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First lab-grown hamburger served, could make the meat-industry more ethical and environmentally friendly
Green Blog posted a article in Food & HealthThe world's first fully lab-grown hamburger was served at a press conference in London earlier this afternoon. The hamburger, which has grown from tiny bits of beef muscle tissue in a laboratory, is hoped to be able to increase food security, create better livestock conditions, decrease greenhouse gas emissions from the meat industry and reduce the environmental impact of livestock farming. The human population is soon expected to reach nine billion people and, despite the environmental impact, we are eating more and more meat. By 2050 the meat production is expected to increase with 50%. But the current meat production, despite its already inhumane and industrial-like methods, will be unable to meet future demands. The meat industry is already responsible for about one fifth of all greenhouse gas emissions, which is more than the world's transport sector pollutes. Livestock farming also use a lot of land, about 70% of the world's total agriculture land is already dedicated to livestock production - that's around 25% of the planet's total land area. Mark Post, who is the scientist behind the world's first lab-grown hamburger, hopes that his "cultured meat" will someday become one of the major solutions to the environmental and food crisis. "Cows are very inefficient, they require 100g of vegetable protein to produce only 15g of edible animal protein," Post told the Guardian. "So we need to feed the cows a lot so that we can feed ourselves. We lose a lot of food that way. [With cultured meat] we can make it more efficient because we have all the variables under control. We don't need to kill the cow and it doesn't [produce] any methane." This all sounds very promising. But Post's work is still in its early stages and there are still a lot of hurdles to overcome. The hamburger which was served today was a fairly simple creation â€“ while being full of protein it lacked blood and fat which regular beef contains. But Post and his team also need to figure out how to scale up the process so that large-scale production can take place. They also need to figure out how the costs involved in the production can be reduced. Although the first taster of the lab-grown hamburger described it as having "quite some flavor", the total cost of the project, which resulted in today's hamburger, has been £250,000. Post hopes that commercial production of cultured meat could begin within 10 to 20 years. "Twenty years from now if you have a choice in the supermarket between two products that are identical and they taste and feel the same and have the same price - and one is made in an environmentally friendly way with much less resources and provides food security for the population and doesn't have any animal welfare connotations to it - the choice will be relatively easy," Post said. "People will start to prefer this type of product and then it will gradually transform meat production." Green Blog wrote about lab-grown and in vitro meat for the first time in 2008. Back then in vitro meat was a fairly new area and there was still a lot of research required and several obstacles that needed to be solved. Post hopes that today's event will show the skeptics that in vitro meat is possible and that it could actually help make the meat industry more ethical and environmentally friendly. Now the question is, would you eat it?
We all know that the meat industry is a dangerous threat to our climate and overall a questionable industry. The cattle release CO2, methane and other greenhouse gases. They also use a lot of land areas, around 25% of the earths total land area. And about one third of all farm areas are used to grow food for the cattle. According to studies the meat industry is responsible for about one fifth of all greenhouse gas emissions, in the world. That means they currently pollutes more than the whole transport sector. And by year 2050 the meat production is expected to increase with 50%. And then I haven't even mentioned the rather obvious animal suffering. But maybe, if some "environmentally concerned scientists" get their way, the meat you'll eat in the future will be produced inside a lab. Scientists from the In Vitro Meat Consortium are currently trying to produce meat from muscle tissue for human consumption. This laboratory-grown meat, or in vitro meat, should not be confused with "imitation meat", which often is produced from soy or gluten. The in vitro meat will be actual animal flesh, but flesh that never has been part of a living animal. The in vitro meat would, according to the In Vitro Meat Consortium, be healthier and contain fewer diseases. It would also reduce animal suffering and have positive effect on the environment. But some people are concerned that the in vitro meat will be of lesser quality and contain unresolved health risks than ordinary meat. Others worries that the in vitro meat will be different in appearance, taste, smell and even texture and thus reduce its appeal for consumers. Either way the in vitro meat is far from the market today. More research needs to be done and there are currently several obstacles that need to be solved first: Proliferation of muscle cells: Although it is not very difficult to make stem cells divide, for meat production it is necessary that they divide at a quick pace. This requirement has some overlap with the medical branch of tissue engineering. Culture medium: Proliferating cells need a food source to grow and develop. The growth medium should be a well-balanced mixture of ingredients and growth factors. Depending on the motives of the researchers, the growth medium has additional requirements. Commercial: The growth medium should be cheap to produce. Environmental: The production of the growth medium shouldn't have a negative impact on the environment. This means that the production should be energetically favorable. Additionally, the ingredients should come from completely renewable sources. Minerals from mined sources are in this case not possible, as are synthetically produced nutrients which use non-renewable sources. Animal welfare: The growth medium should be devoid of animal sources, although they may initially be more useful than other sources. Space travel: The growth medium should be almost completely created from the waste products in the space ship, if it is to be used in space travel. Bioreactors: Nutrients and oxygen need to be delivered close to each growing cell, on the scale of millimeters. In animals this job is handled by blood vessels. A bioreactor should emulate this function in an efficient manner. The usual approach is the creation of a sponge-like matrix in which the cells can grow, and perfusing it with the growth medium. Although more research needs to be done there is progress in this area, especially in Europe. M. A. Benjaminson from Touro College performed the first, actual, research about in vitro meat. Benjaminson managed to grow muscle tissue from a goldfish in a laboratory setting. And in 2004 researchers from Europe formed the non-profit organization New Harvest. According to them laboratory-grown meat in a processed form, like sausages and hamburgers, "may become commercially available within several years". In April 2005 the Dutch government granted a two million euro subsidy for a laboratory-grown meat project by Henk Haagsman at the University of Amsterdam. At a workshop held at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences on June 15, 2007 the In Vitro Meat Consortium was established with the goal "to facilitate the establishment of a large-scale process industry for the production of muscle tissue for human consumption through concerted R&D efforts and attraction of funding to fuel these efforts."