't need handy scavengers like chickens and pigs, until we mass produced animal farming with buildings full of thousands of creatures packed in shit).

        Those shows you are watching are highlighting certain aspects of animal existence. How about you go to the zoo and watch how the monkeys act naturally all day, and do a report on how we should be acting. Or look in an aquarium at the natural creatures and tell us how we should be acting, and emulate it yourself.

        Sorry, I just find people who use your kind of logic a bit simple, but I guess if you want to justify your lifestyle and continue stuffing dead animals in your mouth three times a day, backed by completely natural factory farms and a host of ghouls who enjoy working in meat packing plants (I've known a couple of them) then just do it.

        Personally (and I know you couldn't care less ;)) I stopped eating meat 8 years ago because I got bored of it. There is a whole world of other foods to explore. I also find the non thinking attitude about food to be disturbing, like I was a beef, chicken, or pork eating automaton. All the potential environmental, ethical and health reasons are just nifty bonuses to me, and I really think if we freed all the cows, chickens and pigs it would quite annoying.

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by Belial6 ( 794905 )
          "Sorry, I just find people who use your kind of logic a bit simple, but I guess if you want to justify your lifestyle and continue stuffing dead animals in your mouth three times a day, backed by completely natural factory farms and a host of ghouls who enjoy working in meat packing plants (I've known a couple of them) then just do it."

          Talk about people being simple. Another vegetarian trying to take the high ground when their kind murders trillions of the most defenseless life forms on the planet, but i
      • by kwerle ( 39371 ) <kurt@CircleW.org> on Monday April 21, 2008 @11:42AM (#23144932) Homepage Journal
        The reason I don't eat meat is because of the way food animals are treated while they are alive - not because they are animals. There are plenty of vegetarians who take this stance.

        I recommend any of the documentaries on the farming process in america.

        If meat-in-a-vat became economically feasible, there are plenty of vegetarians who would eat it.

        (details: it is easier for me, personally, to say "no meat" than to be picky about which meat I'm eating and where it is from, etc. It's just the easy line for me to draw)
      • by Rei ( 128717 ) on Monday April 21, 2008 @11:49AM (#23145110) Homepage
        Oy, where to start with this one?

        If they are at all awake they will either realize that the whole world is designed around the idea of one thing eating another.

        1) Simply untrue. By your logic, autotrophs don't exist. Unless you call absorbing light, hydrogen sulfide, methane, or whatnot "one thing eating another".
        2) Moral equivalency. You are declaring eating any form of life as equivalent to any other. The ~99%** of people who find the concept of raising humans for meat abhorrent would disagree with you.

        ** -- I did specify 99% because on occasion, I have found people who find nothing wrong with this. Thankfully, they're rare.

        Let's focus a little more on #2. What is so abhorrent about eating other humans to most people? Usually, it's some variant on the destruction of the self. Call it a soul, call it a conscience, self-awareness, whatever you will. Raising a sentient being and deliberately killing them for their meat when you don't need to is generally seen as abhorrent.

        So, what's sentience? One ancient standard is the ability to reflect on one's own thoughts. Well, that standard certainly doesn't hold up as an argument against eating meat now that we know that even rats do that [sciencedirect.com]. So what's the cutoff point? Problem solving or reasoning ability? Chimps, depending on the task, often have the reasoning ability of a 4-6 year old. Parrots, 2-6 year old, depending on the task. Pigs, same general range. None of them have anywhere near the sort of *communication* skill that humans have, but communication is hardly a reason not to eat something, now isn't it?

        From my perspective, the simpler the mind, the less of a moral issue there is. Sure, even plants have at least some forms of stimulus response; every cell in existence does. But none of it approaches the complexity in external stimulus-processing as a neural net. A change in light may cause guard cells to open or close a stoma, but you're just looking at a predictable biochemical cascade. That stoma will never, for example, "learn" not to keep opening and closing if you shine a flashlight on and off at it. It is this spark of intelligence in animals, particularly higher animals, that I find tragic to snuff out needlessly.

        In a choice between the life of a pig and a human, which do I side with? The human, undeniably, indisputably, every last time. I don't fault in the least, for example, innuit cultures that traditionally survived on sealing; what choice, exactly, do they have? But in this world, I have all of the choices under the sun. I can choose to eat whatever the heck I want. Having that choice, I eat a vegetarian diet.

        Of course, I know very well that not everyone will agree with me on this. But that's hardly the only reason. Most people have no clue how extreme of an impact eating meat has on the environment. A staggering, mind-boggling big [sciencedirect.com] impact. 1/3 of the world's non-ice-covered land is dedicated, directly or indirectly, to growing meat. Despite programs to abate it, we're losing 1,250 square miles of rainforest in Brazil per month to cattle land. Meat growing releases more greenhouse gasses than transportation (and no, we're not just talking about methane from ruminants; the energy aspect is the big portion, since it takes many pounds of grain to produce a pound of meat), plus huge amounts of water pollution (3/4 of the water pollution in the US, for example), as well as breeding antibiotic resistance.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by morari ( 1080535 )
        You can argue that the food chain exists for that reason, and that might debunk a lot of teenage girls who think that not eating cute critters is a good way of being different among their highschool class. However, the problem that many vegans have is not that animals are consumed, but that they are literally tortured in the modern commercial farm.

        No creature deserves to be cooped up a small cage, kept in filth, injected with cocktails of growth hormones, and then thoughtlessly killed before one another.

    • Re:Hmm... (Score:4, Interesting)

      by trolltalk.com ( 1108067 ) on Monday April 21, 2008 @09:58AM (#23142472) Homepage Journal

      You can have my soylent green when you pry it from my cold dead ... ummm, on second thought ...

      So, PETA's offering a million bucks. Chump change compared to what it's worth.

      Anyone remember the sci-fi story with "chicken little" - that one piece of repeatedly cloned, vat-grown chicken flesh that was made into chicken breast, leg, etc.? If they could throw in some Octopus genes, everyone'd get a drumstick!

      • The Space Merchants (Score:3, Informative)

        by rpjs ( 126615 )
        By Pohl and Kornbluth if memory serves (can't be asked to look it up). Corporations control everything, including the government. Invasive advertising everywhere. That's 2/3. If Peta succeeds it'll be a full house!
    • Animal apocalypse (Score:3, Insightful)

      by williamhb ( 758070 )
      It's not so mad to compare it to those dystopian futures like Soylent Green: PETA seem to be under the strange impression that if artificially grown meat was invented then all the farmers in the world would set their cows and chickens free to live wild with a cheer and a wave. In economic reality, however, if cheap artificial meat was invented, more and more farmers would very quickly send all their cattle to be slaughtered as no longer economic to maintain. It would be the animal apocalypse.
  • by Mazrim_Ta ( 129987 ) on Monday April 21, 2008 @09:05AM (#23141286)
    Tofu? I'll take my prize in small bills please.
    • by HeroreV ( 869368 ) on Monday April 21, 2008 @10:39AM (#23143514) Homepage
      In vitro meat is not fake meat, just like cultured pearls are not fake pearls. In vitro meat is produced through the same cellular process, with the same animal DNA. Anybody who did 2 minutes of research would know that in vitro meat (aka cultured meat) is never called fake meat.
  • by eldavojohn ( 898314 ) * <eldavojohn AT gmail DOT com> on Monday April 21, 2008 @09:06AM (#23141316) Journal

    The question I always had about this- if they can take one sample from one animal and clone it in a vat and feed this world, will the vegans be ok with that?
    Are they cloning the sample or the animal? If it's just a sample piece of tissue, I would imagine most would be fine with it. If they are cloning the entire animal, it's still a physically separate organism with a central nervous system that is attached to a cerebrum. It's still feeling pain so I would think all Vegans would be opposed to it.
  • hmm (Score:5, Funny)

    by strack ( 1051390 ) on Monday April 21, 2008 @09:06AM (#23141332)
    I like PETA, but I couldn't eat a whole one.
  • Vegans != Hive mind. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Whiney Mac Fanboy ( 963289 ) * <whineymacfanboy@gmail.com> on Monday April 21, 2008 @09:07AM (#23141340) Homepage Journal

    The question I always had about this- if they can take one sample from one animal and clone it in a vat and feed this world, will the vegans be ok with that?

    Just like people who comment on slashdot, vegans have a wider variety of opinions & reasons to arrive at their dietary choice. Trying to ask them collectively what they think about something like this is useless.

    It would be like asking the slashdot crowd "would you buy Microsoft products if they open sourced them"

    For those who prefer car analogies, it would be like asking
  • Silly. (Score:5, Funny)

    by jpellino ( 202698 ) on Monday April 21, 2008 @09:08AM (#23141368)
    If they're vegans for more than one narrow reason (which they seem to be) this will not make them happy.

    I can't recall the comedian, but someone once noted "Why do vegetarians need to make their food (tofu pups, veggieburgers) look like meat they simply wont eat? You don't see monks keeping blow-up dolls just hanging around."

  • While... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Icarus1919 ( 802533 ) on Monday April 21, 2008 @09:09AM (#23141380)
    While I applaud the intent here, I gotta say that if people have a problem with genetically modified vegetables, then meat grown in a laboratory will DEFINITELY not appeal to them. This would be a classic case of a concept that people will find instinctively suspicious and disgusting.
  • by TheMeuge ( 645043 ) on Monday April 21, 2008 @09:09AM (#23141390)
    Maybe it's just me, but I think that movements such as PETA are a sign of deep issues within our society. We have people who are so completely satiated and content with their lives, that they are willing to spend vast amounts of their time, effort, and money, in order to achieve something so truly inane.

    We have hunger, diseases, war... and all these people want to do is to get everybody to stop eating animals. Considering that it was likely the consumption of large amounts of animal protein that allowed humanity to evolve rather rapidly in the last stage of our evolution, I find PETA's goals rather ironic.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by CRCulver ( 715279 )
      I think it's highly ironic that certain supporters of PETA, quick to condemn the taking of innocent animal life, get riled up when they see people seeking to outlaw abortion. There's this weird paradox in the animal rights movement, especially in the work of Peter Singer, that animal life is elevated to sacredness but certain human lives are lowered to complete expendability.
      • by Reality Master 201 ( 578873 ) on Monday April 21, 2008 @09:28AM (#23141804) Journal
        That's a commonly held misconception. They're in favor of ethical treatment of animals, which for them precludes farming. PETA actually offers free euthanasia for sick animals for people that can't afford to have it done by vets.

        As for abortion, it's highly ironic that many of those who get riled up by killing of a pre-human lump of cells are just fine with their government getting into a non-defensive war and driving up food prices around the world through it's subsidy of corn based ethanol. There's this weird paradox in the pro-life movement that unborn life is elevated to sacredness but actual humans living on earth already who have memories and consciousness can be chucked aside without protest.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by CRCulver ( 715279 )

          That's a commonly held misconception. They're in favor of ethical treatment of animals, which for them precludes farming.

          It's not a commonly held misconception. Singer's weird dichotomy between "animal life = inviolable" and "newborns/the retarded/the invalid = expendable" is treated in any undergraduate ethics course.

          PETA actually offers free euthanasia for sick animals for people that can't afford to have it done by vets.

          Euthanasia which is done in a way to be painless, while a certain utilitarian

  • by Lord Byron II ( 671689 ) on Monday April 21, 2008 @09:09AM (#23141392)
    It depends on why they're vegan. If it is to stop animal cruelty, then vat-o-meat should be fine. If it for health reasons, then vat-o-meat will have just as much fat and cholesterol as the real stuff.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Vellmont ( 569020 )

      If it for health reasons

      Health reasons? There's plenty of meat that's quite healthy for you. Most fish is low in saturated fat and cholesterol. Chicken is pretty OK. Buffalo tastes very similar to beef, but has lower saturated fat. Vegans are vegans for political reasons. These are people that don't eat gummi bears because it contains ground up bones, and don't wear anything that has leather in it. I've heard of extreme wack-jobs that won't eat honey because we've enslaved the bees. It ain't just ab
    • by R2.0 ( 532027 ) on Monday April 21, 2008 @09:30AM (#23141846)
      "vat-o-meat will have just as much fat and cholesterol as the real stuff."

      Actually, probably not. As I understand it, all the techniques of "culturing" cells are directed toward making all the cells the same - if there are different types of cells in the culture, it is considered a failure. So "cultured meat" would be ALL muscle cells, with no fat cells or connective tissue. Which, while pleasing the health conscious, would be a culinary disaster - picture the toughest, driest steak on the planet.

      One solution would be to culture genetically engineered fat cells with little bad cholesterol, and then grind it in with the cultured meat. So the choices would be hamburgers and sausages that probably taste worse than tofu, or real "once had hooves" meat.

      I'm thinking that prize will remain unclaimed for a long time.
  • by kinabrew ( 1053930 ) on Monday April 21, 2008 @09:10AM (#23141406) Journal
    I was a vegetarian for nine years, and only started eating meat again last year, for health reasons(only chicken, since I hate the taste of all other meat)

    If meat can be grown that doesn't have a central nervous system and so can't feel pain, I would feel much better about eating what little meat I do eat.
  • by Baldrson ( 78598 ) * on Monday April 21, 2008 @09:11AM (#23141432) Homepage Journal
    While it is laudable that more companies are sponsoring prize competitions, greater care must be taken when specifying things like "cost" or, as in the case of the Progressive Automotive X-Prize [progressiv...xprize.org] being "production capable", etc. That's why in my specification of the O-Prize [geocities.com], which substitutes vegan omega-3 oils for fish oils, I avoided specifying those things. Rather, I just guaranteed a monthly market of a certain dollar amount, with sales going to the lowest bidder:


    The O-Prize is designed to realize the great potential of oil from algae [unh.edu] with the lowest risk over the shortest time.

    The potential of algae oil is to, in stages:

    1) Enhance neurological development via nutritional supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids and,
    2) Provide an abundant renewable source of green or environmentally friendly fuel oil.

    A fixed dollar amount is withdrawn from the prize fund each month to purchase algae oil from the lowest price source(s) certified for the target market. That quantity of algae oil is then resold to the target market and the funds are added to the prize fund. When the lowest price certified sources can compete with the target market, that stage of the O-Prize has finished.

    The O-Prize is designed to let algae cultivation techniques mature in two stages, building both technology and popular support for both environmentally friendly and humanitarian purposes.
  • Probably not ... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by YeeHaW_Jelte ( 451855 ) on Monday April 21, 2008 @09:14AM (#23141482) Homepage
    "The question I always had about this- if they can take one sample from one animal and clone it in a vat and feed this world, will the vegans be ok with that?"

    They're not very rational. They'll probably demand you release the sample from its captivity.

    All kidding aside, I'm a veggie myself and have a hard time being sympathetic to the vegan cause -- it's just so unrealistic.

    Free farm animals will only result in the demise of the particular species ... ever seen a farm pig or a farm cow in the wild?

    Current biological thinking is that domesticated animals were drawn into human habitat because their own habitat was taken over by more fit animals. Humans simply domesticated these animals, but otherwise they wouldn't have stood a chance in the wild. Following this reasoning, releasing farm animals would just condemn them to starvation, a horrible death.

    Don't get me wrong, I'm strongly opposed to using farm animals as an industrial product, as this is what is common in bioindustry at the moment, but we're in symbiosis with these species ... freeing them is not the answer. Treating them well and with respect is.
  • If scientists are swiping there ideas from Torchwood episodes [wikipedia.org] nowadays, they'd better be prepared to start shagging each other and coming back from the dead on a regular basis as well.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      If scientists are swiping there ideas from Torchwood episodes

      It seems that Torchwood's writers aren't above using other's ideas to good benefit. The creature in that episode was suspiciously like Chicken Little [technovelgy.com] from Fred Pohl and Cyril M Kornbluth's The Space Merchants.

  • by QuantumG ( 50515 ) * <qg@biodome.org> on Monday April 21, 2008 @09:17AM (#23141542) Homepage Journal

    But, Ms. Newkirk said, the decision to sponsor a prize caused "a near civil war in our office," since so many PETA members are repulsed by the thought of eating animal tissue, even if no animals are killed.
    I think you mean "holy war".

    Other than that, yeah, good show.. I'm a big fan of growing food in vats instead of animals on grain and parts of other animals.

    For a start, it makes real permanent space stations all that more feasible.
  • by lobiusmoop ( 305328 ) on Monday April 21, 2008 @09:21AM (#23141646) Homepage
    Molly and Armitage ate in silence, while Case sawed shakily
    at his steak, reducing it to uneaten bite-sized fragments, which
    he pushed around in the rich sauce, finally abandoning the
    whole thing.
              "Jesus," Molly said, her own plate empty, "gimme that.
    You know what this costs?" She took his plate. 'They gotta
    raise a whole animal for years and then they kill it. This isn't
    vat stuff." She forked a mouthful up and chewed.
  • A real question (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ciaohound ( 118419 ) on Monday April 21, 2008 @09:27AM (#23141796)
    Back in January, Hallmark Meat Packing got caught slaughtering sick animals, resulting in the largest meat recall in US history. Some of the animals slaughtered couldn't stand on their own feet.

    What will we test to determine "fit to consume" when meat is grown in a vat?
  • yes (Score:5, Insightful)

    by onemorehour ( 162028 ) * on Monday April 21, 2008 @09:29AM (#23141838)
    As a vegan, I can at least speak for myself: the answer is definitely "yes."

    Veganism is neither irrational nor difficult to understand; if you're making an animal suffer unnecessarily, vegans are against it. It's amazing to me how such a simple position seems to confuse people.
  • SO.. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by apodyopsis ( 1048476 ) on Monday April 21, 2008 @09:34AM (#23141950)

    can they alter the meat as well? less fat? more protein? extra vitamins? or can large corporations make them more addictive?

    "buy your McBurger, now with the latest McD meat profiling taste and additives"

  • by originalhack ( 142366 ) on Monday April 21, 2008 @09:54AM (#23142384)

    Skum-skimming wasn't hard to learn. You got up at dawn. You gulped a breakfast sliced not long ago from Chicken Little and washed it down with Coffiest. You put on your coveralls and took the cargo net up to your tier. In blazing noon from sunrise to sunset you walked your acres of shallow tanks crusted with algae. If you walked slowly, every thirty seconds or so you spotted a patch at maturity, bursting with yummy carbohydrates. You skimmed the patch with your skimmer and slung it down the well, where it would be baled, or processed into glucose to feed Chicken Little, who would be sliced and packed to feed people from Baffinland to Little America. Every hour you could drink from your canteen and take a salt tablet. Every two hours you could take five minutes. At sunset you turned in your coveralls and went to dinner --- more slices from Chicken Little --- and then you were on your own. You could talk, you could read, you could go into trance before the dayroom hypnoteleset, you could shop, you could pick fights, you could drive yourself crazy thinking of what might have been, you could go to sleep.
    In The Space Merchants (Frederick Pohl & C. M. Kornbluth, 1952), Chicken Little was a huge amorphous blob of growing meat that fed all of society. Much of the rest of Pohl's vision has become eerily true, consumers.
  • HHGTG (Score:3, Funny)

    by TheLink ( 130905 ) on Monday April 21, 2008 @10:07AM (#23142694) Journal
    How about like the HHGTG: Restaurant at the End of the Universe.

    Instead of artificial meat, you breed a cow that _wants_ to be eaten, and will indicate so. :)
  • by Ralph Spoilsport ( 673134 ) * on Monday April 21, 2008 @10:28AM (#23143218) Journal
    The planet has almost seven billion people on it. That's a lot of meat, and we wouldn't be harming sweet little animals by eating them. I think we should start with the Americans. They're fat and lazy, so they're easy to catch - kind of like dodo birds without the feathers.

    They'll fry up really nicely. And then we can start on the Chinese and the Indians. There's lots of them, so that's a herd that'll take a long time to cull out. In fact, we may never even need to eat the bony butts of east africa.

    Just a modest proposal is all I'm suggesting...


  • Nice idea, but... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Duck of Death ( 189129 ) on Monday April 21, 2008 @10:38AM (#23143510)

    I've often had the same sort of idea - if a cow can take grass, water and energy and make steaks, why shouldn't we be able to do the same thing? Recently, however, I've decided that even if they figured out how to do it tomorrow, it would not be to our benefit. It would end up being like baby formula - a product that's been around for decades, keeps getting tweaked to add this or that nutrient or remove or reduce undesirable components, yet still can't compare to breast milk. Or it will end up being like margarine, touted for decades as healthier than butter until they discovered that trans fats in the margarine were much worse for you than the saturated fats in the butter.

    If they could grow meat, they would be unable to resist the temptation to fiddle with it. Rather that simply duplicate the meat from a grass fed, non-corn finished animal, they would reduce the cholesterol, boost the omega-3's (or whatever omega is good for you right now), add beta-carotene, and fortify it with vitamin C and calcium ("a full day's supply in every burger"). Then, ten years later, there will be a report that eating too much factory meat causes liver failure. The food scientists will tweak the recipe, declare it safe and healthy and we're off to the races again.

    I do think they'll figure out how to do it (the cow can do it, after all). I just think the food industry has a very consistent record that demonstrates their inability to improve on or even match what mother nature can do, despite all their claims that they can.


Our business in life is not to succeed but to continue to fail in high spirits. -- Robert Louis Stevenson