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Would you eat a test-tube hamburger?

by Beef Central, 21 February 2012

A Dutch scientist who plans to produce the world’s first “test-tube” meat this year says his aim is to eventually replace the entire meat-animal industry.

But he may face a long wait, with his first prototype hamburger patty likely to cost about $325,000 to produce.

Dr Mark Post, a physiologist with the Maastricht University in the Netherlands, has spent the past six years researching ways to turn stem cells into muscle tissue that exactly mimics meat.

He has developed a four step technique that involves stripping stem cells from the muscle of a cow, incubating them in a nutrient broth until they multiply many times over, stretching the tissue and finally mincing thousands of strips of the lab grown meat and adding lab-grown animal fat to form a burger.

Dr Post told the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Vancouver, Canada, this week that he expects to unveil his first burger by October.

He believes it will look, feel and taste like “a regular quarter pounder”.

Ultimately he hopes that lab-reared burgers can be mass-produced, and expects that, once optimised, the process will take just six weeks from stem cell to supermarket shelf.

A report in London’s Daily Mail said Dr Post has so far made one strip of “beef” measuring 3cm by 1.5cm by 0.5cm. The meat was pinkish to yellow in colour, he said, but he hoped to have a full-sized and properly coloured burger by October.

Scientists at the symposium said global demand for meat was expected to rise by 60pc by 2050, and lab-grown meat would help to reduce the environmental and health costs of animal-based agriculture.

The extraordinary ability of stem cells to grow and multiply meant that cells from a single cow could produce a million times more burgers than if the same animal was slaughtered for meat, the Daily Mail reported.

However the newspaper said it would take at least 10 years before the artificial meat was produced on an industrial scale, and had satisfied the safety testing necessary for it to be placed on supermarket shelves.

Whether lab-grown meat becomes a reality or not, the 'test-tube meat" story further highlights the ongoing challenges facing the livestock sector from anti-animal agriculture campaigners.

The story has generated hundreds of media articles across the global media in the past 24 hours, most of which align livestock production with negative environmental, animal welfare and human health outcomes, but provide little to no substantiation of those claims or balancing perspective form the livestock sector.  

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