The first hamburger made in a lab from stem cells extracted from the muscle tissue of a cow was tasted by two food critics today in London. The burger was colored with beet juice and given a boost of flavor with caramel, saffron and breadcrumbs. Everyone was curious about what the critics, Hanni Ruetzler and Josh Schonwald, thought of this artificial meat. Apparently it lacked moisture and flavor, but the consistency was a lot like conventional meat.
After five years of research and development, Mark Post, a professor from Maastricht University in the Netherlands, and a team of researchers developed this burger by culturing stem cells with nutrients. Within a few weeks, the cells multiply into millions of cells that ultimately grow into larger strips of muscle tissue. This muscle tissue, and a few other ingredients make of the burger. The price tag for the gastronomic feat: $325,000.
My initial opinion of the test tube meat was nothing short of disgusting. The "ick factor" is understandably high. After all, who wouldn't wince a little bit at the idea of eating a fleshy food that started its existence in a petri dish?
Those in favor of lab grown meat say it offers a solution to world hunger. While there are more than a billion people around the world who are overweight and eat far too much, there are an equal number of people who are hungry, malnourished and in desperate need of food. Lab grown beef uses less energy, emits far fewer greenhouse gases and takes significantly less land to create. What's more, the cost of creating a version of more sustainable meat will ultimately become much more affordable.
A Meat for Vegetarians?
PETA, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, stands behind the lab concoction. Ingrid Newkirk, PETA's president and co-founder said, "Instead of the millions and billions (of animals) being slaughtered now, we could just clone a few cells to make burgers or chops." In fact, PETA is offering $1 million to the first team of scientists who can create test tube chicken. We'll have to wait until March 2014 to see who the winner of that contest is.
What of the Future of Food?
The case for creating this type of meat has strong points, but it's a slippery slope when science intervenes with nature, especially when it comes to food. Even if the taste of this fake meat becomes indistinguishable from its authentic counterpart, side effects, or health consequences are sure to rear their head years after mainstream consumption.
Commercial sale of genetically modified foods began in 1994. Today, nearly 20 years later, debate about the consequences of GMO food has never been stronger. Back in the 90s, the cause was science-for-humanity, but today it's clear that the cause is science-for-profit. Big food has all but completely taken control of the food supply in the United States. If lab meat does become our future, industrialization of such food - for profit, not for humanity - is only a matter of time.
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