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article imageOp-Ed: ‘Slaughter-free’ grown meat? It’s happening

By Paul Wallis     Oct 16, 2018 in Food
San Francisco - The ethics of eating animals are hotly debated, but a new alternative might make the debate redundant. Chicken nuggets, grown from the cells of a chicken feather, have been produced. The chicken is still alive, and presumably doing interviews.
The new approach to growing cultured meat by San Francisco company Just isn’t that new. It’s been talked about for years, with variations on the basic theme of simply growing protein that tastes like chicken, beef, etc.
This is real food. It’s near enough to the genuine article to taste like chicken. Cultured meat is dietary protein, exactly what the world is currently straining to produce in adequate quantities, and for which demand is increasing. This is no trivial gimmick, if it works. It could even be a good working alternative to eating cockroaches, and other revolting future predictions.
What is new about growing protein this way is that this is believed to be commercially viable, at least in theory. The chicken nuggets are due to be released to a few local restaurants within a year. This market testing has a point, too - Growing chicken protein from a feather is also an important economic indicator; how many kilos could chicken feathers produce, given that chicken feathers are a renewable resource?
Another major issue is also addressed; the vexed issue of antibiotic-saturated food animals. Increasing resistance to antibiotics is to some extent linked to antibiotic dosages across the food chain. “Clean” meat won’t have that problem.
The process
A chicken nugget takes about two days to grow in a nutrient medium. This is growing chicken without the chicken, if you like. The method uses a scaffolding on which the protein grows. This is all pretty much standard mainstream science, applied to food growing. There’s nothing much complicated about it, except the issues of cost and commercial production volumes, which would be huge if the grown meat gets market acceptance.
Major positives
The world is currently devoting a lot of space and resources to growing live animals. That space, and the infrastructure to support it, have been under increasing pressure, both from human demand and the stress on resources like water and feed. Growing the protein directly is a much better, potentially far cheaper, less resource-intensive, economically safer, and production-positive method.
The much less obvious positive is that production quality can theoretically be monitored efficiently, literally at the cellular level. Protein “errors” would be easy to spot. Even basic quality control could simply match standard protein against test samples. Square pegs for square holes, in effect.
From a purely humane perspective, there’s a lot to be said for this approach. Figures cited indicate that 70 billion animals are slaughtered annually to feed 7 billion people. Food animal conditions are appalling, even to a carnivore like me. Even with 21st century technology, the food process is totally unacceptable, inefficient, and highly wasteful both in process and after slaughter.
That’s to say nothing of the highly processed toxic waste passing itself off as food, contaminated with known health hazards like sulphites and other garbage unfit for consumption. Cleaning up the meat part of the human diet has a lot going for it; good protein, and lots of it, without the horror stories.
Another huge plus - Ethicists need not worry too much about losing a topic to argue about. The whole idea of eating anything analogous to a living creature will still be available. You’ll still be able to be self-righteous about a luxury argument which most people can’t afford to have.
Footnote: 20 years ago, I came up with a dietary system for a book in which all food was synthesized to grow and feed a whole range of synthetic and organically evolved life forms. It’s highly amusing to see this tech finally arrive, with so much fanfare. Next, the wheel.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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