The hidden side of test-tube meat

Artificially-grown meat has been a frequent topic on our facebook page.  Today, Common Sense Agriculture published a new blog, clearing up the pros of meat produced artificially in a laboratory.  Excellent discussion there, I won’t go into further detail here.  BUT, I like to add two points which will impact the overall sustainability of these ‘test-tube’ meats tremendously.  Its production requires resources, too! In order for those cells and tissues to grow, one needs to supply 1) nutrients and 2) maintain a constant temperature.

1) These nutrients have to be in a simple form; one that is ready to be absorbed and utilized by the cells. Cells cannot convert fibers (forages/grasses), complex proteins from byproducts, or energy from grains or oilseeds into cell-usable nutrients/energy.  Animals (and humans) have these processes (digestion/metabolism of feeds) naturally.  For test-tube meats, these nutrients would have to be manufactured from ‘something’ prior to feeding  the cells.  Thus, this system would require some type of feed stock as input.  And likely, this feedstock shouldn’t compete with foods for human consumption.   Moreover, initial production and feeds and consequent manufacturing of these feeds to get nutrients for the test-tube meat require resources – fuel, land, labor, etc.  I’m curious about how this compares to just feeding cattle for meat production.

2) Cells and tissues will only grow at a very narrow range of temperature – about 98-104 F.  Thus, the facilities in which this test-tube meat is grown must be temperature-controlled – this uses energy, too. In addition, any glitch may ruin the meat products. In the current system, cattle (and all other mammals and most birds) control their body temperature by utilizing energy from their feed and the fermentenation/metabolic energy.

I don’t know whether a holistic analysis of test-tube meat production will favor it over conventional (Natural!) meat production (e.g., raising cattle, swine, sheep, etc).  But, I know that these requirements of test-tube meat production are virtually never mentioned. Likely, artificially-grown meat will draw a lot of scarce resources, such as land, fuel (energy), etc.  In the big picture, these inputs will negate (m)any of the pros presented by proponents of artificially-grown meats.  Certainly, resource requirements will make or break test-tube meat production.

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6 comments on “The hidden side of test-tube meat

  1. Terry Ward says:

    Will the three people in the US who will eat this stuff please raise their hands?

    • Terry, I need more details, but I am open to the idea at least.

      • Terry Ward says:

        You are a better man than I, Gunga Din…

      • Terry Ward says:

        I read too much about alchemists and homunculus (homonculi?) when I was a kid.
        And get the heebie jeebies anywhere near a microwave (nukeoater?)
        When peeps start fiddling around with genetics and molecular structure
        & such I start thinking about moving into the bat cave.

      • Humans have been fiddling around with the DNA of plants and animals (not to mention our own) for 10,000 years. Fiddling around with molecular structure is fine if we’re creating new technologies, right? Fiddling around with the substance of life when we’re talking about treating diseases, of course, but not making food? We need all the facts of course, I’m not going to preempt scientific inquiry and potential to relieve pressure on humans, animals, and the environment just because I’ve read too much science fiction.

      • Terry Ward says:

        I am really a Luddite about most everything..
        And have been extremely picky about what I eat since I was a teenager.
        And use less household/chemical/plastic products then the average Abyssinian.
        So anything ‘new’ causes deep suspicion in my gut.
        As I said, you are a better man then …
        Certainly more open-minded.

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