Even vegetarians can eat this meat!

New techniques proposed by an international research team, could mean the mass production of meat reared was not on the farm, but in the laboratory.

The researchers say that developments in tissue engineering mean that cells taken from animals could be grown directly into meat in a laboratory.

Apparently scientists believe the technology already exists to directly grow processed meat like a chicken nugget, and that technology, they say, could benefit both humans and the environment.

Jason Matheny of the University of Maryland, a member of the research team, says that with a single cell, it could in theory, be possible to produce the world's annual meat supply, and you could do it in a way that is better for the environment and human health.

Proponents of the technique say that growing the meat without the animal could reduce the need to keep millions of animals in cramped conditions and would lessen the damage caused by the meat production to the environment.

Laboratory-grown meat could also be healthier, they say.

Tissue engineering techniques were first developed for medical use and small amounts of edible fish tissue have been grown in research conducted by NASA.

But concerns have always been raised about eating meat from cloned animals.

In order to industrialise the process, researchers suggest the cells be grown on large sheets that would need to be stretched to provide the 'exercise' for the growing muscles.

According to Mr Methany if they are not stretched, 'it would be like eating mush'.

The researchers however do point out that even though the technology exists to produce processed meat now, producing a steak or chicken breast is still quite a way off.

Of course the new techniques could also provide a dilemma for vegetarians, and some may feel able to eat meat that has been grown without an animal being harmed.

But others feel that question marks remain about the way the cells would be taken from animals.

According to some it will not appeal to someone who gave up meat because they think it's morally wrong to eat flesh, or someone who doesn't want to eat anything unnatural.

It is also unclear how regulators might react.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has asked companies not to market any products that involve cloned animals until their safety has been evaluated.

The research is published in the Tissue Engineering journal.

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