Bovine fetal cells help create meat products without harming animals

Vegan and vegetarian Novocollegeans may soon find a meat alternative besides tofu. A group of scientists at Maastricht University in the Netherlands have recently created muscle tissue with the use of bovine fetal cells, which they hope will someday take the place of rearing and slaughtering animals in the production of meat. BBC News reports that small pieces of muscle are “off white” and “resemble strips of calamari in appearance.” If the meat could be used for global export, the invention of the synthetic meat product could lower the world’s “environmental meat footprint by up to 60 percent.”

For first-year and self-described pescatarian Catherine Turner, the new discovery is “pretty exciting.

“I would totally eat [synthetic meat] because I don’t believe in killing animals,” Turner said. “[The reduction in the carbon footprint] would be excellent because another one of the problems I have with meat, besides killing animals, is that it takes a lot of grain and land and resources that could be more beneficial for humans … and it’s really inefficient. Like, you can look up charts online about protein and how inefficient it is. We could do a lot better with world hunger if we just ate less meat.”

The research was spurred because scientists have deemed the current demand of meat “unsustainable.”  Experts have predicted that because of population growth, food production may have to double in order to meet the needs of a growing planet. At this time of overpopulation, other obstacles are expected to occur such as land availability, sanitation issues, climate changes and water shortages.

“I feel like if population growth is such a big problem that we need to start creating meat in a lab in order to survive, then that’s going to have some pretty bad ramifications in other areas just like living conditions.” first-year and vegetarian Dylan Gygax said.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is a firm supporter of the synthetic meat experiment. On their official website, the organization has offered a $1 million reward for anybody who can create an “in–vitro” meat product and market it to the general public by June 30. It is required that the “chicken-meat product” must have the same taste and texture as actual chicken flesh and be sold as a product in ten states. PETA argues that without such a solution, animals will continue to suffer at the hands of mankind.

“I would really like to see people reduce their meat consumption in this country,” Turner continued. “I don’t think that everybody should stop eating meat by any means and I know I don’t have the right to tell people what to eat, but I think that it would be good for the environment and good for people health-wise if they would cut back, like, instead of eating meat multiple times a day, if they were eating it once a day or once a week.”

Professor David Steele, the president of Earthsave Canada, feels that in the long run the creation of synthetic meat in the long run may be unnecessary, considering that the reduction of the ecological footprint could be achieved just as easily if people were to cut back on their meat intake. Steele admits that while it is an extraordinary thing to be able to create synthetic meat, people eating more fruits and vegetables would serve this purpose more efficiently. He also raised concerns about the “high levels of antibiotics and antifungal chemicals [that] would be needed to keep the synthetic meat from rotting.”

Steele is not the only one concerned about the validity of the findings. Mike Adams, the Health Ranger Editor of Naturalnews.com, raised many concerns about synthetic meat and its fallout.

“I’m skeptical any time technology claims to out-perform nature,” Adams wrote in his online article published on Feb. 20. “In almost every case where ‘scientific progress’ is touted as the solution for humankind, it ends up creating a nightmare that’s far worse than the problem it intended to solve. How are we to know what they really put in the nutrient solution? Maybe it contains growth hormones to speed production. Maybe it’s loaded with synthetic chemical vitamins instead of natural vitamins. Maybe it’s contaminated with Prozac or fluoride to make us all feel happy and oblivious while we eat synthetic meat. How are we to know what they do with it?”

When questioned about the safety of consuming such a product without any long-term studies of the effects it would have on the human body, Turner stated that she was sure that the Food and Drug Administration would test it before it was released to the general public. However, she stated that it would be “really, really upsetting” if widespread disease and terrible effects were to become present in the human populace because of the new product.

As of now, the meat is described as tasting “very bland” and would probably require more seasoning to taste like anything. Sometime within the near future, the scientists who worked on the study hope to create a synthetic meat hamburger, which will cost an estimated 200,000 pounds. Hopefully, through production techniques, the price will be lowered considerably.

If perfected and released to the public, would the Four Winds ever consider selling synthetic meat dishes? Would it even appeal to the New College community?

“I suppose it probably would appeal to some,” Four Winds assistant manager Megan Lyons said via e-mail. “The thing is that there are already tons of different types of meat substitutes that vegans and vegetarians already really enjoy. [But] I guess it would be well received. We would just put it on our menu, and mention it in the e-mail updates we send out.  I don’t think it’d be that big of a deal.”

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