Lab grown meat may be the next step in feeding the world. Billions of people to feed brings need for new sources of food. Scientists are creating novel ways to sustain future generations. The process of growing meat in a lab involves taking a small amount of cells from a living animal and growing it into strips of muscle tissue. By the end of 2013, scientists hope to produce the first lab grown hamburger.
Created in an artificial environment outside of the living organism. In-vitro meat is also referred to as cultured meat, cruelty free meat, test tube meat, tube steak, or shmeat.
First Lab Grown Hamburger
Dutch professor, Mark Post has been growing small pieces of muscle with his group at MaastrichtUniversity in the Netherlands. These pieces are around 2cm long, 1cm wide and a mm thick. They will be mixed with blood and artificially grown fat to produce a hamburger.
The cost of producing the hamburger will be around £200,000. Although this is expensive, once the process has been demonstrated, production techniques will be improved and costs will lessen.
Why Lab Grown Meat?
Food scientists believe that current food production methods are unsustainable. The UN Food and Agricultural Organisation estimate that 18% of all global greenhouse emissions are a result of the livestock sector.
To meet the demands of growing populations, food production may have to double in the next 50 years. Along with climate change, water shortage and further urbanisation it will be more difficult to feed everyone.
As global living standards rise, there will be more demand for meat. This will put pressure on resources (food to feed animals, land to keep animals etc.) needed to farm it. The world is right now reaching a critical point in the availability of arable land. It is hoped that the production of lab grown meat will ease these pressures.
Scientists remove stem or muscle cells from a livestock animal. The cells are placed in a nutrient-rich solution where they divide and multiply. They are then attached to a natural scaffolding structure and place in a bioreactor to grow.
To achieve the texture of natural muscle, cells must be physically stretched or exercised regularly. After several weeks a thin layer of muscle tissue will develop. This can be harvested and processed into ground meat product.
Lab grown meat could become more efficient than producing meat the conventional way. At the moment, 100 grams of vegetable protein is fed to pigs or cows to produce 15 grams of animal protein. 15% efficiency. Some scientists believe that artificial meat could produce an energy efficiency of around 50%.
If the technology were to take off, it would drastically reduce the number of factory farmed animals taken to slaughter. The process of creating lab grown meat still sees harm come to animals when produced. But as time develops this will also reduce, creating more humane lab grown meat.
In 2011, the University of Oxford published its research on lab grown meat. It produces 78-96% lower greenhouse gas emissions then conventionally produced meat within the EU. Is also showed 99% lower land use and 82-96% lower water use.
Scientists are able to design meat. For example, healthy fats and Omega-3 can be engineered into the lab grown meat. Creating meat in a lab will also reduce its exposure to bacteria and disease, improving the health and quality of the meat.
The technology is not yet able to synthesize blood vessels or grow large, three-dimensional pieces of meat. This means that big, juicy in-vitro steaks may be a long way off.
Some scientists are concerned that high levels of chemicals will have to be used in order to stop synthetic meat from rotting.
Until synthetic meat is available to a wider audience, there will be no exact way of telling what the real disadvantages may be.
The idea of lab grown meat has been around since the turn of the century. Now, it is becoming closer to a reality.
The technology was originally seen as a means to feed astronauts on long space missions. NASA was among the first to look into developing lab grown meat.
The first edible in-vitro muscle protein was created from a goldfish in 2000. It was created by the NSR/Touro Applied Bio Science Research Consortium.
In 2008, animal rights group PETA announced an award of $1 million would be given to the first person to create a commercially viable in-vitro meat by 2012. Competition rules stated that: The lab grown meat would have to be unrecognisable from the real thing. And it would have to be cheap enough to succeed in the marketplace.
Gabor Forgacs of the University of Missouri specialises in tissue engineering. His work creates replacement tissue and organs for humans. He realised that the same technology could be used to create meat for human consumption. He was the first scientist in the US to produce and publicly eat lab grown meat at the TEDMED conference 2011.
There is no doubt that lab grown meat can become a realistic proposition with time. It will take years of research and an extensive approval process before in-vitro meat is labelled fit for human consumption.
If, and when it becomes a supermarket shelf product, synthetic meat will still only have a small market share. To expand its market share, synthetic meat must drastically reduce in price for it to be a viable marketing proposition. It will take time to gain acceptability and for people to get over the idea of eating lab grown meat.
Would you eat synthetic meat if it was on the supermarket shelf?
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