PETA: We're cool with test-tube meat

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals may not be as radical as some people think. They seem willing to work towards compromise in marching towards their vegan vision for the world. PETA has offered a million dollars to the person who can create lab meat to replace livestock, but it may cost them their more die-hard members, if you’ll pardon the pun:

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals wants to pay a million dollars for fake meat — even if it has caused a “near civil war” within the organization.

The organization said it would announce plans on Monday for a $1 million prize to the “first person to come up with a method to produce commercially viable quantities of in vitro meat at competitive prices by 2012.” …

A founder of PETA, Ingrid Newkirk, said she had been hoping to get the organization involved in advancing in vitro meat technology for at least a decade.

But, Ms. Newkirk said, the decision to sponsor a prize caused “a near civil war in our office,” since so many PETA members are repulsed by the thought of eating animal tissue, even if no animals are killed.

Lisa Lange, a vice president of the organization, said she was part of the heated exchange. “My main concern is, as the largest animal rights organization in the world, it’s our job to introduce the philosophy and hammer it home that animals are not ours to eat.” Ms. Lange added, “I remember saying I would be much more comfortable promoting eating roadkill.”

It wouldn’t be fake meat in the same sense as current soy substitutes. The process envisioned by PETA would produce tissue genetically identical to beef, pork, chicken or fish, without killing live animals to get it. Since the entire production would take place in laboratories on successively larger scales, it would not involve animal husbandry and the environmental impact that creates. Some even point out that the meat could be modified to remove bad fats and replaced with healthier compounds, like Omega-3s.

However, this seems like a kidney-pie-in-the-sky solution. Just the timing seems ridiculously ambitious. PETA wants to have “commercially viable quantities” in four years when no one has produced even an experimental quantity at this point. Not only that, but one cannot manufacture meat or anything else out of thin air. Where would we get the protein necessary to produce meat tissue? Either we would have to get it from animals, or we would have to grow bean crops in exponentially greater quantities than we do now — which will have its own environmental and pricing impact.

And let’s not forget that this same demographic routinely shrieks about “Frankenfoods”, or genetically-modified crops. After years of hearing their uneducated nonsense about the dangers of genetically-modified crops, why are they now cheering genetically-modified meat, which comes from a much less organic source than GM crops?

Before PETA members flee in protest, perhaps they should just wait until 2012 to see whether anyone even applies for the prize. I’d bet a steak dinner that it will go unclaimed.