Updated Mon. Mar. 27 2006 6:56 PM ET

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Scientists develop method for home-grown meat

CTV.ca News Staff

While some people may grow fresh herbs in their homes, others may be growing fresh meat in the future.

Scientists have already successfully grown frog and mouse meat in the lab -- and they are currently working on pork, beef and chicken.

Their goal is to develop a cultured or in vitro meat that consumers can buy at a supermarket and grow at home -- in a countertop incubator the size of a coffee maker -- in the next five years.

Similar to a bread maker, consumers would leave starter muscle cells with a package of growth medium in the meat maker before bed and wake up to freshly grown meat.

The advantage

Jason Matheny, one of the founders of Vive Research, a U.S. firm working on growing meat for the global market, explained to CTV Newsnet the advantages cultured meats have over farmed meat.

"Meat, as it's produced right now has a number of disadvantages. First, it causes heart disease because of the high level of fat," Matheny said.

High-fat sausage meat, for example, would have the fat profile of low-fat salmon if it was cultivated.

Matheny also pointed to the emergence of avian flu and mad cow disease, as a disadvantage of farmed meat.

"We also get a high level of contamination. In the United States, about half of the chicken carcasses that reach grocery stores are contaminated with salmonella or campylobacter," Matheny said.

The challenge

But before countertop-grown meat can become a kitchen reality, meat researchers in the U.S. and the Netherlands have to discover a method to duplicate the lab process on an industrial scale.

The biggest challenge is to make the home grown meat as affordable as regular meat.

Another obstacle will have to do with marketing, in light of negative labels such as "franken-food" used to describe genetically-altered edibles.

However, Matheny argues that consumers are looking for already started looking for healthier alternatives such as vegetarian meats substituted with soybeans or wheat.

"I think that consumers will be ready for this, they have already shown remarkable willingness to accept products of biotechnology," Matheny said.

In order for consumers to get over the idea of having a meat maker in their kitchen, it would have to taste like the real thing.

"We don't think there that there will be any difference between the meat that you can find in chicken nuggets or a hamburger or sausage and meat that's produced in an incubator and processed the same way given the same type of seasoning," Matheny said.

At present, researchers have successfully grown bits of meat -- similar to ground meat -- that can be used in burgers or sauces.

However, growing a test-tube steak or pork roast will be more challenging, Henk Haagman, professor of meat sciences at the University of Utrecht, told The Globe and Mail.

Haagman and his colleagues have mastered growing mouse meat in their lab and are now tackling pork.

Proponents of in vitro meat argue that the meat is more environmentally responsible because it saves animals from being slaughtered and there won't be as much pressure on grazing lands.

Opponents, however, question the way in which the cells are obtained from the animals.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration asked companies to not market any products that use cloned animals last summer.

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