In September 2013, TSW reported that the first lab beef burger (cultured meat) had been grown in a Petri dish. In August 2013, the lab burger was cooked in front of a live audience (1).
It was a media event that served to introduce the beef stem cell created burger by Professor Mark Post of Maastricht University in the Netherlands and his team.
Fast forward to October 2015 and the same team now believes they will be able to have the product on market within the next five years. As demonstrated in 2013, the biggest challenge of the lab burger is taste.
Over the past two years, progress was made in this direction, but clearly there was a need for a more aggressive approach, according to the BBC. Prof Post, the University and Food Technician Peter Verstrate (2) joined forces to create Mosa Meat Company.
The company is charged with making the lab burger taste better and comparable in cost to the real thing. Plans are to create a “minced meat” to market. The company is dedicated to this research and has 25 research professionals working on this end result as well as developing a product that can be mass produced.
A longer term goal for the team is to explore the possibility of using 3-D printing technology to generate steaks and chops.
Confidence in Lab Burger Success
Peter Verstrate, head of the new firm, recently told BBC News, “I feel extremely excited about the prospect of this product being on sale. And I am confident that when it is offered as an alternative to meat that increasing numbers of people will find it hard not to buy our product for ethical reasons” (3).
According to Verstrate, once the lab burger is available, it will be sold as an “exclusive product to order.” He expects the demand to grow, pricing to drop and when it does, the burgers will become available in grocery stores.
Some people can’t get past the stem-cell aspect of the burgers. According to the BBC News, templates for the burger are created using specialized skin cells and nerve tissue from cows. These are used to grow the fat and muscle that make up the lab burgers.
It’s not exactly a new technique since traditional stem cell research being conducted focuses on growing cartilage, nerve cells and muscle tissues for replacement transplants. Post decided to use cow stem cells to create burgers instead.
Arguments for Lab Burgers
There are many arguments in favor of this type of food development, such as environmental impact and land use. For example, lab-grown beef can be produced using 45% less energy required for cattle farming and 99% less land usage.
The burgers are created from the stem cells cultivated from the cow muscle tissue. Within three weeks, after nutrients and cell growth chemicals are added, the stem cells multiply and begin to generate strips of muscle.
The lab then layers the strips, adds color and fat and the end product resembles a burger. Until the taste and texture factors are achieved, the burger remains unmarketable. If the team is able to overcome these hurdles, then the lab burger could possibly revolutionize the beef industry.
In a world where an ever-growing population places greater demands for foodstuffs, especially meats, lab burgers might be a sustainable solution. Starvation due to overpopulation is at a crisis point and many are hopeful that this type of research could eventually help, possibly remedy the crisis.
References & Image Credits:
(1) TSW: Lab Grown Burgers How and Why They May Save the Environment
(2) Cultured Beef
(4) Hamburger Photo