By: Emma Nolan
Photo courtesy of Mike Licht.
Lab-grown meat; science fiction is upon us and the world’s first lab grown burger needs some tweaking before its ready for mass production and consumption because at the moment it still tastes a little bit more test-tube than real meat.
The patty itself cost over $300,000 to produce and was made by Professor Mark Post and his team at Maastricht University in the Netherlands. Their research has resulted in the production of a burger composed of tiny strips of muscle and protein tissue cultivated from stem cells from living cows. These tiny strips were then compressed together to form the burger.
The meat industry as it stands, is not sustainable for the future because of its impact on global warming and animal cruelty issues too. The methane gas emissions from livestock are a much more harmful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, contributing greatly to climate change.
So this “cultured beef” as its creators are calling it seems to be a viable method of meat production for the future. Meat lovers’ tastes will be provided for and vegetarians will be able to enjoy meat without the implications of animal cruelty.
Dr. Post stressed to The Guardian that if we are to continue to eat meat at the rate we do, changes are going to have to occur. “Meat demand is going to double in the next 40 years and right now we are using 70% of all our agricultural capacity to grow meat through livestock.”
The project’s funding was contributed to by Google co-founder Sergey Brin. “Some people think this is science fiction – it is not real, it’s somewhere out there,” Brin has been quoted describing the burger. “I actually think that is a good thing. If what you are doing is not seen by some people as science fiction it is probably not transformative enough.”
Producing meat without the harmful and unsustainable environmental effects, that doesn’t harm animals at all is finally here. Dr. Post thinks that within 10 to 20 years his cultured beef could be hitting our supermarket shelves.
The project was also funded by PETA, an organization noted for its aggressive methods to encourage vegan lifestyles. PETA’s president and co-founder Ingrid Newkirk is advocating the production of cultured beef, but is insisting that we shouldn’t wait to eat lab-grown beef and convert to a vegetarian diet now.
“Every one of us who has a kind bone in our body has ethical responsibility to end cruelty and suffering today. People are addicted to flesh and so are hesitant to try a vegan diet. If we don’t act now the least we can do is support this project.”
Newkirk described the introduction of the test tube burger as a landmark day. PETA have been funding the project for the last six years.
“We’re not purists, we’re pragmatists.” Newkirk says of her vegan advocacy organization contributing to the funding of a meat product. Her ultimate goal is to end animal suffering, and if people eat meat that comes from a lab and not a slaughterhouse, then it’s fine by her.
With this new way of producing meat, free from the cruelty and environmental concerns, we now perhaps have a collective ethical responsibility to choose cultured meat over the real thing, and according to PETA, the right to choose to eat what you want is not a right because abusing animals is not a right.
“We have to be the voice for animals. Even though they scream and bellow, people don’t pay attention and that’s why we have to add our voice; and boy is it loud!”
As for the taste, it’s not quite there yet but easily improved according to Dr Post who is happy with his cultured beef. “I think it’s a very good start – it proved that we can do this, that we can make it. We are basically catering towards letting beef-eaters eat beef in an environmentally ethical way.”
The two tasters at the London event were Hanni Rutzler, an Austrian food and nutritional scientist and Josh Schownwald, a food writer who both agreed that the absence of fat is what differentiates it from the real thing. Schonwald added that despite the lack of fat, the bite and “mouth feel” still felt like a conventional burger. The lack of available ketchup was a problem for Schonwald’s enjoyment of the meat, however it is clear that with a few adjustments this could become a commercially viable product for mass production and consumption in the future.
“If it can be done more efficiently, there’s no reason why it can’t be cheaper,” Dr Post told The New York Times. “It has to be done using the right materials, introducing recycling into the system, controlling labor through automation.”
Cultured beef may well be the answer to “major problems that the world faces,” according to Dr. Post, and while the meat is currently incredibly expensive to produce that will decrease, and the taste will improve. We can be optimistic about the future of the meat industry now because the alternative works.