Meat Without Parents
“Humans are a species designed to love meat,” said Mark Post of Maastricht University, but the conventional ways of producing beef, pork, and other meat products are largely unsustainable. During the featured lecture “Advanced Food Technology: Culturing Meat Outside of the Animal,” on Sunday, July 12, Post said that approximately 1,500 gallons of water are used each day to produce one pound of meat, and the land resources needed to raise food animals are dwindling. Moreover, by 2050 the demand for meat will double, he added, which means the food industry won’t be able to fulfill the growing demand for meat without significant consequences to the environment. Post believes the way to sustainably meet the growing demand for meat is culturing meat.
Post explained that the technology to produce cultured meat is not complex. It involves removing stem cells from an animal’s skeletal muscle tissue and using them to grow meat in an artificial environment. Post and a team of researchers have already created the first in vitro hamburger patty, and it cost in excess of $300,000 to produce. Post pointed out that the success of cultured meat depends on efficiency, sustainability, and mimicry (i.e., cultured meat must mimic the taste, texture, and color of real meat). Right now, cultured meat production is not efficient: a single hamburger patty requires 30 x 109 cells, and producing a steak would require even more. In addition, cultured meat does not exactly mimic farm-raised meat: The color is off, and the taste is not the same. In fact, two testers who tasted the first cultured meat hamburger said that the texture was fine but that the flavor needed improvement. The latter is likely the consequence of using pure muscle cells and no fat cells; fat gives food flavor.
Getting the flavor right is a significant issue, but this is not the biggest obstacle for the cultured-meat market. A bigger obstacle is consumer acceptance; however, Post believes that if consumers could learn to eat and love hot dogs, they can learn to accept cultured meat. And because the technology to create cultured meat is so simple, he believes that in vitro meat could conceivably be grown in people’s homes. This would provide consumers with more control over how their food is produced.
Post said that a survey performed in the Netherlands determined that 63% of consumers were in favor of cultured-meat production. However, with current estimates suggesting that the cost of producing one kilogram of cultured meat is $65.57, cost is still a prohibitive factor to widespread production and commercialization of cultured meat. Nevertheless, Post is optimistic, saying that commercial cultured meat production is realistic and could happen in as little as 10 years.