August 7, 2013
Scientists from the Maastricht University in the Netherlands have unveiled the world's first lab-grown beef burger in London, UK, where they took stem cells from organic cows and placed them in a nutrient solution to create muscle tissue, which then grew into small strands of meat.
The so-called "cultured beef" - dubbed the "Frankenburger" - was made using 20,000 such strands of meat grown from muscle cells taken from a living cow, grown over three months. It was mixed with salt, egg powder and breadcrumbs and coloured with beetroot juice and saffron.
Mark Post, who led the research, claimed it could eventually replace ordinary beef in conventional diets, thus reducing the huge environmental pressure caused by raising livestock.
Post insisted the artificial beef is safe, while acknowledging that the technology was at a very early stage. He predicted that the meat could be sold in supermarkets in 10 to 20 years.
Tasters have declared that the 140-gram patty is as "close to meat" in flavour and texture though not as juicy. It is developed at a cost of more than US$330,000, with financial backing from Google co-founder, Sergey Brin.
Neil Stephens, a sociologist based at Cardiff University who has studied the test-tube meat, is doubtful about public acceptance of the food. "Challenges include up-scaling production so that significant quantities can be made at a competitive price," he said.
The research team claims that cells extracted from a cow could produce 175 million burgers while modern farming would require 440,000 cows. Demand for meat is expected to increase by two-thirds in the next 40 years and current production methods are believed to be unsustainable.
Proponents of test-tube meat cite a variety of reasons, from animal welfare to the environment and even public health. They also stated that lab-developed meat theoretically carries no risk of disease and is not treated with antibiotics.
Animal rights group, Peta, has offered US$1 million for the first laboratory to produce market-ready in-vitro chicken meat, and is funding research in the US.
Google entrepreneur, Brin, has stepped in to support the Maastricht project after funding from the Dutch government dries out.
Campaigners say such demand is putting unsustainable pressure on the planet, both through the feed required for the animals and the methane gas they produce, which contributes to global warming.