In vitro meat

In vitro meat

In vitro meat, also known as cultured meat, is an animal flesh product that has never been part of a complete, living animal. It has been described, sometimes derisively, as "laboratory-grown" meat. In vitro meat should not be confused with imitation meat, which is a vegetarian food product produced from vegetable protein, usually from soy or gluten. The terms "synthetic meat" and "artificial meat" may refer to either.

Several current research projects are growing in vitro meat experimentally, although no meat has yet been produced for public consumption.[1] As early as 2008, some scientists claimed that the technology was ready for commercial use and simply needed a company to back it.[2] The first meats successfully grown in a lab included goldfish and lamb.[2] Scientists at Maastricht University plan to produce sausage by March 2012 and hamburger by September 2012.[3] Cultured meat is currently prohibitively expensive,[1] but it is anticipated that the cost could be reduced to about twice that of conventionally produced meat.[4][5]

The first-generation products will most likely be chopped meat, and a long-term goal is to grow fully developed muscle tissue. Potentially, any animal's muscle tissue could be grown through the in vitro process, even human. With the costs of conventional meat farming techniques constantly increasing and the rising world population (reaching 8.9 billion people by the year 2050[6]) in vitro meat may be one of several new technologies needed to maintain food supplies by the year 2050.[7] Conventional meat production may simply become too expensive for the average consumer to support.[7] The price of in vitro meat would become detached from the price of grain and corn because the animal being used doesn't have to be raised, fed, and slaughtered.


The process

Most meat is animal muscle. The process of developing in vitro meat involves taking muscle cells and applying a protein that helps the cells to grow into large portions of meat.[1] Once the initial cells have been obtained, additional animals would not be needed – akin to the production of yogurt cultures.[8] One animal could provide more than a billion pounds of in vitro meat to feed the world's population for at least several hundred years.[9] As the cost of the electronic machinery needed to create in vitro meat decreases due to the factors from the cost-performance ratio, the price of in vitro meat at retail outlets like grocery stores and supermarkets would plummet towards an extremely affordable level.[9] Using a similar technique, billions of gallons of milk and billions of pounds of cheese could also be produced from the same animal from similar machines - allowing their prices to come down as the technology to create these in vitro cheese and milk products improve.

There are, loosely, two approaches for production of in vitro meat: loose muscle cells and structured muscle, the latter one being vastly more challenging than the former. Muscles consist of muscle fibers, long cells with multiple nuclei. They do not proliferate by themselves, but arise when precursor cells fuse. Precursor cells can be embryonic stem cells or satellite cells, specialized stem cells in muscle tissue. Theoretically, it is relatively simple to culture them in a bioreactor and then make them fuse. For the growth of real muscle, however, the cells should grow "on the spot," which requires a perfusion system akin to a blood supply to deliver nutrients and oxygen close to the growing cells, as well as to remove the waste products. In addition, other cell types, such as adipocytes, need to be grown, and chemical messengers should provide clues to the growing tissue about the structure. Lastly, muscle tissue needs to be physically stretched or "exercised" to properly develop.[1]

In vitro meat does not necessarily involve genetic engineering, a common misconception. In fact, the cells involved are natural cells which would grow in the normal method.[1]


Modern research into in vitro meat arose out of experiments conducted by NASA, attempting to find improved forms of long-term food for astronauts in space.[10] The technique was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1995,[11] and NASA has been conducting experiments since 2001, producing in vitro meat from turkey cells.[12][13] The first edible form was produced by the NSR/Touro Applied BioScience Research Consortium in 2000: goldfish cells grown to resemble fish fillets.[1][4][14]

In 2001, dermatologist Wiete Westerhof from the University of Amsterdam, medical doctor Willem van Eelen, and businessman Willem van Kooten announced that they had filed for a worldwide patent on a process to produce in vitro meat.[15] In the process, a matrix of collagen is seeded with muscle cells, which are then bathed in a nutritious solution and induced to divide.[16] Scientists in Amsterdam study the culture medium, while the University of Utrecht studies the proliferation of muscle cells, and the Eindhoven University of Technology is researching bioreactors.[16] Van Eelen said that he had thought of the idea of in vitro meat for years, since he was held in a Japanese POW camp.

Jon F. Vein of the United States has also secured a patent (U.S. Patent 6,835,390) for the production of tissue-engineered meat for human consumption, wherein muscle and fat cells would be grown in an integrated fashion to create food products such as beef, poultry and fish.[17]

The first peer-reviewed journal article published on the subject of laboratory-grown meat appeared in a 2005 issue of Tissue Engineering.[10] Of course, the basic concept dates back further. Winston Churchill said in the 1930s, "Fifty years hence, we shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing, by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium."[12]

In 2008, PETA offered a $1 million prize to the first company that brings lab-grown chicken meat to consumers by 2012.[2] The Dutch government has put US$4 million into experiments regarding in vitro meat.[12] The In Vitro Meat Consortium, a group formed by international researchers interested in the technology, held the first international conference on the production of in vitro meat, hosted by the Food Research Institute of Norway in April 2008, to discuss commercial possibilities.[1] Time Magazine declared in vitro meat production to be one of the 50 breakthrough ideas of 2009.[18] In November 2009, scientists from the Netherlands announced they had managed to grow meat in the laboratory using the cells from a live pig.[19]

Differences from conventional meat


Large scale production of in vitro meat may require artificial growth hormones to be added to the culture for meat production.[20] No procedure has been presented to produce large scale in vitro meat without the use of antibiotics to prevent bacterial infections.

Because in vitro meat has yet to be placed on the market, the health risks have not yet been fully investigated. This question is one of the main focuses of scientists working on in vitro meat, and the aim is to produce healthier meat than conventional meat, most notably by reducing its fat content and controlling nutrients.[dubious ]

Researchers have suggested that omega-3 fatty acids could be added to in vitro meat as a health bonus.[12] In a similar way, the omega-3 fatty acid content of conventional meat can also be increased by altering what the animals are fed.[21] An issue of Time magazine has suggested that the in vitro process may also decrease exposure of the meat to bacteria and disease.[1]

Due to the strictly controlled and predictable environments of both in vitro meat farming and vertical farming, there will be reduced exposure to dangerous chemicals like pesticides and fungicides, severe injuries, and wildlife.[22]


Although in vitro meat consists of natural meat cells, consumers may find such a high-technology approach to food production distasteful. Technology in cuisine tends to remain stagnant for a long period of time as people are often wary of new cooking methods. In vitro meat has been disparagingly described as Frankenmeat, reflecting a sentiment that it is unnatural and therefore wrong.[23]

If in vitro meat turns out to be different in appearance, taste, smell, texture, or other factors, it may not be commercially competitive with conventionally produced meat. The lack of fat and bone may also be a disadvantage, for these parts make appreciable culinary contributions. However, the lack of bones and/or fat may make many traditional meats like Buffalo wings more palatable to small children.[24]


Some have speculated that in vitro meat might require fewer resources and produce less greenhouse gas and other waste than conventional meat production.[25] For every acre that is used for vertical farming and/or in vitro meat manufacturing, anywhere between 10 to 20 acres of land may be converted from conventional agriculture usage back into its natural state.[26] Vertical farms (in addition to in vitro meat facilities) could exploit methane digesters to generate a small portion of its own electrical needs. Methane digesters could be built on site to transform the organic waste generated at the facility into biogas which is generally composed of 65% methane along with other gasses. This biogas could then be burned to generate electricity for the greenhouse or a series of bioreactors.[27]

A study by researchers at Oxford and the University of Amsterdam found that in vitro meat was "potentially ... much more efficient and environmentally-friendly", generating only 4% greenhouse gas emissions, require 7-45% less energy to produce and just 2% of the land that the global meat/livestock industry does.[25][28] The patent holder for in vitro meat,[16] the journalist Brendan I. Koerner,[29] and Hanna Tuomisto, a PhD student from Oxford University all believe it has less environmental impact.[30] This is in contrast to cattle farming; which is "responsible for 18% of greenhouse gases";[31] causing more damage to the environment than the combined effects of the world's transportation system. Traditional livestock farming is also suffering due to rising prices of gasoline and electricity;[32] creating an increasing demand for in vitro meat as the technology becomes cheaper and more energy efficient. Vertical farming and in vitro meat may completely eliminate the need to create extra farmland in rural areas; creating a sustainable solution to create a cleaner environment.[33]

One skeptic is Margaret Mellon of the Union of Concerned Scientists, who speculates that the energy and fossil fuel requirements of large scale in vitro meat production may be more environmentally destructive than producing food off the land.[2] However, it has been indicated that both vertical farming in urban areas and the activity of in vitro meat facilities will cause very little harm to the species of wildlife that live around the facilities.[34] Many natural resources will be spared from depletion due to the conservation efforts made by both vertical farming and in vitro meat; making them ideal technologies for an overpopulated world.[35] Conventional farming, on the other hand, kills 10 wildlife animals per hectacre each year.[34]

Economic differences

The production of in vitro meat is currently very expensive - about US$1 million for a piece of beef weighing 250 grams (0.55 lb)[1] - and it would take considerable investment to switch to large scale production. However, the In Vitro Meat Consortium has estimated that with improvements to current technology there could be considerable reductions in the cost of in vitro meat. They estimate that it could be produced for 3500€/tonne (US$5037/tonne),[5] which is about twice the cost of unsubsidized conventional European chicken production.[4][5]

However, it is suggested that the high costs of food in developed countries are linked to packaging and advertising as opposed to the actual cost of the food product.[36] These high prices are projected to last until 2018[37] due to the decreased number of crop plantings prior to the 2009 growing season in Canada, the United States, and Europe. Prices have only begun to stabilize thanks to the total number of cash crop plantings - which started to increase again at the 2009 planting season.[38][39] While the cash crop plantings in the North American and European regions have increased in order to fight hunger in a growing world population, an increasingly huge amount of grain and corn products in the world are being used to sustain the conventional meat industry. The effects of the 2007–2008 world food price crisis are not expected to be repeated beyond 2011 due to ample stockpiles of various staple food items.[40] However, in vitro meat could help to improve the global stockpile of food with its inexpensive meat products to finally solve the hunger issues in Africa along with Asia and Latin America.

The UN's World Food Programme does not expect the price of wheat and corn - which are required to maintain livestock - to return to the levels that people enjoyed prior to 2008.[38][39] This is due to the rising cost of commodity goods in the emerging markets.[38][39] Good weather helped to increase grain yields in 2011 while demand had dropped due to the recession; leading to some price decreases.[41] This may not prevent the cost of conventional meat from becoming completely unaffordable to the masses by 2050. People who lose their jobs related to the conventional meat industry (i.e., butchers, meat processors) could consider the posssibly for retraining for occupations that are more urban-oriented (i.e, nurses, dental hygienists).[42] The children and grandchildren of ranch owners would become in vitro meat "factory" designers and technological experts.[42] Vertical farming may absorb the other conventional farming jobs that become obsolete as a result of in vitro meat becoming popular with the masses.[22]

Rural real estate values will plummet as vast tracts of ranch land are abandoned and sold for a major loss.[42] After the land of sold, a lot of the former ranch land would become used for either vacation homes, reforested parks, hemp farms, or bamboo ranches (depending on the climate).[42] The needs of an expanding middle class in Asia may become reliant on in vitro products like in vitro meat to ward off the rising cost of food items that are not produced in vitro.[43][44] Skyscraper farming and urban agriculture initiatives may also play a helping role in lowering prices by bringing farming to urban areas (where the majority of the world's population lives).[45]

Ethical considerations

Animal welfare groups are generally in favour of the production of in vitro meat because it does not have a nervous system and therefore cannot feel pain. The availability of in vitro meat would mean fewer animals suffering for animal-based food.[2][8][46]

Potential usage

The original NASA research on in vitro meat was intended for use on long space voyages or stays; it would be a sustainable food source alongside hydroponic or aeroponically grown vegetables.[dubious ]



The science for in vitro meat is an outgrowth of the field of biotechnology known as tissue engineering.[20] The technology is simultaneously being developed along with other uses for tissue engineering such as helping those with muscular dystrophy and, similarly, growing transplant organs.[12][46] There are several obstacles to overcome if it has any chance of succeeding; at the moment, the most notable ones are scale and cost.[1][12]

  • Proliferation of muscle cells: Although it is not very difficult to make stem cells divide, for meat production it is necessary that they divide at a quick pace, producing the solid meat.[46] This requirement has some overlap with the medical branch of tissue engineering.
  • Culture medium: Proliferating cells need a food source to grow and develop. The growth medium should be a well-balanced mixture of ingredients and growth factors. Scientists have already identified possible growth media for turkey,[47] fish,[48] sheep [49] and pig [50] muscle cells. Depending on the motives of the researchers, the growth medium has additional requirements.
    • Commercial: The growth medium should be inexpensive to produce. A plant-based medium may be less expensive than fetal bovine serum.[46]
    • Environmental: The production of the growth medium should not have a negative effect on the environment. This means that the production should be energetically favorable. Additionally, the ingredients should come from completely renewable sources. Minerals from mined sources are in this case not possible, nor are synthetically produced nutrients which use non-renewable sources.
    • Animal welfare: The growth medium should be devoid of animal sources (except for the initial "mining" of the original stem cells).[46]
    • Non-Allergenic: While plant based growth media are "more realistic," will be cheaper, and reduce possibility of infectious agents, there is also the possibility that plant-based growth media may cause allergic reactions to some consumers.[51]
  • Bioreactors: Nutrients and oxygen need to be delivered close to each growing cell, on the scale of millimeters. In animals this job is handled by blood vessels. A bioreactor should emulate this function in an efficient manner. The usual approach is the creation of a sponge-like matrix in which the cells can grow, and perfusing it with the growth medium.


Perhaps the first research into in vitro meat was performed by M. A. Benjaminson from Touro College.[52] His research group managed to grow muscle tissue from goldfish in a laboratory setting with several kinds of growth media.

In 2004, a group of researchers started the non-profit organization New Harvest, with the goal of promoting research into in vitro meat. Among the founders are Jason Matheny[12] and Vladimir Mironov. According to their website, cultured meat in a processed form, like sausages,[12] hamburgers,[12] or chicken nuggets, may become commercially available within several years.[12] One of the first places of businesses to accept this in vitro meat would be fast food restaurants.[dubious ] Since they do not disclose which farmer or rancher provided them with food, in vitro meat in fast food restaurants is often seen as an inevitable advancement.[dubious ]

In April 2005, a research project into cultured meat started in The Netherlands, and in 2008, it was reported that most research into in vitro meat is being conducted by Dutch scientific teams.[46] The research is carried out under the lead of Henk Haagsman, a meat science researcher at the University of Amsterdam, the Eindhoven University of Technology and Utrecht University, in cooperation with sausage manufacturer Stegeman. The Dutch government granted a two million euro subsidy for the project.[16]

On April 21, 2008, PETA announced a $1 million X-Prize style reward for the first group to successfully produce synthetic meat that is comparable to and commercially viable against naturally sourced meat products.[53]

In fiction

In vitro meat has often featured in science fiction. The earliest mention may be in Two Planets (original German title: Auf Zwei Planeten) (1897) by Kurd Lasswitz, where "synthetic meat" is one of the varieties of synthetic food introduced on Earth by Martians. Other notable books mentioning artificial meat include The Space Merchants (1952) by Frederik Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth; Neuromancer (1984) by William Gibson; Oryx and Crake (2003) by Margaret Atwood; and the Ware Tetralogy by Rudy Rucker.

In film, artificial meat has featured prominently in Giulio Questi's 1968 drama La morte ha fatto l'uovo (Death Laid an Egg) and Claude Zidi's 1976 comedy L'aile ou la cuisse (The Wing or the Thigh). "Man-made" chickens also appear in David Lynch's 1977 surrealist horror, Eraserhead.

An urban legend circulated on the Internet for some years in the 1990s claiming falsely that KFC derived its meat from genetically modified chickens.[54]

See also


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  3. ^ Meat without slaughter: '6 months' to bio-sausages at New Scientist
  4. ^ a b c Temple, James (2009-02-23). "The Future of Food: The No-kill Carnivore". Retrieved 2009-08-07. 
  5. ^ a b c Preliminary Economics Study of Cultured Meat, eXmoor Pharma Concepts, 2008
  6. ^ Data from UN WORLD POPULATION TO 2300
  7. ^ a b Artificial food? Food for thought by 2050 from
  8. ^ a b Raizel, Robin (2005-12-11). "In Vitro Meat". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-08-07. 
  9. ^ a b Kurzweil, Raymond (2005). The Singularity is Near. Penguin Books. ISBN 0-14-303788-9. 
  10. ^ a b "Paper Says Edible Meat Can be Grown in a Lab on Industrial Scale" (Press release). University of Maryland. 2005-07-06. Retrieved 2008-10-12. 
  11. ^ "Catachem, Inc Announces FDA Approval of UIBC In-Vitro Diagnostic (IVD) Chemistry Reagent Kit". BioPortfolio, verbatim, paid reprint of Catachem press release. 1995-02-21. Archived from the original on 2008-06-02. Retrieved 2008-12-07. 
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  14. ^ Benjaminson, Morris (2001-12-05). "Featured Research at Touro: Growing Fish Fillets Outside the Fish". Touro College School of Health Sciences. Retrieved 2010-01-10.  Advance announcement of paper's publication in Acta Astronautica (not found there, but note Journal articles below).
  15. ^ WO9931222 A1 Application WO9931222, van Eelen, Willem Frederik; Willem Jan van Kooten & Wiete Westerhof, "INDUSTRIAL SCALE PRODUCTION OF MEAT FROM IN VITRO CELL CULTURES", published 1999-06-24 
  16. ^ a b c d van Eelen, Willem (2007-12-12). "Patent holder Willem van Eelen: ‘In another five years meat will come out of the factory’". inVitroMeat Foundation, operated by Willem van Eelen, publishing what appears to be an English translation of an article in Dutch by Anouck Vrouwe (subscribers only) from Het Financieele Dagblad. 
  17. ^ US B1 6835390, Vein, Jon, "Method for producing tissue engineered meat for consumption", published 2001-11-16, issued 2004-12-28 
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  19. ^ Rogers, Lois (2009-11-29). "Scientists grow pork meat in a laboratory". The Sunday Times (London). 
  20. ^ a b Edelman, P. D, D. C. McFarland, V. A. Mironov, and J. G. Matheny. 2005. In vitro-cultured meat production. Tissue Engineering 11(5–6): 659–662.
  21. ^ Azcona, J.O., Schang, M.J., Garcia, P.T., Gallinger, C., R. Ayerza (h), and Coates, W. (2008). "Omega-3 enriched broiler meat: The influence of dietary alpha-linolenic omega-3 fatty acid sources on growth, performance and meat fatty acid composition". Canadian Journal of Animal Science, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, 88:257–269
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  23. ^ A Practical Health Guide to In Vitro Meat from the Animal Liberation Front
  24. ^ Pigott, George M.; Tucker, Barbee W. (1990). Seafood. CRC Press. p. 236. ISBN 0824779223. 
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  26. ^ A Farm on Every Floor, The New York Times, August 23, 2009
  27. ^ Case Study — Landfill Power Generation, H. Scott Matthews, Green Design Initiative, Carnegie Mellon University. Retrieved 07.02.09
  28. ^ Lab-grown meat would 'cut emissions and save energy', 21 June 2011
  29. ^ Koerner, Brendan I. (2008-05-20). "Will Lab-Grown Meat Save the Planet? Or is it only good for cows and pigs?". Slate. 
  30. ^ Cheng, Maria (2010-01-15). "Stem Cells Turned Into Pork". 
  31. ^ "Livestock a major threat to environment". FAO Newsroom. 
  32. ^ Rising electricity costs makes modern farming unsustainable -
  33. ^ The Vertical Farm Project. 2009. “Agriculture for the 21st Century and Beyond.”
  34. ^ a b S.L. Davis (2001). "The least harm principle suggests that humans should eat beef, lamb, dairy, not a vegan diet". Proceedings of the Third Congress of the European Society for Agricultural and Food Ethics. pp. 449–450. 
  35. ^ Despommier, Dickson (November 2009). "The Rise of Vertical Farms". Scientific American (New york: Scientific American Inc.) 301 (5): 60–67. ISSN 00368733. 
  36. ^ The Farmer
  37. ^ CNN "Food prices rising across the world" 24 March 2008
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  39. ^ a b c Inflation slows in Feb. as food prices stabilize from GMA News
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  41. ^ Brown, Lester (May/June 2011). "The New Geopolitics of Food". Foreign Policy. Retrieved 7 June 2011. 
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  43. ^ The cost of food: facts and figures from BBC News
  44. ^ Fear of rice riots as surge in demand hits nations across the Far East from Times Online
  45. ^ FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations). "Urban and Peri-urban Agriculture, Household Food Security and Nutrition"
  46. ^ a b c d e f Kruglinski, Susan; Wright, Karen (2008-09-22). "I'll Have My Burger Petri-Dish Bred, With Extra Omega-3". Discover. 
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  49. ^ Dodson, M. V., & Mathison, B. A. (1988). Comparison of ovine and rat muscle-derived satellite cells: Response to insulin. Tissue and Cell, 20(6), 909–918.
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  52. ^ In Search of a Test-Tube Hamburger from Touro College
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  54. ^ Barbara Mikkelson; David P. Mikkelson (2007-01-26). "Tastes Like Chicken". Retrieved 2011-10-26. 

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