PETA’s Million-Dollar Fake Meat Prize

PETA recently offered a $1 million reward to the first company that can produce In Vitro meat in commercially viable quantities by 2012. (AussieBruce posted about it in the forum.)

But Daniel Engber, writing for, explains why PETA's prize has so many strings attached that it's basically a bogus offer.

1) According to the contest guidelines, the fake-meat must be sold in stores to qualify for the prize. Engber writes: "Fake-chicken entrepreneurs have to demonstrate a "commercial sales minimum" at a "comparable market price"; in plain English, they need to move 2,000 pounds of the stuff at supermarkets and chain restaurants spread out across 10 states during a period of three months. And the Franken-meat can't cost more than regular chicken."

2) This is an impossible condition to meet, since the FDA would have to approve the fake-meat before it could be sold in stores. And there's no way a product like this could be invented and make it through the FDA's approval process in the next four years. The FDA review process itself typically takes years to complete.

So don't expect anyone to win PETA's prize.

I'm still waiting for those "Meat Trees" (genes from cattle spliced into the reproductive cells of grapefruit trees) described by the Weekly World News back in 2003 to become a reality. (Thanks, Christopher)

Animals Food

Posted on Thu Apr 24, 2008


whoa, new name for the band: "FrankenMeat". FrankenMeat and The Petri Porkers... yeah
Posted by Hairy Houdini  on  Thu Apr 24, 2008  at  10:31 AM
But PETA got more than $1 million in free publicity. And I bet that is all that mattered to them.
Posted by Christopher Cole  in  Tucson, AZ  on  Thu Apr 24, 2008  at  11:09 AM
Not to mention, it could cost many hundreds of millions to develop such substance in the first place.
Posted by andychrist  on  Thu Apr 24, 2008  at  06:16 PM
Making artificial meat is not so simple as some (eg. PETA) would have us believe. A posting from this science blog gives some more details:

Having said that, I've been to a couple of Asian vegetarian restaurants here in Edmonton Alberta that serve imitation meat dishes that look and taste like the real thing. If fact, I truly believe that if the friend who took me there didn't tell me everything was 100% vegetable I wouldn't have noticed.
Posted by Captain Al  in  Vancouver Island, Canada  on  Fri Apr 25, 2008  at  07:41 AM
I've been to an Asian supermarket that offered such appealing entrees as "vegetarian tripe," "vegetarian blood pudding," and (my favorite) "vegetarian pork brains." They were apparently made out of things like wheat gluten and soy protein, but can meat trees be far behind?
Posted by Big Gary  in  Hereford, Texas  on  Fri Apr 25, 2008  at  10:09 AM
"But PETA got more than $1 million in free publicity. And I bet that is all that mattered to them."

Wow, you figured that out all by yourself! Shocking, especially considering the story was filed as a "Publicity Stunt."
Posted by Ima Fish  on  Fri Apr 25, 2008  at  12:48 PM
Ima Fish, I had it figured out long before it was posted here as a "Publicity Stunt" since I was the one who told Alex about it. Indeed, I came to the conclusion years ago the PETA is little more than a self-publicity organization.
Posted by Christopher Cole  in  Tucson, AZ  on  Fri Apr 25, 2008  at  12:53 PM
Heh, one of these days, I'm going to collate and post online my fun facts for vegetarians... As soon as my secret bunker is complete!
(Not eating meat makes people sooo cranky!)

Ok, just one; Animals are nature's refrigerators.
They keep the meat fresh and tasty until you're ready to eat it!
Posted by Captain DaFt  on  Sat Apr 26, 2008  at  10:18 PM
Actually, it's not impossible because it wouldn't be a new product. The FDA only regulates additives and new substances, but doesn't regulate genetic engineering or processes by which things are grown.

If you wanted to use some new chemical hormone to grow this meat you would need FDA approval.

If you only used "natural" or processed existing food products- such as the attempts to grow it on a fungus serum- then you generally wouldn't (the same as just feeding chicken fungi soup, which is the same as selling chicken mushroom soup, essentially).

The big red flag here would be hormones; pretty much everything else can be obtained by other means by which one wouldn't need FDA approval.

Doing it without hormones would be possible by growing the right kind of chicken tumors or cancers instead of normal cells (one would need to evolve them rather than genetically engineer them, because the later would be too expensive and defeat the point).

It sounds strange, but if you understand what a tumor is, it's quite rational- it's just a rogue cell that's reproducing on its own in excess or without the chemical signals that usually permit a cell to reproduce (due to damaged DNA- nutritionally, it would be the same, and couldn't spread to humans [even if it wasn't cooked]).

If I had a ready supply of chicken tumors, growth medium, and a sterile lab, I'd do it myself. If I started now, it would take a couple years (with that kind of lab resource, you're already pushing it budget-wise unless you're a grad student and using a school lab), but then I'd also have to have agreements with all of the retailers to move the stuff after it was produced. It's a tricky time line, but far from impossible.

I can't say where I'd be able to get chicken tumors from; most chickens aren't able to live long enough to acquire them. Maybe hire a veterinarian to get them from an animal sanctuary where the chickens are old enough to have things like that growing. Actually, it would be much easier to get parrot tumors, I imagine (I'm not sure if that would qualify).
Posted by Blake  on  Fri Jun 26, 2009  at  01:37 PM
First, the main problem is that the world is too stupid to fund what is clearly the single most important PRACTICAL problem in the history of life on this planet (not just of human history, not just of our age): how to get life to feed minimally off other life. The PETA prize should be $10 billion and governments should fund it, the way they throw away trillions of dollars on corporate welfare and military contractors without a single thought to how the money will be spent.

I agree that the requirements for this PETA Prize are too stringent: namely, the fake meat must be sold in a certain quantity commercially.
But, don't blame Peta. I don't see anyone else out there trying to do what PETA is doing, fighting the multiple multi-billion dollar industries that PETA is fighting, and doing so for the right reasons: to end the needless breeding and torture of animals.

This is why, in the meantime, we need to a tough anti-meat policy that will shut down factory farms permanently and treat dealers and meat addicts a thousand times more harshly than meth dealers and addicts are treated.

Naturally, there will always be those, such as the health freaks and the anti-bioengineering freaks, who will always distract the main issue - ending the Holocaust of factory farming - with slogans about "organic" and "no GMOs" (genetically modified organisms). Not that there isn't a certain value to eating foods that do NOT contain pesticides, but, pesticides may be necessary in certain cases to a certain degree.

All life/ competition / war/ crime/ politics is a math/optimization problem. PETA's animal rights goals should be viewed no differently than all other political goals - such as banning nuclear weapons in North Korea or deciding for what purpose nuclear weapons should be used - except that PETA's goals are ten times more important. Being all game-theoretic math problems, there is no difference among political/legal/criminal/military conflict: they are all conflict, with usually one side more right than the other.

So, if one criticizes PETA's prize as being "bogus", then one should condemn ALL prizes as being bogus, because ALL prizes are stupid. Adding unnecessary competition to the world is ALWAYS stupid and destructive.

So, for now, yes - I am VERY determined to work on PETA's X-meat prize and VERY determined to win it, even if few others are. History is full of so many human accomplishments - both individually and collectively - that had been considered "impossible" before their completion that it makes the naysayers look laughable. There is nothing better that any of us can do with our lives.
Posted by Dr John Michael Nahay  on  Tue Sep 08, 2009  at  06:05 AM
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