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Behind the Hype of 'Lab-Grown' Meat (gizmodo.com) 342

In an exclusive report via Gizmodo, Ryan F. Mandelbaum discusses the hype surrounding "lab-grown" meat: Some folks have big plans for your future. They want you -- a burger-eatin', chicken-finger-dippin' American -- to buy their burgers and nuggets grown from stem cells. One day, meat eaters and vegans might even share their hypothetical burger. That burger will be delicious, environmentally friendly, and be indistinguishable from a regular burger. And they assure you the meat will be real meat, just not ground from slaughtered animals. That future is on the minds of a cadre of Silicon Valley startup founders and at least one nonprofit in the world of cultured meat. Some are sure it will heal the environmental woes caused by American agriculture while protecting the welfare of farm animals. But these future foods' promises are hypothetical, with many claims based on a futurist optimism in line with Silicon Valley's startup culture. Cultured meat is still in its research and development phase and must overcome massive hurdles before hitting market. A consumer-ready product does not yet exist and its progress is heavily shrouded by intellectual property claims and sensationalist press. Today, cultured meat is a lot of hype and no consumer product.

"Much of what happens in the world of cultured meat is done for the sake of PR," Ben Wurgaft, an MIT-based post-doctoral researcher writing a book on cultured meat, told Gizmodo. Wurgaft finds it hard to believe many predictions about cultured meat's future, including the promise of an FDA-approved consumer product within a year. The truth is that only a few successful prototypes have yet been shown to the public, including a NASA-funded goldfish-based protein in the early 2000s, and a steak grown from frog cells in 2003 for an art exhibit. More have come recently: Mark Post unveiled a $330,000 cultured burger in 2013, startup Memphis Meats has produced cultured meatballs and poultry last and this year, and Hampton Creek plans to have a product reveal dinner by the end of the year.

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Behind the Hype of 'Lab-Grown' Meat

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  • by 0100010001010011 ( 652467 ) on Tuesday August 15, 2017 @02:11AM (#55015123)

    When have the initial versions of a product not been hard to produce, expensive and limited?

    "I think there is a world market for maybe five computers"

    • "I think there is a world market for maybe five computers"

      On the other hand, back when he did said that, the total market of then-era computer was indeed probably around five.
      There's more than half a century of R&D between him and the modern-day ubiquitous computer in everybody's pocket (smartphones).

      Having a start-up promising within year to sell vat-grown-burgers at the current state of research and development...
      Is like a start-up promising to put man on the moon by the end of the decade... back when mongols used their first gun-powder based rockets (and we [wikipedia.org]

  • by cybe ( 92183 ) on Tuesday August 15, 2017 @02:22AM (#55015163)
    This was a one-sided hit piece if I ever saw one. What's with all the lobby-driven drivel increasingly being accepted to Slashdot?
    • by arth1 ( 260657 )

      This was a one-sided hit piece if I ever saw one. What's with all the lobby-driven drivel increasingly being accepted to Slashdot?

      The owners not seeing enough revenue flow, and trying to hike it up by trolling the audience, I think. Riling up the readers cause more posts, which is Slashdot's only real asset.

    • *cough*
      https://soylentnews.org/ [soylentnews.org]
      'scuse me.

  • Given all the people still wary of eating GMOs or anything 'artificial', there will be a large demand for animal meat even if this becomes cheaper. It'll be like HFCS vs. sugar, or vanillin vs vanilla.
    Personally I'd try it out of curiosity, but I can't shake that quote from Judge Dredd: "Eat recycled food: good for the environment, ok for you." There's something depressingly dystopian/cyberpunk about eating fake meat, conceptually, that reminds me of how in "Do androids dream of electric sheep?" people only

    • people only own electronic pets because there aren't the resources to support living ones.

      people only own pets because they don't have the emotional resources to associate with humans

      • A dog only shits on my rug, not my entire life.

      • by dwywit ( 1109409 )

        You should talk to an ex of mine.

        "Not a maternal bone in my body", but she always had a pet dog, and then she ended up breeding horses.

        Seriously - one pet died, and she had another within days.

        • I don't blame people for not being able to deal with other people — I have the same problem. It's ironic and even odd, because I am actually at least better than average at interfacing with people in a professional context, but on a personal level I have all kinds of blind spots due to a lacking upbringing.

          We "have" a cat in our home. She was hired to do rodent control, but she has become a part of our household. Throughout most of my life, I have been violently allergic to cats. When coupled with the

          • by dwywit ( 1109409 )

            I think it's great that you've overcome an allergy and formed a bond with another creature, even if she does prefer to show you her ass :-) I have yet to conquer seasonal rhinitis (hay fever).

            I have children, and they shit me sometimes, but I like them.

            My preferred animals at the moment are the magpies and currawongs that visit for food. There's definitely a brief moment in eye contact when I leave some food nearby, and they come to collect it, look at me, and fly off.

            Some days I'd prefer to never have to d

    • by dbIII ( 701233 )

      Given all the people still wary of eating GMOs or anything 'artificial', there will be a large demand for animal meat even if this becomes cheaper

      I'm not so sure. The factory grown fungus made into highly processed food, Quorn, has really taken off with vegetarians and many people you'd think would shy away from anything artificial.

      Pork, chicken and farmed fish are not likely to go away any time soon but beef could end up being a luxury item in a decade or two.

  • I'm not holding my breath for this one.
  • by sheramil ( 921315 ) on Tuesday August 15, 2017 @03:08AM (#55015281)

    I'd say vat-grown meat is closer to being a reality than AI, cheap fusion or quantum pretty much anything, and this swipe reeks of the desperation of an industry that has just seen the terrible threat and is trying to spin against it already.

  • by n329619 ( 4901461 ) on Tuesday August 15, 2017 @03:41AM (#55015379)

    It was hyped as it was a clear defined successes in the lab-grown meat research. Unlike other startups or researches, they completed the lab-grown meat research. If the research was never completed or no product was ever produced, then fine it was all PR. But they did create a lab-grown meat for consumption. One luck guy did ate the burger and it was extremely expensive to make.

    It was fair PR based on actual event and hyped for the actual 'potential'.

  • by hagnat ( 752654 ) on Tuesday August 15, 2017 @03:43AM (#55015395) Homepage

    Meat is more than just a combination of cells. Its the result of the how the animal from were it was cut lived and died.

    You have different cuts of meat, based on the muscle of the animal were its cut from. Depending on the animal, how it was raised, and how it was killed, a piece of meat can have different texture and flavour that the same cut from a different animal, raised in different environments.

    • Ok, and for the 99% of people eating McDonalds hamburgers that don't care about any of that lab-grown meat can be a viable option.
    • True! I imagine they'll be able to do a fake hamburger more easily than a steak for these reasons.
  • by Bearhouse ( 1034238 ) on Tuesday August 15, 2017 @04:28AM (#55015513)

    Oh FFS; there's nothing wrong with eating meat, especially in moderation and from sustainable sources.
    Over-population in many countries, (who are now moving towards a more meat-intensive diet), intensive & abusive agriculture, over-fishing etc. are the real villains.

    From the fine article:

    "But despite what you may have heard, the evidence as to whether cultured meat is better for the environment is inconclusive. “On the environmental studies, the work that’s been done is very preliminary,” Hampton Creek’s Fischer said. A 2011 study estimated that the product might produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions, but use about the same amount of energy as the European pork industry. One 2015 study found potential environmental benefits in China, but another 2015 estimate found it could use just as much energy as animal-based meats. The common theme is uncertainty."

    So, the financial viability and environmental impact of all this seems most vague at this point.

    • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

      by PoopJuggler ( 688445 )

      there's nothing wrong with eating meat

      Eating it? No. Acquiring it without the enslavement and murder of animals is trickier.

  • Just about any other thing we now use. Seriously this is an anti-vision, anti-progress piece that could be applied to any technology before it became commonplace.

    This has no place on a tech site where people are a bit more "progress friendly" .

  • by CrimsonAvenger ( 580665 ) on Tuesday August 15, 2017 @05:39AM (#55015719)

    Some are sure it will heal the environmental woes caused by American agriculture while protecting the welfare of farm animals.

    Really? If something like vat-grown meat ever takes off, every farm animal in the country will be dead within a few years. Because farmers don't raise cows and pigs and chickens because they enjoy their company, they raise them for income. Once the animals become unsellable, they're going to be exterminated.

    Anyone who tells you otherwise is blowing smoke....

    • Farmers will fight for a while though. They already own all the land and infrastructure for traditional farming and they won't let go of an entire industry that easily. There will be government subsidies, pleas to help the american farmer, lobbying to try to get lab-grown meat classified as "meat substitute" or something.
    • by Gilgaron ( 575091 ) on Tuesday August 15, 2017 @08:15AM (#55016275)
      There'll be artisanal hand raised meat at handsome prices.
    • Some are sure it will heal the environmental woes caused by American agriculture while protecting the welfare of farm animals.

      Really? If something like vat-grown meat ever takes off, every farm animal in the country will be dead within a few years. Because farmers don't raise cows and pigs and chickens because they enjoy their company, they raise them for income. Once the animals become unsellable, they're going to be exterminated.

      Not only that, but I have a sneaking suspicion that vegans may refuse to eat it and backers of this plan are going to be shocked when they do so. On top of that, there are people who have religious objections to eating animal flesh such as Hindus and Buddhists because they believe that doing so makes you a participant in the death of a living creature and gives you bad karma. I'm not a member of those groups so I can't speak for them, but I can certainly guess that some of them may end up having problems

    • There will always be a market for "real" meat, even if/when lab-grown meat becomes a viable solution. Traditional meats will become luxury items (steak, meats used for BBQ (ribs, brisket, etc)), whereas lab-grown meat (once the process has been perfected) will be used in lower-cost products (ground meat, hot dogs, etc).
  • So, lets assume that this lab-meat takes off and in short order we grow all the beef, lamb, pork, & chicken in a factory...

    What do we do with all the cows, sheep, pigs, and chickens that we no longer have a need for?

    Do they become endangered or extinct?

  • . . . refuses to call the "burger" safe for consumption [nypost.com].

    To wit, the ingredient of soy leghemoglobin:

    "arguments presented [by its creators] ... do not establish the safety of soy leghemolgobin for consumption.”

    Interestingly enough, Impossible Foods asked the FDA to STOP the approval process on their cultured meat substitute. [fda.gov]

  • by Subm ( 79417 ) on Tuesday August 15, 2017 @06:53AM (#55015929)

    Jonathan Swift had a modest proposal that could solve environmental problems, animal cruelty, and overpopulation... and provide tasty burgers, or other most delicious nourishing and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricassee, or a ragout.

  • I prefer real meat with antibiotics, hormones and steroids in it.

  • When we start seeing the pushback from established industry players. Soon there will be discussions of "real" meat (meaning raised on a farm rather than in a laboratory). The minute this is price competitive, I can't imagine buying meat from an actual animal.
  • It's all but given that cultured meat will someday be common. That meat will be high-quality without the bacterial/parasitic risks of animal meat, be more consistent and physically indistinguishable from animal meat, and taste great.

    Eventually most countries will ban animal meat, though some will get it through the black market, insisting it's either "more natural than the synthetic crap," or as a perverse status symbol, like safari hunting for sport today.
    • That meat will be high-quality

      Looking at what the food industry has provided so far, we can safely assume it will be very tasty, but poor quality. Quality cost money, and people aren't going to be able to tell the difference, anyway.

  • by jenningsthecat ( 1525947 ) on Tuesday August 15, 2017 @07:51AM (#55016135)

    A consumer-ready product does not yet exist and its progress is heavily shrouded by intellectual property claims...

    I'm sure RMS disapproves of proprietary wetware as much as he disapproves of proprietary software. Let's start an Open Meat movement. LibreChicken, anyone? How about Moo-nix? OpenBSE?

  • It's only a matter of time. How about we just get rid of a whole bunch of humans? Through attrition? OK, fine.
  • Why not Ahi tuna? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 15, 2017 @08:19AM (#55016307)

    It seems to me they are going after the wrong market. The first lab-grown (excuse me, "cultured") meat should be sushi-grade Ahi tuna. Tuna is expensive, over-fished, potentially mercury-laden, and it already looks like it came out of a vat. And people already eat imitation-crab in their California rolls anyway.

  • "protecting the welfare of farm animals" -- there won't be any farm animals. Some will call it "ironic" that cows went extinct after we stopped killing them. Do you think there will be wild cows roaming free? Chickens too?

    "will be delicious, environmentally friendly, and be indistinguishable" -- someone seems to have forgotten the only important adjective: what about nutritious?

    Every time we "take control" over a process, especially a consumer process, we've made things MUCH worse for the environment. H

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