Is this an agriculture story or a manufacturing story? I’ll leave it to you to decide. It involves the production of beef which is clearly agricultural. But the beef we are talking about here is not on hoof but in a laboratory.
Deemed the “Frankenburger,” in vitro meat is about to be served to a select number of guests in London in the United Kingdom during the first week of August. Frankenburgers are not to be confused with “frankenfoods,” a moniker associated with genetically modified organisms or GMO for short. The Frankenburger is synthetic meat grown from harvested cow stem cells. Each consists of 3,000 grain-sized strips of artificially created beef.
The burger doesn’t come cheap. If any of these guests were paying they’d be forking over $325,000 U.S. for each patty. Instead an anonymous donor is paying for all of the burgers being served at this gala event.
Mark Post, a medical physiologist at Maastricht University, The Netherlands, seen in the picture below, has been the “guru of in-vitro” meat for some time. His goal is to change the way humans produce meat protein by moving it away from harvested living animals to lab manufacturing. A single stem cell from one animal has the potential to feed the globe. At the same time moving meat production from the farm to the lab frees up land and water and reduces the food production infrastucture focused on livestock.
Post argues that our current practices to grow meat use 70% of total agricultural capacity. Moving it from the field and farm to the lab means humans will just need a few donor herds used to harvest stem cells for providing the “seeds” for producing the meat we will eat. In vitro meat will need 99% less land, will consume 82 to 96% less water, and will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by between 78 and 95%.
In vitro meat, therefore, appeals to the environmental movement. But it also appeals to vegetarians who don’t eat meat as a protest against the slaughtering of animals.
Lots of hurdles remain before in vitro meat will be found on grocery shelves. One is that meat is never uniform. it is a mix of different cells types from meat fiber to fat. Currently, however, the synthetic meat that will be served in London comes from a single cultivated stem cell. But synthetic meat can eventually be grown from multiple cell types with improvements over that grown on hoof. Saturated fats can be replaced with unsaturated fat giving the meat the same wonderful flavour without the cholesterol.
Post states that despite the lack of fat, his in vitro burger meat tastes pretty good. Well next week others will taste Frankenburgers and render their verdict. We’ll keep you and the billions of animals we grow and harvest posted. After all the latter have an even bigger vested interest in the outcome.