At a recent event attended by 200 journalists and academics, lab-grown meat or a so-called Cultured Beef burger was cooked and tasted by Mark Post, food writer Josh Schonwald and nutritional researcher Hanni Rützler.
Mark Post is a professor of physiology at Maastricht University in the Netherlands, who announced plans several years ago to create in vitro meat. At the time, Post estimated the cost would be €300,000 and take six months.
Not having any fat cells, this lab-grown burger lacked the flavor of real beef. Rützler, one of the three who tasted the in vitro meat, described it as tasting crunchy and a bit like cake. But for Post this was just a dress rehearsal to prove synthetic meat is even possible.
Post claims once the technology is fine-tuned, a tasty marbled in vitro beef alternative will be on the market in the next 10 to 20 years.
Some believe that if Post’s lab meat proves successful, much of the damage caused by the livestock industry, where food animals account for at least one-sixth of the world’s greenhouse-gas emissions, could be undone.
And growing beef or chicken in laboratory vats could save countless animal lives within a couple of decades.
But Slate’s Daniel Engber suggests in vitro meat, although well-intentioned, is a waste of time.
In fact, Engber believes it’s one of the “worst good ideas of recent memory” and wonders if anyone would really even be inclined to eat lab meat at all.
We posed the question ourselves several years ago, and suggested artificial meat would be a hard sell to an increasingly educated public that already resents being forced to consume unlabeled GM food and cloned livestock.
Engber argues that since laboratory meat only seems “real” when mixed with additives to improve its color, flavor, and mouthfeel, then what’s the point?
Engber asks: Does a base of cultured cow cells really get us any closer to a perfect substitute for flesh than soy or wheat or mushroom?
The lab-grown patty, “even in its most-developed form, may end up no more delicious than existing (and much less expensive) products like Gardein” — a meatless burger made from a blend of non-GMO soy, wheat and pea proteins, and organic grains. And if that’s the case, what’s the point of growing meat, Engber says.
Finally, Engber points out that most food activists rooted in an organic mindset will question any laboratory product and its associated synthetic origins, regardless of the proposed benefits.
And while some will insist lab-grown meat will be “a natural beef product,” Engber reminds readers that mainstream food producers have been sued for package claims that ought to inspire far less incredulity.