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Would you eat this burger?

Today in London the first ever lab-grown hamburger was cooked and eaten. Would you eat meat grown in a lab? Before you answer the question you should know more about how the burger was made and more importantly, why?

How the burger was made?
It was made by Professor Mark Post from Maastricht University in Holland using using stem cells taken from a dead cow. These are muscle specific stem cells that are then provided with nutrients so that they can divide over and over again by mitosis. The cells naturally come together to form small fibres called myotubes. These are electrically stimulated to make them contract and relax, this builds the muscle fibres just like going to the gym. They are then combined with fat grown in a lab and a few other additives such as beetroot for colour and then pressed into a burger. Therefore only a few cells are needed to make a whole burger, and potentially tons of meat.

Watch the video below to learn more about stem cells.

Why was the burger made?

  • We currently have a huge demand for meat in the world. The increase of the middle classes in countries such as India and China has further increased demand for meat and also the cost. Artificial meat could therefore provide a cheaper alternative to real meat.
  • The population is increasing at an exponential rate. Current methods of producing meat will not be sustainable in the future and so artificial meat may be a good solution as it can be grown using 99% less land. Using less land for animals means more can be used to grow crops such as fruit and vegetables which are healthy and much needed as the population continues to grow.
  • Current methods of meat production are very bad for the environment. A lot of energy is used to farm meat, from producing the feed to housing and slaughtering the livestock. However the major issue is methane. Ruminants such as sheep and cattle release a lot of methane due to their digestive system. Methane is a greenhouse gas which is 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. This is contributing hugely to global warming and consequently climate change. In contrast, lab-grown beef uses 45% less less energy and produces 96% less greenhouse gases (Source: Environmental Science and Technology Journal).
  • Another issue is animal welfare. Many vegetarians and vegans have taken the life choice not to eat meat because they disagree with how animals are treated in the production of meat. Meat grown in the lab avoids the need to grow animals and slaughter them in the way we do now. Only one cow would be needed to make thousands and thousands of burgers.

Watch this video to see a nice summary of these issues.

What are the problems with lab-grown meat?

  • It costs about £250,000 to make lab-grown beef. However in the future when the cost of the technology involved becomes cheaper it could be economically viable to make meat on a mass scale. The question is will it ever be cheap enough to actually be used by the countries where it may be needed the most?
  • The taste of the meat may not be as good. At this afternoon’s tasting Austrian food researcher Ms Ruetzler said: “It’s close to meat, it’s not that juicy, the consistency is perfect”. It’s therefore expected that other additives will need to be used to make the meat taste better and also make it more healthy then regular meat.
  • Perhaps we should be focussing on managing our current issues with food such as food wastage – at the moment we throw away a 6th of all food!
  • The thought of growing food in a lab this way can be off-putting to people.

So now you know the details, have you made up your mind? If you’re still not sure watch this TED talk by Prof Mark Post and see if he can convince you.

Please comment below with your opinions on this amazing scientific development.

Photo credit: David Parry/PA
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Posted on August 5, 2013, in 2.2 Food and Digestion, 4.2 Human Influences on the Environment, Science News and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. That’s all very well, it being great for the ruminants, they don’t end up on somebody’s plate, but instead are slaughtered to make room for crops. This has the potential to damage livelihoods really quite badly. The fact that this new ‘meat’ doesn’t really taste right and so will get additives chucked into the mix defeats the purpose of it being a ‘healthier’ meat. Cows, sheep, pigs and poultry are farmed for a reason – gimme a steak pie any day.

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