Mike Gillam, 9 April 2015
In 2013, Maastrich University researchers announced that they had created a hamburger made completely out of beef grown in a lab. Mark Post, one of those Dutch professors, recently estimated on an interview with ABC news that the cost to make a lab grown burger has dropped to $11 a patty, or about $80 per kilogram. (Wagyu beef costs $33/ounce. Kobe beef costs $200 a pound.) The burger is made by incubating calf muscle stem cells in a nutrient of fetal calf serum.
So how does lab meat taste?
At a cost of over $250 for that first burger, the reviews were promising. Josh Schonwald, a food author said, “The absence is the fat, it’s a leanness to it, but the bite feels like a conventional hamburger.” There has since been hope that by adding stem cells for fat, the beef can achieve the marbling and taste that typical beef might have.
To many, there is really very little that sounds appealing to a meal of “lab meat.” So why would anyone eat one of these?
Virtually every case of gastroenteritis you have ever suffered has been from contaminated food. Of the 1.8 million species of organisms on Earth, each of which could potentially be infected by hundreds or thousands of classes of viruses, only about 3,000 viruses have been identified by medicine to date.
Of the 1.8 million organisms on Earth, only 3,000 viruses have been identified.
There is a raft of undiscovered viruses, prions, and even bacteria that contaminate our food today. Natural meat is also host to all manner of “bio-mimicry” risks from hormones and other chemical messengers that are analogs to our own biologic processes. Some may recall the public scare of “Mad Cow Disease” and the risk of infective proteins called prions. Lab grown meat holds the promise of processes that could be virtually guaranteed sterile and prion free.
Lab meat also promises to free up many farming and natural resources. A single pound of beef requires 1,847 gallons of water. 13 pounds of grain are needed for each pound of beef. Raising animals for food uses an immense 30 percent of Earth’s land mass.
Raising animals for food uses 30 percent of Earth’s land mass.
Interestingly, though Dr. Post estimated the cost had dropped for laboratory meat by 99.9% in just the last 2 years, he also estimated that consumer availability would be 20 or 30 years away. Perhaps there are more devils in the details?
Otherwise, if this price trend continues, economically viable lab grown meat could be just a few years away. The impact on health and the world economy could be immense.
— Mike Gillam, MD, FACEP 2015