Scientists are getting closer to producing cultured meat products for broad human consumption. The first lab-grown hamburger is expected to be produced “in the coming year” according to a Reuters report on Mark Post’s progress with stem cells harvested from slaughterhouse leftovers. Post is a vascular biologist at the University of Maastricht in the Netherlands and so far he’s been quite successful in producing inch long strips of animal flesh.
Granted the meat strips don’t look all that appetizing considering they lack blood vessels and therefore lack the vibrant red coloring consumers expect from a slab of meat. They are also incredibly thin, appearing more akin to gossamer butterfly wings than a thick, sizzling steak. Lastly, they lack fat which means that the taste likely falls somewhere between bland and ick!
None of those early shortcomings bother Post. Not even the need to regularly exercise these tiny slices of meat deters him. Yes, he must exercise the meat as it is muscle tissue and like all muscle tissue, it will waste away if not exercised regularly. Post deals with this by stretching them between Velcro tabs to provide resistance against the muscle fibers natural tendency to contract.
Post says the first hamburger will likely be made of thousands of layers of these cultured meat strips seasoned by lab-made fat and pressed into the expected patty shape. The whole process is labor-intensive which will likely push the burger’s price tag upwards from 300,000 U.S. dollars. However, production costs will drop with time as every technology does once the process is refined and perfected.
Supporters say the cultured meat rivals growth hormone and antibiotic fed animals produced by factory farms in terms of nutrition. Detractors say that the lab-grown meat will still meet with defeat in light of the current trend favoring organic and free-range foods.
In any case, cultured meat is not likely to pose any significant competitive threat to traditional or factory farmers in the immediate future. Production costs are still prohibitive and production processes far too slow to hit sufficient volumes to lower those costs.
More work also needs to be done to improve appearance, taste, smell, and texture so that the public will accept the food more easily. A serious and extensive public education campaign will also likely be necessary.
But when all is said and done, cultured meat is a necessity if a world full of humans are to be fed, says Post and his supporters. Conventional meat production is terribly inefficient and ultimately unsustainable which is why scientists keeping looking for ways to improve the entire process. Cultured meat, it is hoped, can eventually resolve many of these problems. To learn more, watch Mark Post’s TEDxBrainport presentation on advances in cultured meat in the video below.