MAASTRICHT, Netherlands- Lab-grown meat can help meet growing global demand for meat! Confused? How about this: in vitro meat made from animal stem cells could feed the hungry, and yes, save the world. We the people of the world can thank Mark Post, professor of physiology at Maastricht University in the Netherlands, for in August of 2013 successfully making the first lab-grown beef burger. Post’s burger was constructed from tens of thousands of strands of protein grown in petri dishes from cattle stem cells, and cost 250,000 British pounds, equivalent to US $ 412,500. Before we all write off lab-grown meat as unappetizing and expensive, let us consider that it is also in its earliest stages of development, and once production is stream-lined lab-made meat will be a very low cost, high protein food option for people around the world.
By 2060, the human population is predicted to rise to 9.5 billion and with rising demand for meat from rapidly developing populations in, for example, China and India, the market in meat is expected to double by the middle of the century. Current conventional livestock farming is already pushing the earth’s reusable resources and pollution levels beyond their limits,and these converging trends spell trouble. 30% of the Earth’s usable surface is covered by pasture land for animals, compared to just 4% of the surface which is used to directly feed humans. Despite the vast amounts of land, water and fossil fuels that we devote to raising animals for food, nearly 1 billion people are still undernourished. This is because of the gross inefficiency of meat production. It takes up to 16 pounds of grain to produce just 1 pound of animal flesh. Lab-grown meat on the other hand does not need to be fed, and requires far less energy to produce than does factory farm grown meat. Furthermore we could give those same crops to human beings, thereby combating world hunger!
The fact of the matter is with a rapidly growing world population matched by an expanding global pallet for meat, mass-produced meat needs to be supplied from one source or the other, and forward-thinking scientists know that source cannot be from conventional livestock. If the amount of meat we produce doubles, livestock could be responsible for half as much climate impact as all the world’s cars, trucks and airplanes combined. Researchers at Utrecht University have calculated that an initial ten stem cells could produce 50,000 tons of meat in two months. An Oxford University study found that this process would consume 35-60 per cent less energy, 98 per cent less land and produce 80-95 per cent less greenhouse gas than conventional farming.
Meat produced in a laboratory is also far safer for human consumption. The aseptic environment eliminates the risk that the meat could be infected with bacteria from factory-farm filth, such as E. coli, campylobacter and salmonella. Mad-cow disease and avian influenzas cannot spread in an in vitro laboratory the way they can on a factory farm or at a live-animal market. And in vitro meat is free of the antibiotics that permeate much animal flesh.
Lab-grown meat may not resonate with all consumers but it does pose an excellent alternative for environmentally and socially-conscious consumers the world over, as well as for those in the developing world where meat prices are high and expected to rise. Holland is currently leading the world in the production of artificial meat, and the Dutch government has put £1.5million into the research. The scientists involved believe that the test-tube burger is only the first stage in a food revolution that will be a cheap and protein-rich solution to feeding the world’s growing human population without the devastating environmental impacts of farming ever more animals.
– Paige Veidenheimer