Issues Magazine

Lab-grown burger a sustainable alternative to meat


Australasian Science

Cultured beef burger represents a crucial first step in finding a sustainable alternative to meat production that’s more ethical and environmentally-friendly.

In a world first, Professor Mark Post of Maastricht University has revealed a "cultured" beef burger at an event in London. The burger, fried in a pan, could help solve the coming food crisis and combat climate change.

As the world’s population grows to an estimated 9 billion by the middle of the century, experts believe even intense livestock farming processes will not be able to match the demand from a growing middle class for meat.

Cultured Beef also paves the way for food production that does not burden the environment or require such widespread use of livestock for meat. Commercial production of Cultured Beef could begin within 10 to 20 years.

“What we are trying today is important because I hope it will show Cultured Beef has the answers to major problems that the world faces,” said Professor Mark Post, whose laboratories at Maastricht University in the Netherlands developed the processes behind Cultured Beef.

“Our burger is made from muscle cells taken from a cow. We haven’t altered them in any way. For it to succeed it has to look, feel and hopefully taste like the real thing.”

The burger has been made using Cultured Beef and other ingredients commonly found in similar food products such as salt, egg powder and breadcrumbs. Red beet juice and saffron have been added to bring out its natural colours.

A sample of muscle cells taken from a cow are cultured in a laboratory by scientists who place them in a nutrient solution to create muscle tissue. The tissue is grown by placing the cells in a ring, like a donut, around a hub of gel. The muscle cells grow into small strands of meat. Some 20,000 such strands are needed to make one 140g burger.

“There are basically three things that can happen going forward. One is that we all become vegetarian. I don’t think that’s really likely. The second is we ignore the issues and that leads to continued environmental harm, and the third option is we do something new,” said Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google who invested €250000 in the technology for animal welfare reasons.

“Sometimes when technology comes along, it has the capability to transform how we view our world. I like to look at technology opportunities. When technology seems like it is on the cusp of viability and if it succeeds there, it can be really transformative for the world.”

It was tasted by Josh Schonwald, a Chicago-based author who has written extensively on the future of food, and Austrian food researcher Hanni Rützler. Schonwald said it tasted "close to meat" but not "the absence of fat" with an “animal protein cake” like quality to it.

Post responded: “It’s a very good start”.

Maastricht University