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August 9, 2015 | by  | in Science |
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Meet the new in vitro meat

Scientists from Maastrict University in the Netherlands have developed a burger patty grown from cells in a petri dish. But before you can be petty about the new patty, let us explain (from a scientific standpoint) why we need to see some changes to the meat industry.

Currently, 70 per cent of farmlands around the world are used for livestock, but with the growing middle class in India, Brazil and China, global meat consumption is expected to more than double by 2050.  The numbers don’t look promising.

As well as this, consider that for every 15 grams of meat we eat, the animals need to be fed 100g of vegetable proteins. This means that meat consumption has a bioconversion rate of only 15%. Meat consumption is not only inefficient, it has an expensive toll on the environment as well.

Mark Post and the team from Maastrict University were able to grow a burger patty from only a small sample of muscle tissue from a cow. The process involved harvesting a sample from the animal and cutting it into tiny pieces such that individual cells could be separated, and placed in a culture. These cells then naturally began to divide and arrange themselves into small fibres, which grew to larger strands, and were then assembled to make the patty.

A study titled “Environmental Impacts of Cultured Meat Production” found that, yes, when conducting a life cycle assessment (LCA) of each practice, cultured meat production required far less energy, land, and water use than livestock farming of beef, sheep and pork. Cultured meat production also had significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions.

But people are grossed out by the practise of growing meat. One restaurant owner not-so-articulately expressed “I don’t get it and it scares the heck out of me”, others have dubbed it “schmeat” and “frankenmeat”. Post and his team are fighting back against these negative connotations, and explain that the meat is 100% natural, with no chemicals added. It’s just grown outside the cow.

Although the monetary cost of lab grown meat is high at the moment, prices are expected to drop drastically in the coming years. Supporters of the project hope to eventually see the costs drop to a level where restaurants could “brew” the meat themselves, in a similar manner to what artisanal beer breweries are doing at the moment.

Now, the project leaves the hands of the scientist. They can develop this ethical and green (but still normal meat-coloured) meat. They can make it cheaper and make it healthier. But will people pick up on it? We dunno. Beefing up cultured meat production is now in the hands of consumers around the world.

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