Is lab-created meat the future?

SCIENTISTS HAVE PAVED the way for further ‘in vitro’ meat experiments, after the world’s first ‘test tube’ burger was sampled by two leading food experts – and given the thumbs up.


Scientists at the University of Maastrich, led by Dr Mark Post, created the 142g burger patty out of 20,000 small strips of meat grown from cow stem cells, which was then served to two volunteers – US-based food author Josh Schonwald and Austrian food researcher Hanni Ruetzler.


A relatively positive verdict was given by both volunteers – with one of them describing it as ‘having the perfect consistency’ but lacking in flavour.


Reactions to the experiment – which some scientists have hailed as a step in the right direction for creating a sustainable source of meat products – have been varied. Animal Welfare Organisation PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) welcomed the research saying: “One day you will be able to eat meat with ethical impunity. In-vitro technology will spell the end of lorries full of cows and chickens, abattoirs and factory farming. It will reduce carbon emissions, conserve water and make the food supply safer.


“Lab-grown meat will provide people who were addicted from childhood to the saturated fat in flesh with the ‘methadone’ for their habit.”


Others were not so convinced, with the head of policy at the Soil Association commenting: “There are … many simpler solutions to feeding our growing population available to us now including agroecological systems such as organic farming which works with nature to obtain good yields with far lower inputs and producing food with high animal welfare, lower pollution, and with more wildlife and jobs on farms. It is unlikely that lab grown meat would ever replace meat production in the UK and there is still a long way to go before these products are anywhere near, if ever being commercially viable.”


In-vitro meat is created by first harvesting stem cells, which are cultured in a nutrient broth allowing the cells to replicate 30 fold.


Next they are combined with an elastic collagen and attached to Velcro “anchor points” in a culture dish.


Between the anchor points, the cells self-organise into chunks of muscle.


Electrical stimulation is then used to make the muscle strips contract and “bulk up” – the laboratory equivalent of working out in a gym.


Finally the thousands of beef strips are minced up, together with 200 pieces of lab-grown animal fat, and moulded into a patty.


Around 20,000 meat strands are needed to make one 142g burger and the cost of the experiment has been reported at £250,000 – making this the world’s most expensive burger.


Unveiling the research last year Post – Head of physiology at the Netherlands’ university – pointed out that the global demand for meat was skyrocketing and was unsustainable in the long term, saying: “Meat demand is going to double in the next 40 years. Right now we are using 70% of all our agricultural capacity to grow meat through livestock. You can easily calculate that we need alternatives.”


Despite a successful trial and plans from the science team behind the burger to reduce costs of production, the question remains over whether consumers will respond well to the meat and if not what is the future for meat production as the global population continues to rise?