All hail the New Flesh – in-vitro meat on sale within a decade

Paul Raven @ 15-04-2008

Blue steakHere’s another item to add to the list of science fictional ideas that are edging close to becoming a reality – in-vitro (or “vat-grown”) meat could be sat on supermarket shelves within ten years.

The technology is already tried and tested, it’s just a case of waiting for the economic cost to become competitive … which, given the sharp (and probably continuing) rise in global food prices, may come sooner than anyone would like to think. [image by Yandle]

I’ve spoken to friends about in-vitro meat and their reaction has usually been disgust. I’m guessing that the economics will change that attitude more effectively than any amount of rational discussion – principles tend to be the first thing that gets eaten when someone’s stomach is empty, and we’re already consuming meat from cloned livestock.

And after all, it’s not quite the same as Soylent Green. Would you move to eating in-vitro meat right now if it cost less than the real thing?

[And we’re back to song lyric references in headlines … 😉 ]

As food prices rise, Opium fields in Afghanistan change to Wheat

Tomas Martin @ 11-04-2008

Rice in India is hitting record pricesFood prices are at historic highs, thanks to a number of factors including increased biofuel use. Rice prices are causing shortages and inflation problems in India, Bangladesh and the rest of Asia, with prices of many grains double what they were this time last year.

UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown today called for action about the price rises at the next G8 meeting, with the incentives for making biofuel having unforeseen consequences leading to the shortages.

“For the first time in decades, the number of people facing hunger is growing. Food prices have risen sharply leading to food riots in several countries,” Brown wrote.

Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, the Telegraph reports that farmers who had been producing opium for the illicit trade of heroin have begun to switch from the poppy to wheat because the grain fetches higher prices than the drug. Unforeseen consequences, indeed!

[via Russ Winter and Paul Krugman, image of rice at Colaba Market, Mumbai by Dey]

First Algae to biofuel plant begins production tomorrow

Tomas Martin @ 31-03-2008

the new 1080 acre algae biofuel farm in Texas Although PetroSun have picked the worst possible day for beginning production, their algae to biofuel processor plant is ready to begin working tomorrow, April 1st. 1080 acres of the site in Rio Hondo Texas will be devoted the process, with an additional 20 acres making experimental jet fuel . I’d question their choice of launching on April Fool’s Day but if this is a real development it’s potentially very exciting.

“Our business model has been focused on proving the commercial feasibility of the firms’ algae-to-biofuels technology during the past eighteen months.” said PetroSun CEO Gordon LeBlanc, Jr “Whether we have arrived at this point in time by a superior technological approach, sheer luck or a redneck can-do attitude, the fact remains that microalgae can outperform the current feedstocks utilized for conversion to biodiesel and ethanol, yet do not impact the consumable food markets or fresh water resources.”

Algae conversion to biofuel is much more efficient than other techniques. It provides as much as 30 times more energy per acre than corn or soy . In addition, it doesn’t impact on the growing of human fuel – food stocks in grains are low and shortages threatening because of farmland switching from food to biofuel production. Algae promises a good compromise to stop a Downward Spiral.

[story and picture via TreeHugger ]

The bees are still dying – but Haagen Dazs wants to help

Tomas Martin @ 21-02-2008

Save our little friends, save the world?For a number of years now biologists and farmers alike have been concerned about levels of honeybees around the world, with many hives collapsing due to what’s known as CCD – Colony Collapse Disorder. It leads people to find strangely abandoned hives with a few dead bees but most gone elsewhere. The causes are unknown – it could be a number of fungal or viral diseases, or interference from cell phone towers messing up their ability to find home. It could also be mites, global warming, GM crops, pretty much anything. As honeybees are used massively in pollinating commercial fruit and vegetables, this is a real concern not just for a species of insect, but also for us.

Happily a certain gourmet Ice Cream company is on the case. Haagen Dazs has already donated money to some of the researchers trying to find what’s going on with the bees. Now it’s also making a bee-themed honey Ice Cream, with profits going towards our stripy friends. Coincidentally, did you know Haagen Dazs is not actually Scandanavian? The name was created by its founders in America and both words are actually made up. The closest translation in any language is an Iranian phrase meaning ‘garbage can’.

[via Daily Galaxy, image by BugMan50]

The personal food analyzer: one step closer to a tricorder

Edward Willett @ 08-01-2008

Tricorder Philips has come up with a design for a tiny food analyzer, something that small food companies could afford: and something that raises the distinct possibility the day may not be far off when you’ll be able to carry your own personal food analyzer around with you to make sure you really are eating steak and not soy, or drinking Guinness and not somebody’s backyard brew with a load of food coloring in it (although if you can’t tell if you’re drinking real Guinness, you probably shouldn’t be allowed to drink it, anyway).

It’s all being made possible by “lab-on-a-chip” technology which puts the components for this kind of analysis on a single computer chip–just like in a Star Trek tricorder. (Via New Scientist, which made the Star Trek comparison first, so don’t blame me!)

Read the complete patent application.

(Photo: Wikimedia Commons.)

[tags]food, technology, Star Trek[/tags]

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