Four years ago when the organization long equated with the vegan lifestyle said it would give $1 million to any scientist who could make chicken in a laboratory, there were some willing to bet no one would meet the group’s challenge.


Now with that deadline fast approaching, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) may indeed have to pay the reward. Somewhat suddenly, in vitro meat is attracting investment and research talent from around the world.

In vitro or cultured meat is not imitation meat — like all those vegetable-protein products that don’t taste anything like beef or chicken.  In vitro or lab-grown meat is animal flesh, except it never was part of a living animal.

In vitro beef or chicken — at least in theory — might advance food safety because the fecal pathogens animals on the hoof can carry would be history through lab controls.

Scientists, including those originally working for NASA, have already proved meat can be grown in a test tube. Whether it can be commercially feasible is the subject of the current R&D work.

Developments that make some think 2012 will be a starting point for lab-grown meat include:

– Dr. Mark Post, a vascular biologist at the University of Maastricht in the Netherlands, is all but promising that in vitro meat will soon be produced by his lab. The Dutch government and an anonymous donor of 300,000 euros fund him. Post is not eligible for the $1 million PETA prize because he is making lab-produced beef, not chicken.

– About 30 labs around the world, including several in the U.S., have announced work on in vitro meat.  One of the latest governments to pursue in vitro meat research and development is Brazil, one of the world’s biggest beef producers.

 – In the U.S., the University of Missouri last July accepted funding from PETA to hire Nicholas Genovese, a researcher from the Medical University of South Carolina, to work in the lab of R. Michael Roberts, the UM’s leading reproductive biologist and expert on stem cells and livestock.

Genovese had worked with Vladimir Mironov at South Carolina on in vitro meat from animal stem cells. Mironov took his research to Brazil. Roberts said that gave him an opportunity to hire a “well-trained young scientist in an area that interests me.”

PETA says a lot of people “cannot kick their meat addictions,” so it decided to promote lab-grown meat. Its $1 million is to go to any scientist who can develop lab-grown chicken with the same taste and texture as real chicken meat, and sell at least 2,000 pounds of the in vitro product in 10 states by early 2016. But the evaluation process deadline is June this year.

If lab-grown meat actually were to become a commercially viable option, PETA figures it would spare animals from suffering and reduce the meat industry’s impact on the environment.

In five-pages of rules for those competing for the reward, PETA sets up a June 30, 2012 evaluation deadline and a Feb. 28, 2016 cutoff for achieving the commercial sales goal.   Both PETA judges and “a panel of 10 meat-eating individuals” will reportedly be involved in the comparison tasting.