World’s First Test-Tube Hamburger Appeals to Some Vegetarian Groups, Including PETA
Dutch scientists have grown beef-like muscle tissue from cow stem cells, and plan to use the “test-tube meat” to create the world’s first lab-grown hamburger. Scientists hope the product will one day replace the mass farming and slaughter of cattle and other animals.
The burger reportedly costs 250,000 euros (around $330,000) to create. The anonymous financier is “famous, everyone knows this guy,” said lead scientist Mark Post, PhD, physiologist at Maastricht University in the Netherlands, who spoke at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Vancouver, BC on Feb. 19, 2012. Post has grown 3cm by 1.5cm sheets of cow muscle in petri dishes. The strips of tissue are half a millimeter thick, so thousands of them will be needed to form a golf ball-sized portion of hamburger meat.
PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) has endorsed the lab-grown meat as a cruelty-free alternative to animal slaughter. PETA spokesman Alistair Currie said “this is meat produced without the cruelty, carbon footprint or waste of resources… PETA has no objection to the eating of meat. PETA objects to the killing of animals and their exploitation. I personally don’t fancy eating this, but if other people do that’s fine.”
Post’s method uses adult bovine stem cells, which can be extracted humanely from living cows, cultured with fetal calf serum. “Eventually my vision is that you have a limited herd of donor animals in the world that you keep in stock and that you get your cells from,” Post stated.
Post hopes his beef will eventually feed a rapidly growing population and solve environmental concerns related to factory farming. “Meat demand is going to double in the next 40 years and right now we are using 70 per cent of all our agricultural capacity to grow meat through livestock.” Each person in the US eats an average of 57.5 pounds of beef annually, and, according to environmentalist John Robbins, producing one hamburger destroys 55 square feet of rainforest. However, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) found in 2010 that the production of meat alternatives such as tofu can contribute more to greenhouse gas emissions than eating locally produced meat.
Whether Post’s meat products will be appetizing is yet to be determined. Currently, the slivers of cow muscle are yellow-pink in color and semi-transparent. In 2010, strips of pork grown in Post’s lab were described by the journal Nature as “pale” and “limp,” and by Post himself as having the texture of a scallop: “firm but a little squishy and moist.” Nevertheless, the “Frankenburger,” as it has been dubbed by some media outlets, is expected to be ready for the grill in October, 2012, with British celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal scheduled to cook the in vitro patty for a diner to be chosen by the project’s mystery backer.
Post is already looking beyond beef to more exotic products: “We could make panda meat, I’m sure we could,” Post said.
Alan Boyle, “Lab-Grown Hamburger Due to Be Served Up This Year … for $330,000,” www.msnbc.msn.com, Feb. 19, 2012
Maria Cheng, “Scientists Turn Stem Cells into Pork,” www.msnbc.msn.com, Jan. 15, 2010
Samantha Grossman, “Mystery Meat: World’s First Test-Tube Hamburger to Be Served in 2012,” www.time.com, Feb. 21, 2012
Becky Ham, “AAAS 2012 Annual Meeting News: Meat from the Lab, Soon Ready for Market,” www.aaas.org, Feb. 19, 2012
Matthew Holehouse, “Vegan Campaigners Savour Test Tube Burger Breakthrough,” www.telegraph.co.uk, Feb. 20, 2012
Michelle Maisto, “Stem Cell Burgers Coming This Fall. Are You Ready For Lab-To-Table Eating?,” www.forbes.com, Feb. 22, 2012
Rose Prince, “We’ll Never Swallow the Test-Tube Burger,” www.telegraph.co.uk, Feb. 21, 2012