When Prof Mark Post unveiled the world’s first lab-grown hamburger four years ago, he garnered headlines around the world.
Some found it yucky, others thought it was an inevitable step in the march of technology. Everyone found it interesting.
As for me, I find the idea of eating something like this horrifying.
Having been off meat for over 10 years, I simply don’t find a reason to put animal parts in my body and mouth (whether they come from a lab or a slaughtered animal).
On the other hand, that the fact a scientist puts that much effort and investment to bring a cruelty-free type of meat to the general public may eventually lead people to give the whole concept behind veganism some more consideration and thought.
Prof Post’s argument is that conventional farming of cows is inefficient and it is a problem for the environment – not only in the amount of land that cows need to grow up, but in the greenhouse gases they belch out as they digest their food.
Their raw materials are just a few chunks of muscle from cows.
They harvest stem cells from the tissue and multiply them up in the lab until they have enough to turn into muscle fibres.
The muscle fibres get bound together and turned into something that looks (and presumably tastes) like minced beef.
Since 2013, the team’s process for making the meat has become more refined – the scientists have simplified the growth medium for the cells and they have also started growing fat cells to mix into the final hamburgers they make.
Fat is where a lot of the flavour and moistness of meat comes from, so it is important for the texture and quality of any consumer product.
Prof Post now wants to scale up production and spin his work off into a company, MosaMeat, that can produce the meat on a large scale.
That has its own challenges – he’ll need huge bioreactors (essentially large brewing kettles) that can grow billions of cells, rather than the petri dishes and flasks where he grows millions of cells.
And the process will need to be become automated, to prevent human hands contaminating the cultured meat.
The technology to do all this exists already, but perfecting it to grow meat will not be straightforward.
“We now have an investor lined up from the food industry,” says Prof Post.
“We estimate it will take 3-4 years to get hamburgers to the market, that will still be small-scale at £10-11 for a hamburger.
“In the years after that, price will come down and it will hit the supermarkets around 7 years from now.”
There’s clearly a long way to go – the tiny lab-grown burgers the Maastricht team showed ITV News (which were just couple of centimetres across) each cost around £10,000 to make.
Even if the team can scale up their project and start selling lab-grown burgers or (in the future, lab-grown steaks), Prof Post knows that public acceptance may take a long time to get around to the idea of eating meat that does not come from animals.
But he is adamant that that acceptance will come – eventually – for environmental and animal-welfare reasons.
“Imagine a future 30 years from now and you have two identical products – one is made in a cow and has animal welfare issues as you have to slaughter the cow.
“[The other] is exactly the same, same price or lower and has no greenhouse gas emissions and no animal slaughtered. What will you choose? I cannot imagine a future where those two can co-exist. I cannot imagine it.”
Yet, another question can be posed – is the huge investment and effort worth it? What if all of this money went to spread awareness among the general public on the cruelty inflicted on animals every day as well as the benefits of plant protein and foods?
I simply cannot imagine that someone would prefer meat grown in a lab over a vegetable grown under the sun. Is this ‘solution’ to an issue actually no ‘solution’ at all, but just another way to waste resources in the wrong way?
I would personally prefer all of this money went to spread awareness about the benefits and superiority of plant-based foods rather than growing meat in a lab!
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