The first ‘test-tube’ hamburger is only a year away, scientists claim. They believe the product, beef mince grown from stem cells, could pave the way for eating meat without animals being slaughtered. The Dutch scientists predict that over the next few decades the world’s population will increase so quickly that there will not be enough livestock to feed everyone. As a result, they say, laboratory-grown beef, chicken and lamb could become normal. The scientists are currently developing a burger which will be grown from 10,000 stem cells extracted from cattle, which are then left in the lab to multiply more than a billion times to produce muscle tissue similar to beef. The product is called ‘in vitro’ meat.
Mark Post, professor of physiology at Maastricht University in the Netherlands, who is behind the project, said: ‘I don’t see any way you could rely on old-fashioned livestock in the coming decades. He told Scientific American magazine that he thought the first burger could be made within 12 months. In 2009 scientists from the same university grew strips of pork using the same method. They admitted it was not particularly appetising,being grey with a similar texture to calamari. Fish fillets have been grown in a New York laboratory using cells taken from goldfish muscle tissue. Even if the initial results do not taste quite the same as proper meat, scientists are convinced the public will soon get used to it, especially if they do not have a choice.
A colleague of Professor Post said: ‘When we are eating a hamburger we don’t think, “I’m eating a dead cow”. And when people are already far from what they eat, it’s not too hard to see them accepting cultured meat.’ The world’s meat consumption is expected to double by 2050 as the population increases. Holland is currently leading the world in theproduction of artificial meat, and the Dutch government has put £1.5 million into the research. The scientists involved believe that the test-tube burger is only the first stage in a food revolution that might be able to solve the problem. Researchers at Utrecht University have calculated that an initial ten stem cells could produce 50,000 tons of meat in two months. An Oxford University study found that this process would consume 35-60 per cent less energy, 98 per cent less land and produce 80-95 per cent less greenhouse gas than conventional farming.