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World’s first $332,000 lab-grown burger to change the global diet

Published time: August 05, 2013 10:52
Edited time: August 06, 2013 09:26
Professor Mark Post shows the world's first lab-grown beef burger during a launch event in west London August 5, 2013 (REUTERS / David Parry / pool)

Professor Mark Post shows the world's first lab-grown beef burger during a launch event in west London August 5, 2013 (REUTERS / David Parry / pool)

A Dutch scientist is offering the world’s first cultivated beef made of stem cells to taste. He believes the lab-grown meat will feed the world and help save the environment. The tasting event happens amid UN calls to invest more in food innovation.

The 5-ounce burger which costs $332,000 to produce was fried and taste-tested by volunteers at an event in London on Monday, Bloomberg quotes the creator of the burger scientist Mark Post of Maastricht University.

Sergey Brin, co-founder and CEO of Google, bankrolled the scientists' project to promote animal welfare. Brin’s personal wealth is estimated by Forbes to be $22.8 billion, and he is known for an eclectic range of start-ups, from driverless cars to private space expeditions.

"It's really just proof of concept right now, we're trying to create the first cultured beef hamburger," Brin said at the tasting event in London.

"From there I'm optimistic that we can really scale by leaps and bounds," said Brin.

The muscle stem cells, taken by a harmless biopsy of living cows, are fed and nurtured so they multiply to create muscle tissue, Bloomberg quotes the scientist as saying.  One sample of cells is enough to create up to 20,000 tons of meat in the lab, he said.  

Professor Mark Post shows the world's first lab-grown beef burger during a launch event in west London August 5, 2013 (Reuters / David Parry / pool)

“People might think this is a crazy way to produce meat. But it’s inevitable. Because the way we produce meat right now from livestock is not sustainable. It is not good for the environment, it is not good for animals, and we actually are not going to produce,” Prof Mark Post said in an interview to BBC.

Commercial production could begin in a decade or two, Bloomberg  quotes Post, whose work on cultured beef began in 2008. The cost is currently the main obstacle to mass production, Bloomberg quotes experts.

“For it to succeed it has to look, feel and hopefully taste like the real thing,” Post says, adding that any association with genetically modified foods is unwarranted.

“Cultured beef is normal beef,” Bloomberg  quotes the professor. “It consists of cow cells.”

Post is among scientists who believe lab-grown meat is an alternative to raising livestock, which contributes to 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions and uses 30 percent of the world’s ice-free land, Bloomberg quotes an Oxford University study.

Earlier this year several studies predicted world starvation as farmers will struggle to feed 9.6 billion people by 2050. The global population is expected to grow by 2.5 billion people in the next 40 years. University of Minnesota researchers warn farmers are unlikely to double production of grain by that time to avoid food shortages.

Josh Schonwald, a US-based food writer, tastes the world's first lab-grown beef burger during a launch event in west London, August 5, 2013 (Reuters / Toby Melville)

Increasing global food demand was likely to push up prices 10 to 40 percent over the coming decade, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said in a recent joint report. They urged the sector to invest more in innovation.

The report also encourages people to be more creative and diversify their diet to include beetles, caterpillars, grasshoppers, worms, wasps and bees. For example, “most edible insects boast equal or higher iron content than beef,” the report suggests. More than two billion people – mostly in Asia, Africa, and Latin America consume insects, according to the article.

For example, 100g of insects is 72 percent protein and clock in at 96 calories and 16 per cent fat. The same weight in beef is 52 percent protein, and clocks in at 285 calories and 48 per cent fat, ctvnews.ca calculated.

An Austrian designer was reportedly turned the UN recommendation to “eat insects” into a household appliance producing 2.4 kilograms of larvae protein from black soldier fly eggs.  One week’s worth of harvest (500 g) produces enough larvae for about two meals, according to ctvnews.ca

Professor Mark Post shows the world's first lab-grown beef burger during a launch event in west London August 5, 2013 (REUTERS / David Parry / pool)