/ Food & Drink

A lab-grown burger cooked by Heston? Yum!

I’d eat a burger made by Heston Blumenthal, whether it was ground up meat from a real British cow or meat grown in a Petri dish. As mad as that might sound, the first lab-grown burger could be with us later this year.

Scientists have taken another step in creating animal tissue in a lab environment. Their aim? To create a hamburger by the end of the year.

You might be turning your nose up at the idea of synthetic meat. But why is growing meat in a Petri dish worse than slaughtering an animal?

Man-made meat more sustainable

Maastricht University in the Netherlands has grown a strip of muscle tissue exactly for this purpose. Professor Mark Post says that lab-grown meat would have a positive impact on reducing our environmental footprint, telling BBC News:

‘It will help reduce land pressures. Anything that stops more wild land being converted to agricultural land is a good thing. We’re already reaching a critical point in availability of arable land.’

Most food scientists think our current way of producing food is unsustainable. With a growing world population, farmers simply won’t be able to keep up with our appetite for meat. Sure, we could all become vegetarians, but I don’t see that happening any time soon.

So it’s not just a question of ethics, it’s a question of sustainability and efficiency – growing meat could be a much better way to feed our bellies than rearing livestock.

The taste of synthetic burgers

At the moment, Maastricht Uni’s strip of meat doesn’t sound terribly appetising. It’s basically white muscle, but they plan to grow it with blood, fat and flesh so they can make a burger – with Heston at the top of a list of chefs they’d like to cook it.

Taste will of course be an issue – as many would say there’s already a marked difference between particular breeds of cow. How could a piece of meat grown in a lab possibly compete on taste?

The scientists will have to overcome that hurdle, if it’s possible for them to do so. Who knows, maybe Which? will be doing taste tests of synthetic versus real meat in the far future?

So, would you happily sit down with me and take a bite from a lab-grown burger? We’ve asked you before and the idea was broadly given the thumbs up, with commenter roy81b concluding:

‘Most people will have already experienced ‘manmade’ meat substitues (Tofu, Quorn etc) and I suspect that most found them just about acceptable. So if lab-grown meat is offered at the right price I believe many would at least try just to be able to compare and judge for themselves.’

Comments
Member

I am allergic to celebrities, and not keen on the idea of burgers.

No problem with man-made food as long as the marketing is a little more honest than it was for Quorn, and anything that avoids growing and butchering animals has got to be be a good way forward.

Member

I would not eat “artificial meat ” any more than I would eat GM crops – Frankly it is about time the world embraced population control by sterilisation – It is simply our population growth which is causing the problem.
The amount of starving children would be reduced as a start

The alternative is war – we simply cannot go on breeding faster than rabbits and flies.

Member

Well I’m glad that there are two of us keen on population control. I have mentioned this on several Conversations, but I don’t believe it has elicited any support or even disagreement. Cutting down the population of the UK could help solve many of the problems we have been discussing since Which? Conversation was launched. Hopefully population control will be achieved through education and not war.

Whether you like it or not, it is likely that you are eating GM crops, particularly soya. There are ridiculous claims that it is difficult to keep separate from the non-GM product.

Member

Sorry Wavechange

I do not eat GM food knowingly or willingly nor do I eat Soya and I do read the ingredients of all food I buy. I know the US GM crops are causing deformations and noticeable destruction of the Monarch Butterfly the iconic US insect.. It disgusts me as an entomologist.

I don’t share your hope – China has failed to control population and they have laws against two children to a family. Sterilisation is the only sure way without war or biological meltdown

Member

I avoid products containing soya too, but I sometimes eat out and certainly do not trust the companies that package and label the food I buy. The fact that people do buy GM foods, whether willingly or without their knowledge, has helped them gain acceptance.

At least China has tried. The western world does not seem to see a need for population control.

Member

Mass compulsory sterilisation programmes in one form or another
were actually implemented in India in around/between 1976-78 but
did not quite succeed. Was abandoned.

The one child per family policy in China has not quite
taken off (never ever had in reality) and it is no longer rigorously
enforced/adhered to, especially in or w r t the rural countryside.

Not for me lab-grown synthetic or GM stuff. Much processed foods
contain GM soya, I suspect, that is NOT honestly stated in the foods one
buys. No way of knowing too stuff fed to farmed salmon, for
example, may contain GM even though salmon itself may not be GM.

Uncle Sam seems to take the view what’s good for US is good
for the rest of the world.

When eating out, I always err on the side of caution as to
the food I buy or got served.

Nah, don’t eat burgers unless I make myself
from fresh cuts of meat that I buy.

Member

Hello all, I’d prefer if this debate wasn’t about population control – could we please keep our comments related to lab-grown meat vs real meat and the benefits/drawbacks? I know the topic is related, but I feel it’s a little outside the scope of discussion.

Member

Self wd always try to stay on-topic and on related matters
or matters that have a legitimate bearing on subject matter.

Was only responding to the points brought up by others
in an attempt to illuminate or clarify, for avoidance of doubt
and in the interests of certainty (of the facts).

Member

Quorn started off in the lab and now it is produced in hygienic factories, just like much of our food.

Thanks to some rather dubious marketing (see my post in the earlier Conversation), Quorn is now accepted as a quality product that is preferred by those who don’t approve of growing animals for meat.

The techniques used to produce the new meat are hopelessly uneconomic at present but that might not always be the case.

We need to be looking at ways of replacing meat in our diet for the reason that is irrelevant to this topic. 🙂

Member

Quorn seems to retain the flavours it
purports to have on first cooking but
no trace of it on a reheating thereof.

Wd never accept artificially cultivated
‘meat’ done in lab-type conditions, if real meat
becomes unaffordable, wd be happy to eat tofu
or tofu derivatives and of course nuts and pulses
but not Quorn which is not that cheap
anyway or tasty for that matter. Inferior
texture too with artificial flavours!

Member
Sophie Gilbert says:
23 February 2012

A lab-grown burger? Yuk! (Heston can cook me anything else.)

Member
M. says:
9 March 2012

The no.1 ‘conspiracy theory’ on this planet is that ‘the powers that be’ are exerting some kind of mind control over the population.

Now can you imagine the situation if the governments grew our food in laboratories [they will have to license this and provide monitoring], the scope for abuse would be enormous, the constant fear would be ‘what have they put in our food’. Or do you think we can trust Governments not to try and pacify their populations in this manner?

We have had mad cow disease brought on by feeding cows [herbivores] tainted meat, we have had the GM lies, US produce banned in the EEC because Europeans don’t like what the US uses in its food [growth hormones in beef is one example]. And some European produce banned in the US for the same reasons. From some of the posts here it seems we don’t trust present day food production to deliver uncorrupted wholesome nutritious food. So how can anyone trust that lab grown food will be untainted?

With respect to Patricks Steens wishes, we need to match the population to the food supply, not the food supply to the population, or we will all end up eating Soylant Green.