Lab-Grown Meat: Food of the Future?

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Could Fake Meat Be Better for Your Health?

"For people who care about animals this would be the best innovation in the history of the world," said Bruce Friedrich, vice president of policy for PETA.

In-vitro meat might not sound so appetizing now, but as people realize how the meat industry violates their fundamental ethics, he said, they'll be willing to accept the cruelty-free, lab-grown option.

"Hopefully we'll come up with a more appealing way to refer to it than in vitro meat," he said. But "once there is a marketing campaign ... it's going to be a no-brainer for people."

Still, public health experts say it may not necessarily be better for human health.

"From a health standpoint, moving to less meat is the way to go. Just simulating more meat from a health standpoint doesn't make sense," said Dr. Walter Willett, the chair of the department of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health.

The regular consumption of red meat can contribute to heart disease, diabetes, some forms of cancer and other medical conditions, he said, adding that it's possible that synthetic meat would have the same qualities as naturally-grown meat. A better solution might be to move toward alternative sources of protein, such as those from nuts, beans and fish, he said.

But Mironov insists that his food of the future has the potential to one-up even those natural sources of protein.

"You can enhance your brain power, you can enhance your immune system, you can reduce your body weight," he said.

The key obstacle for scientists interested in lab-grown meat is money -- in the U.S., the government and private groups don't want to fund the necessary research -- but the tide is beginning to shift in their favor, he said.

As people recognize the ecological urgency -- and the potential for job creation in a new era of manufacturing that combines technology and bioenginerering -- Mironov said possible funders are starting to get interested.

"Before I didn't get any telephone calls from venture capitalists," he said. "Now I get calls."

Mironov said the head of a global company that controls 25 percent of the world's beef has asked to meet with him.

While the costs of creating cultured meat are high today -- in the tens of thousands and more per burger -- he said that as with any new technology, the costs will come down as it develops and is more widely used.

Initially, Mironov said, he would target celebrities with his super food. As the price comes down, he could start to market to a wider audience. Eventually, people might even have coffee-maker-sized devices in their homes that would let them custom-create meat to their tastes and nutritional needs.

But, he emphasized, that it all depends on money. Without it, the goal might never be realized. With the right funding, facilities and people, he said it could happen "very fast."

"I think the time is coming," he said. "I couldn't say this year or next year, but definitely in my lifetime something will happen."

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