On Monday 5th August 2013 the first ever laboratory grown burger was put to the test:
"There's some quite intense flavours... It's close to meat... It's not that juicy but the consistency is perfect."
This was the response of Hanni Rutzler - the Austrian food researcher who was the first to take a bite of the £215,000 burger.
The burger, following six years of research by Mark Post (professor of physiology at Maastricht University in the Netherlands) was put together from a few stem cells extracted from a slaughtered cow. These cells were grown into 20,000 strands of muscle and then made into a burger (mixed with red beet juice and saffron to enhance the colour, and some bread crumbs and a binder). The future prospect of this burger means that from just a few stem cells taken from an animal it is possible that meat could be grown and sold in supermarkets in replacement of meat from thousands of slaughtered animals.
Of course there are many debates going on about the reality of laboratory grown meat making it into our supermarkets. Would people actually want to eat it? Could it become economically viable? Would it fix the unsustainable issues of mass-produced meat?
There are huge problems associated with the future of stem-cell burgers, and it is certainly many years off being a regular diet for anyone. For a start the cost is currently off the scale - who in their right mind would pay £215,00 for a burger? It would also destroy the jobs and livelihood of millions of farmers across the globe. There is also an issue with peoples mindsets, could the mass population overcome the idea of eating a burger out of a test tube (although I doubt this would be an issue considering how people have overcome eating a McDonald's burger)?
But by far and over all I can see is the benefits that this could reap.
Although not a vegetarian myself I have long been aware of the issues behind being a meat eater. One of the major impacts which concerns me is the environmental problems which producing enough meat to feed the world causes. It is estimated that between the year 2000 and 2050 global meat consumption may double, mostly as a consequence of increasing populations. As it is sustaining the meat industry is putting enormous strain on our environment.
Currently 26% of ice-free terrestrial land is dedicated to grazing animals, and feed crop production (food grown to feed animals) uses about one-third of arable land. This land does not pop up out of nowhere, and much of it is in areas which used to be vast rainforests - we are continually losing rare plant species and safe habitats for some of our rarest species of animals in order to have enough land to sustain meat production.
As well as this it is estimated on a global scale that livestock contribute (both directly and indirectly) to a total of 9% anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions, 37% of anthropogenic methane emissions and 65% of anthropogenic nitrous oxide emissions.
Another impact of meat production is the cruelty and suffering that these animals face. Although there has been an increase in free-ranging meat produce there is still an enormous amount of produce coming from cruel farming institutes. Many cows never step outside throughout their entire lives. Alongside this live animals are transported to slaughter in small cramped carriers... There is little doubt of the stress that must be caused.
The production of lab-grown meat could mean the end of this. Hundreds of acres of land could be returned to their natural state, there would be more space for vegetable growth which in turn could contribute to eradicating world hunger. We would massively decrease our carbon emissions and hopefully put a stop to animal suffering.
Why not just turn to vegetarianism? It is unquestionable that if the entire world became vegetarian the same benefits could be reaped. But in reality I cannot see this happening. I cannot see the world stopping eating meat - but I do see a possibility of converting people to stem-cell meat.
I would love to know what you think. If it does ever become viable would you be happy to exchange your regular meat for laboratory grown meat? If you are a vegetarian would you consider giving it a go?