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Disembodied meat grown from cells in a laboratory may sound like something out of a freakish science-fiction plot. It isn't fiction. This technology is real. Bioengineered meat could soon be found on a dinner plate near you.

Developmental biologist and tissue engineer, Dr. Vladimir Mironov had some difficulty finding financial backing for his research. Two US government agencies declined to fund his project. For a short time, NASA provided capital for the research. The money needed to continue the project was finally provided by a well known animal rights organization. This prompted estimates that laboratory cultured meat products might be available for public consumption as early as this fall.

The process harvests embryonic animal cells -- often from bird eggs -- which are then bathed in a growth serum made from bovine material. As the cells multiply and bind together, electric shocks are administered to stimulate the formation of muscle tissue. The resulting tissue is then ground and fortified with supplemental vitamins and nutrients. Depending upon consumer preference, the food could be designed with varying texture and taste. According to Dr. Mironov it is all perfectly safe for human consumption.

Dr. Mironov is also one of the primary researchers in a separate $20 million project. This project is utilizing the same technology to culture donor organs from human stem cells.

Recent events, however, may cause both projects to have an uncertain future. Dr. Mironov has been suspended from the Medical University of South Carolina and his laboratory closed pending an investigation of allegations of unacceptable behavior. This latest development could mean that estimates for fall release of test tube meat could be delayed.

Personal scandals and projected timetables aside, there are larger health issues to be considered. Logic dictates that food from animals made sick by their environment and contaminated food is a bad choice for human consumption. It is puzzling to see that investment dollars are being directed towards attempts to develop a substitute food rather than towards farmers who raise livestock in humane and healthy conditions.

The concept of cultured meat seems to promote the illusion that water, soil, food and air can all be contaminated without any real consequences. After all, meat is just something that can be grown in a laboratory, right? These technologies seem to diminish the importance of caring diligently for the natural resources we have by suggesting that we can easily create a man-made substitute. Plants and animals provide us with immediate feedback on whether they have good food, water and living conditions. A disembodied meat patty grown in a laboratory wouldn't be expected to do the same.

Still, assurances are offered that the consumption of artificial food artificially fortified with artificial and isolated nutrients is capable of producing healthy humans.

Efforts to pass legislation to label genetically modified produce have been thwarted. The argument made by opponents is that an apple is an apple, no matter its genetic makeup. With such a precedent as this in place regarding fruits and vegetables, one can only wonder how/whether/if the general public will be informed about what they are actually purchasing from their local butcher.

I, for one, am not willing to risk the health and development of my children, grandchildren and generations to come on this 'science.'


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