There’s many of you thinking that burgers sold in some of the larger fast food outlets are made from synthetic meat. Although many taste like it, they’re not. However, Great British Chefs discovered that Heston Blumenthal has been asked to cook the world’s first hamburger made with a synthetic meat protein derived from bovine stem cells.
Dr Mark Post, the Dutch scientist behind this experiment told the American Association for the Advancement of Science that a hamburger made from artificial beef protein was a “milestone” in the development of new ways to meet the global demand for meat, a demand that’s expected to double by 2050.
“In October we’re going to provide a ‘proof of concept’ showing that with in-vitro culture methods that are pretty classical we can make a product out of stem cells that looks like, and hopefully taste like, meat,” Dr Post said.
“The target goal is to make a hamburger and for that we need to grow 3,000 pieces of this muscle and a couple of hundred pieces of fat tissue. As long as it’s a patty the size of a regular hamburger, I’m happy with it”.
For the last six years a team, funded by an anonymous backer, have been extracting stem cells from bovine muscle, culturing them in the laboratory and turning them into strips of muscle fibres that can be minced together with synthetic fat cells into an “edible product”.
The Independent said “The technical challenges have included giving the meat a pinkish colour and the right texture for cooking and eating, as well as ensuring that it feels and tastes like real meat.”
Dr Post is still nervous about the final result. “I am a little worried, but seeing and tasting is believing,” he said. ”Eventually, my vision is that you have a limited herd of donor animals that you keep in stock in the world. You basically kill animals and take all the stem cells from them, so you would still need animals for this technology.”
However, the cost of meat is being driven up, by the increasing cost of the grain used to feed much the world’s cattle.
“It comes down to the fact that animals are very inefficient at converting vegetable protein [either grass or grain] into animal protein. Yet meat demand is also going to double in the next 40 years,” he said.
“Right now we are using about 70 per cent of all our agricultural capacity to grow meat through livestock. You are going to need alternatives. If we don’t do anything, meat will become a luxury food and will become very expensive.”
So why don’t we just become vegetarians if meat became too expensive? Dr Post has a view on this: ”There are many reasons why people are vegetarian. I’ve talked to the Dutch vegetarian society, which has said that probably half of its members will eat this meat if it has cost fewer animal lives and requires less intensive farming,”
“You can probably make meat healthier,” he said. “You can probably trigger these cells to make more polyunsaturated fatty acids, just like grass-fed beef has more polyunsaturates than grain-fed beef. You could make any type of meat, you could make mixed meats. I’m pretty sure you could even make panda meat.” Really?!
Dr Post has an anonymous financial backer enabling him to carry out the research. “It’s a very reputable source of money,” he said. “He has the image of whatever he does turns into gold and he is not sure that may be the case here so he doesn’t want to be associated with a potential failure.”
What do you think? Would you eat a genetically modified burger? Would it help if Heston had cooked it? Would you rather become a vegetarian if meat became so expensive that only the rich could afford to buy it? We’re discussing these issues over on Great British Chefs Facebook Page.