By Priscilla Feral

A decade ago, an animal advocacy group announced they’d offer a million-dollar prize to someone who invents animal flesh in a test tube at competitive prices by 2012.

Food columnist and blogger Mark Bittman expressed dismay, saying he knew it was going to happen whether he wanted it to or not, but that there was already an alternative to meat – “one that can not only improve individual health but decrease harm to animals and the environment: It’s called vegetables.” And he added, “Unfortunately there are no gold mines to be made in test-tube broccoli.”

As an animal advocacy group that promotes veganism, we couldn’t agree more. Truth is, our bodies have no nutritional need for meat, although you won’t hear that from the greedy meat industry, which profits from turning living beings into commodities, all the while devastating the planet.

We are doubtful that those marketing this lab grown meat, aka “clean meat” actually give a damn about animals or the environment, either. Let’s face it—for those that have a palate for profit—“clean meat” is just a new industry to rake money in from, all the while duping the public into believing that growing meat from cells in labs will allow them to consume meat without harming animals. 

However, as of right now, all lab-grown meat still uses and commodifies animals — whether it’s foie gras grown from avian starter cells that are taken from a muscle-biopsy procedure or a “clean” hamburger using bovine starter cells, a byproduct from blood of cow fetuses extracted during the slaughtering process. And who knows how long it will take these scientists to create an animal-free growth serum appropriate for each type of meat

The Hampton Creek food technology company in San Francisco created “clean” foie gras—no, it’s not animal free—and about a year ago offered a forkful to Paul Shapiro, former vice president of the Humane Society of the United States, who has just released his new book “Clean Meat.”

“As I closed my eyes and let the fatty liver melt on my tongue, the Hampton Creek foie gras brought me an amount of pleasure I’ll confess I was a little embarrassed to admit,” Shapiro writes.

It is embarrassing that someone who says he hasn’t eaten animal products for decades is now reinforcing the idea that flesh belongs in our diet, while ignoring the kindness and benefits of vegan, plant-based diets.

So far, reinventing meat is costing about $300 per pound, according to Marie Gibbons who created the first turkey meat grown outside an animal. Bruce Friedrich, one of Shapiro’s former colleagues who founded The Good Food Institute (GFI), says he’s focused on creating a clean alternative to animal agriculture that competes on taste, price and convenience.

But even if scientists create a way of growing meat in a lab without using animals in any way, it will be impossible to police what the consumer is really eating, whether it is truly lab grown or is actually slaughtered meat disguised as lab meat.

These proponents of “clean meat” will continue to perpetuate the idea that combining it with plant protein will help direct the future of food, but having flesh produced for us by people in white coats doesn’t offer a better vision of humanity’s future. The notion of meat grown in labs as being “clean” is as ridiculous as “clean coal.” The only future we envision is one that removes animals from people’s plates entirely and frees them from captivity and suffering.


Priscilla Feral, president of Friends of Animals, has presided over the international, non-profit animal advocacy organization since 1987. She has also served as president of the San Antonio-based sanctuary Primarily Primates and is a food activist and author of three vegan cookbooks.