Meat products grown in labs, or in vitro meat, has taken a considerable step closer to becoming reality this week, after the University of Maastricht’s Dr. Mark Post revealed pictures of a 2cm long piece of muscle that will eventually become edible meat. He announced his experiment in November last year, although the project has been running for six years.
Engineered from bovine stem cells, the initially white muscle is fed with a nutrient rich concoction, then exercised to help it grow and keep it lean, before being mixed with “blood and artificially grown fat” and arranged in layers to form a steak.
Unsurprisingly, given the amount of care and attention this little muscle needs, it’s a pricey experiment, with the final cost nudging $318,000 or £200,000. That’s an expensive burger.
It won’t even taste very good either, with Post quoted as saying “In the beginning it will taste bland,” before sensibly adding “I think we will need to work on the flavor.”
So why bother? What’s wrong with a good cow-burger? The answer is sustainability, as it’s estimated that within 50 years time, food production will need to double to keep up with the demand. The World Health Organization already notes that annual meat production levels will reach 376 million tonnes by 2030, a huge jump given the recorded 218 million tonnes used between 1997 to 1999.
There’s also the interesting aspect of removing contaminants and possibly engineering “healthier” meat. E.Coli and BSE would be eradicated, and cholesterol levels could be lowered artificially, not to mention the chance of introducing other vitamins and nutrients to the meat during production.
Environmentalists and animal rights groups also talk about the advantages to the animals themselves, as it would reduce the reliance on slaughterhouses and potentially end the sometimes in-humane treatment of animals destined for our tables. Dr. Post estimates that lab-grown in vitro meat would see the current environmental footprint of meat production reduced by 60-percent.
When will it be ready?
This isn’t the first time synthetic meat has made headlines, and even though it still sounds slightly unpleasant, this method is considerably more palatable than the last experiment we covered, where Japanese scientists created a synthetic meat from reconstituted human feces. Lovely.
Very few arguments against the continued study of in vitro meats can be found at the moment, however the biggest problem it faces is going to be in its taste. If it doesn’t tantalize the taste-buds of the dedicated omnivore, nobody is going to eat it.
Mass-production of synthetic meat products is still said to be 10-20 years away, but Dr. Post hopes to have the first complete “proof of concept” burger ready in October.