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Beaker burgers
It’s the Pitts
By Lee Pitts

Sometimes I’m glad I won’t be around to witness the future that some scientists have in mind for us. As if soy burgers weren’t bad enough, a bunch of crackpots are going to make beef in laboratory Crock-Pots. I don’t mean cook it... I mean make it from scratch.

According to Elena Conis, writing in the L. A. Times, mad scientists are now making beaker burgers in the lab. The process is called vitro meat processing and these man-made steaks require no cowboys or cows. Oh my, there’s no cure for cancer yet but some scientists are spending their lab time making filet of petri dish!

The folks who are attempting to make these man-made steaks are known as tissue engineers. Can you imagine telling your parents 30 years ago that when you grew up you wanted to be a tissue engineer? They’d have thought you wanted to build a better Kleenex® you couldn’t blow a hole through. I don’t know what we did to make these steak scholars mad but if they are successful there won’t be any need for sale barns, supplement salesmen or sheepherders.

At the University of Australia scientists are using cells from sheep and frog embryos to whip up steaks. Yum, yum! To culture the meat scientists place a small piece of muscle fiber in a bioreactor and “exercise” it by shocking the tissue with an electrical current. (I expect PETA and assorted Hollywood celebrities will be protesting this inhumane practice any day now). Then, as I understand it, the tissue is fed just like you would a steer. Although at this time there is no average daily gain or feed conversion data available, I’m sure there are cattle feeders at this very minute calling their order buyers to buy a load or two of embryonic frog cells. No doubt they’ll soon start trading frog futures in Chicago.

It’s not as easy as throwing a bunch of bacon bits in a test tube and then pouring out a pork chop. Because lab flesh does not have connective tissue or fat, I am told that it makes the lab steaks taste like meat-flavored JELL-O®. Which begs the question, why not just make a meat flavored JELL-O® and be done with it? So far the biggest steaks the scientists have made are about the size of a quarter, which means you’ll have to order about 72 Whoppers to get one decent burger. If this idea catches on McDonald’s will have to rename their burger “Little Teensy-Weensy Big Macs.”

In French labs scientists are using tadpoles to raise their steaks and thus far no one has “croaked” from eating them. This shouldn’t surprise anyone because we all know that the French will eat anything. They even eat horses, for gosh sakes.

Now a word of WARNING! If you don’t want to suffer a nauseogenic experience stop reading right now. Okay, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

In other labs around the world cells from rats and mice are being used to make steaks. I have not personally tasted the meat but I am told it tastes a lot like chicken! Can’t you just envision the Rodent Checkoff Board in a few years with their slogan, “Rats: It’s what’s for Dinner?”

If that didn’t stimulate a gag reflex or turn you into a vegetarian consider this: So far the cost per pound to make lab meat is between $1,000 and $5,000 at the wholesale level. Which would make it about $20,000 per pound at the supermarket.

How serious a threat is lab meat to ranchers? Scientists estimate they’ll be able to produce chicken nuggets within five years. (That’s easy. Try producing a top sirloin!)

A fellow named Vladimir Mironov says that “tissue engineered meat is the inescapable future of humanity.” The reason given is that protein and fat levels will be more closely controlled and E coli and BSE will be eliminated. “It is a more efficient way to produce meat,” say the scientists.

I hate to break the news to the mad scientists but a more efficient way to make better tasting meat has already been invented: it’s called a cow!

This farm news was published in the July 5, 2006 issue of Farm World, serving Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.

7/5/2006