World's first lab-grown burger to be cooked and eaten


Professor Mark Post of Maastricht University explains how he and his colleagues made the world's first lab-grown burger

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The world's first lab-grown burger is to be unveiled and eaten at a news conference in London on Monday.

Scientists took cells from a cow and, at an institute in the Netherlands, turned them into strips of muscle which they combined to make a patty.

Researchers say the technology could be a sustainable way of meeting what they say is a growing demand for meat.

Critics say that eating less meat would be an easier way to tackle predicted food shortages.

BBC News has been granted exclusive access to the laboratory where the meat was grown in a project costing £215,000.

Prof Mark Post of Maastricht University, the scientist behind the burger, said: "Later today we are going to present the world's first hamburger made in a lab from cells. We are doing that because livestock production is not good for the environment, it is not going to meet demand for the world and it is not good for animals".

But Prof Tara Garnett, head of the Food Policy Research Network at Oxford University, said decision-makers needed to look beyond technological solutions.

"We have a situation where 1.4 billion people in the world are overweight and obese, and at the same time one billion people worldwide go to bed hungry," she said.

"That's just weird and unacceptable. The solutions don't just lie with producing more food but changing the systems of supply and access and affordability so not just more food but better food gets to the people who need it."

Comparing the environmental impact of conventional and laboratory beef production An independent study found that lab grown beef uses 45% less energy than the average global representative figure for farming cattle. It also produces 96% fewer greenhouse gas emissions and requires 99% less land.

Start Quote

We are doing this because livestock production is not good for the environment, it is not going to meet demand for the world and it is not good for animals"”

End Quote Prof Mark Post Maastricht University

Stem cells are the body's "master cells", the templates from which specialised tissue, such as nerve or skin cells develop.

Most institutes working in this area are trying to grow human tissue for transplantation, to replace worn out or diseased muscle, nerve cells or cartilage.

Prof Post wants to use similar techniques to grow muscle and fat for food.

This might sound a little creepy to some - but Prof Post is no Dr Frankenstein. He's normal and likeable; when he talks about his project there is a gleam in his eye.

He starts with stem cells extracted from cow muscle tissue. In the laboratory, these are cultured with nutrients and growth promoting chemicals to help them develop and multiply. Three weeks later, there are more than a million stem cells which are put into smaller dishes where they coalesce into small strips of muscle about a centimetre long and a few millimetres thick.

These strips are collected into small pellets which are frozen. When there are enough, they are defrosted and compacted into a patty just before being cooked.

The scientists have tried to make the meat - which is initially white in colour - as authentic as possible. Helen Breewood, who is working with Prof Post, makes the lab-grown muscle look red by adding the naturally occurring compound myoglobin.

How would lab grown meat go down? The BBC's Pallab Ghosh asked the clientele of Duggie's Dogs hot dog restaurant in downtown Vancouver

Start Quote

A lot of people consider lab-grown meat repulsive. But if they consider what goes into producing normal meat in a slaughter house I think they would also find that repulsive”

End Quote Helen Breewood Project scientist and vegetarian

"If it doesn't look like normal meat, if it doesn't taste like normal meat, it's not... going to be a viable replacement," she told me.

Currently, this is a work in progress. The burger to be revealed on Monday will be coloured red with beetroot juice. The researchers have also added breadcrumbs, caramel and saffron, which will add add to the taste.

At the moment, scientists can only make small pieces of meat; larger ones would require artificial circulatory systems to distribute nutrients and oxygen.

Prof Post said initial sampling suggests the burger will not taste great, but he expected it to be "good enough". The meat will be tasted a team which includes Josh Schonwald, a food writer from Chicago, and Richard McGowan, a chef from Cornwall.

Animal suffering

Ms Breewood is a vegetarian because she believes meat production to be waste of resources, but says she would eat lab-grown meat.

Burger The aim is to make the lab-grown burger look and taste like the real thing. But it isn't there yet.

"A lot of people consider lab-grown meat repulsive at first. But if they consider what goes into producing normal meat in a slaughter house I think they would also find that repulsive," she said.

In a statement, animal welfare campaigners People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) said: "[Lab-grown meat] will spell the end of lorries full of cows and chickens, abattoirs and factory farming. It will reduce carbon emissions, conserve water and make the food supply safer."

But food writer Sybil Kapoor said she felt "uneasy": "The further you go from a normal, natural diet the more potential risks people can run in terms of health and other issues," she said.

The latest United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization report on the future of agriculture indicates that most of the predicted growth in demand for meat from China and Brazil has already happened and many Indians are wedded to their largely vegetarian diets for cultural and culinary reasons.

So lab grown meat might turn out to be a technological solution in search of a problem.

Follow Pallab on Twitter @bbcpallab


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  • rate this

    Comment number 585.

    Ersatz beef has arrived just in time for the collapsing EU economy. Now all they have to do is scale it up to an industrial level so that it's much cheaper than real beef. I think it can be made good enough for European palates. With the right sauce and some inventive recipes you'd hardly know the difference. Well I would but then I'm not going to be the one to eat it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 584.

    George Osborne might have purchased a £6.75 burger but I don't imagine for one minute he actually ate it. He probably couldn't work out which knife and fork one uses when consuming pleb food for the camera.

  • rate this

    Comment number 583.

    Some suggest a link between `test tube meat' and solving the world's `food crises'. There is a food surplus. We've been capable of producing enough food to feed the world for years.Food in capitalism is produced for sale at a profit and if you don't have money to buy it, then you will have to do without it. No profit, no production.Check

  • rate this

    Comment number 582.

    This is a meat eaters solution to a meat eaters problem. It's ridiculous to ask whether vegetarians and vegans would eat this. This isn't new and exciting foodie territory. This is damage control for unchecked global meat consumption. If you eat meat I hope this serves as a wake up call.

  • rate this

    Comment number 581.

    If this monstrosity ever hits shelves of US supermarkets it'd better be very clearly labeled for what it is.It may sell in EU where energy consciousness is an obsession.I wonder if they'll even notice in France seeing how they didn't know when they were eating horse meat from Romania.But there won't be much market for it in places like the US and Argentina where you can get the real thing cheaply.

  • rate this

    Comment number 580.

    @574 Mayna
    No it wasn't, through my childhood and twenties you could easily still do this and I was born long after WWII and rationing ended. If you seek out farm shops and butchers you are still able to do this - it just takes more effort.

  • rate this

    Comment number 579.

    I'm skeptical, but if this has a high enough nutritional bio-availability and tastes as good as any alternative, I'd give it a chance. I haven't eaten red meat in decades, so I expect it'll cause me more gastric distress than enjoyment, but it may be worth trying at least once.

  • rate this

    Comment number 578.

    It can't be any worse than veggie burgers.

    When this reaches the marketplace, clearly the prices of real beef will go down as a result of comptition.

  • rate this

    Comment number 577.

    @556 Don't let Osbourne know, he's into very expensive burgers,
    just to prove he's one of us, lawks a mercy wot a toff.

  • rate this

    Comment number 576.

    I'm not ever going to eat this European invented Frankenfood. I'd rather become a vegetarian first. This is repulsive. They had to doctor this stuff just to make it look like meat, have any resemblance to the taste and aroma of real meat. To me this is mystery meat. Who knows what's really in it. Soy burgers would be preferable. Disgusting and who knows if it's even safe. I'll stick to real beef.

  • rate this

    Comment number 575.

    People have children who can neither afford them financially or emotionally, use contraceptives!-the planet is not for us to do with as we please. Why have countryside to enjoy and provide our foodstuffs - just build more houses/roads etc, oh but wait why are we having so many floods - could it be because the rain cannot drain away/soak into the land because we have covered it all in concrete.

  • rate this

    Comment number 574.

    571. when I were young
    ...maybe we need to go back to a time before pre-packing when you were able to buy just the amounts you needed...


    That was during WW2 & rationing was in effect. The diet covered by rationing provided the base requirement for a working person. Don't think many now-a-days would accept such small portions though.

  • rate this

    Comment number 573.

    FYI: "The meat will be tasted a team which includes Josh Schonwald..."

    Missing the "by".

    Feel free to fix and delete this comment.

  • rate this

    Comment number 572.

    To all those people complaining that this isn't REAL meat, remember it isn't synthetic. The proteins haven't been built from plastic, they have been grown from actual animal cells. This meat is REAL meat. It just wasn't harvested from a live animal. If the process eliminates risks like foot and mouth or CJD I for one approve.

  • rate this

    Comment number 571.

    I know people are starving whilst others are hugely overweight but the answer is not to produce more and more, maybe we need to go back to a time before pre-packing when you were able to buy just the amounts you needed - this also meant you bought fresher produce. People need to live more modest/less greedy lives.

  • rate this

    Comment number 570.

    @543.Dirty Old Town M6
    (continued from 565.andysept),..aside from the problem of people eating too much meat as opposed to sensible healthy amounts, you also have the problem of the modern diet including a lot of processed foods high in sugars that inflames the blood vessels which then trap the cholesterol.

  • rate this

    Comment number 569.

    I don't eat processed meat and I certainly would not be eating this, if you want to eat it good for you, but I will stick to the natural way of things and eat something that has been living and grazing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 568.

    think of the poor cows.. within a 100 years of this taking off, cows will be extinct.. the only place their DNA will be found will be in vat factories...
    you think farmers are going to keep them around.. they dont run zoo's
    and domesticated animals don't have a chance in the wild.
    animal welfare.. yeah right..

  • rate this

    Comment number 567.

    Richard McGeown.

    But still, very interesting.

  • rate this

    Comment number 566.

    What they are not telling you is that the cells are grown in a mixture of buffered saline/sugar/amino acid/antibiotic solution supplemented with very expensive serum obtained from calf foetuses to provide hormones and growth factors that are absolutely essential for cell growth and survival. An artificial supplement with recombinant growth factors is available but really hellishly expensive.


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