Would you eat lab-manufactured meat?

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In 2008, I posted some thoughts on cloned animals for human consumption. Yes, food. As in “Would you eat meat from a cloned pig?” that was triggered by a news article from CNN, “FDA OKs meat, milk from most cloned animals.”

The debate is renewed today albeit on another dimension. It seems that we’re no longer talking about cloning entire animals. Rather, the controversy is now centered on lab-grown meat. In vitro or cultured meat. As in portions of animals. Using stem cells, meat would be grown in laboratories. No live animals. Just slabs of meat. Superior slabs of meat, in fact, because the cells would be taken from high grade animal meat. No more worries about unsanitary slaughterhouses and cruel slaughter procedures (should make animal rights advocates happy). From the lab, the meat goes straight to the grocery store.

And, from the grocery store, the meat goes directly to home and restaurant kitchens.

No, this isn’t a science fiction movie. It is real and it is happening. We won’t find lab-grown meat in groceries yet, however. Not yet. But in ten years or so, who knows especially since the scientific community seems to be heading successfully toward the direction of commercial production of lab-grown meat.

Imagine that. No animal feeds. No grazing. No animals to compete with humans for land and water. No carbon footprints (should make environmentalists happy). The scientific process is being hailed by its supporters as the solution to world hunger.

The question, of course, is whether YOU would eat lab-manufactured meat.

The answer is at least two-fold. The first part concerns health. The second part is about ethics.

How safe will lab-grown meat be for humans? It is artificial meat, after all, and there are people — me, included — who don’t take kindly to artificial food. But when we consider the artificial feeds, growth boosters and antibiotics given to cows, pigs, chickens and fish to make them grow big faster and fatter, aren’t we, in fact, consuming artificial food too although indirectly?

On the ethical side, the guilt that some people feel over eating animals that have been raised and slaughtered for food (exclude me — I’m a believer in the food chain) might be assuaged if they know they are eating meat from animals that never existed and were thus never slaughtered.

A third perspective, probably premature to discuss but worth thinking about anyway, concerns retail prices. How affordable will lab-grown meat be? If the process is patented, then, the patent owner will be able to dictate the prices, irrespective of the law of supply and demand.

Think of medicines and how patents are owned by pharmaceutical companies. Medicines are expensive not really because of high cost of production but because the patent owners determine the prices at rates that are most profitable to them.

While the true blue scientists do their work for the benefit of mankind, it is a harsh reality that scientific experiments need funding. And funding rarely comes without strings attached.

So, will lab-grown meat solve the problem of escalating global hunger? We really can’t tell at this point, can we?