PETA Offers $1M Prize for Lab-Grown Meat

But for Elizabeth DeCoux, a professor at the Florida Coastal School of Law and a vegetarian for more than 20 years, the potential benefits of cultured meat are all about the animals.

"I think that animals suffer horribly, and we all have an obligation to do something about that," DeCoux said. "I believe that in vitro may hold the latest promise that I've ever known of to eliminate almost all the suffering of food animals."

DeCoux spoke last week at the first symposium on in vitro meat in Norway. As a longtime vegetarian, DeCoux said that she doubts she would switch back to eating meat, but cultured meat might offer an alternative for concerned meat-eaters.

"I think the great effect of in vitro meat is that people who love animals, but who are meat eaters, will switch," she said.

The animal rights' community, however, has been far from unanimous in its reaction to PETA's proposal.

The award caused a "near civil war in our office," Newkirk said. "After all, our job is ... to hammer into people's heads that they don't need flesh and that [it] is morally offensive. So how could we be saying, why don't you eat this lab-grown meat?

"But to me, it's an important thing to do. It isn't hurting anyone. ... You've got exactly what you want, and there are no bad consequences," she continued.

DeCoux agreed.

"We have been trying for centuries to get people to stop eating tortured animals. We wanted them to do it by going vegetarian," she said. "But now we have a real chance to get them to switch, and I don't think we can squander that chance over an internal philosophical squabble."

But some nutritionists doubt whether cultured meat would be accepted by consumers and the medical community at large.

"There's a 'yuck factor' involved," said Marion Nestle, the head of New York University's Department of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health. "But whether that yuck factor is greater than the one that is associated with the way we produce animals in this way" remains to be seen, she said.

While Nestle sees philosophical contradictions with PETA's award, she said there are other reasons to consider alternatives to raising animals in traditional ways. For one, it could reduce our carbon footprint by eliminating factory farms, and it's a way to combat the seemingly ever-rising price of food.

But as the organics market grows, Nestle questioned the commercial viability of such a product if it came to market.

"I know a lot of vegetarians who have been lifetime vegetarians, who have started eating meat again because of the availability of humanely raised animals," she said. "I cannot imagine this is going to be the solution. It smacks of soylent green."

In addition to the "fear factor," for Keith-Thomas Ayoob, a pediatric nutritionist and director of the Rose F. Kennedy Children's Evaluation and Rehabilitation Center, said in vitro meat would have to pass another hurdle.

"The nutritional content would have to be similar, and it would have to pass both the smell and the taste test," Ayoob said. "There's more to meat than just protein. ... And frankly, if it doesn't taste good, then consumers won't eat it."

According to Ayoob, a huge part of eating is aesthetics.

"Part of the overall appeal of food is something that may not be able to be produced in a petri dish," he said. "You can survive on liquid nutrition. ... We could also have food fed directly to our stomachs. Just because you can, doesn't mean you should."

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