Where’s the “Test Tube” Beef?

by Matt Klassen on August 8, 2013

Departing momentarily from our usual fare regarding the future of technology, in a truly remarkable development scientists unveiled the world’s first laboratory grown hamburger at a press event in London earlier this week, revealing a patty made from bovine stem cells—a technique that if honed properly could provide a sustainable solution to the growing global food crisis.

While the In Vitro burger may not yet pass the taste test and despite the fact it took hundreds of thousands of dollars—and several years—to produce, that Maastricht University scientist Mark Post was able to produce the lab-grown patty unveiled on Monday is at least proof of a viable concept, a “test-tube burger” that quite possibly “may be the future of food in a world where population growth always appears ready to outstrip the planet’s limited resources.”

But despite this giant leap forward in agricultural research and development, the stem cell burger of the future has some significant hurdles to overcome before it appears on your dinner table, most notably, your desire to want it on your dinner table.

There’s no question in my mind that while cultured beef will one day be an unavoidable reality in a world that is already outgrowing its available resources, those in love with ‘real’ beef will fight this tooth and nail. In fact, should the test-tube burger ultimately fail—and it might—it will not be because it’s not a good idea or not because the need for such alternatives has disappeared, it’ll be because we as a people simply refuse to change.

With that in mind, don’t expect the “test-tube burger” to hit store shelves any time soon, as Post himself went on to state that there’s likely at least a twenty year development window here, as scientists attempt to overcome the myriad of hurdles facing this burgeoning agricultural research.

“There are obviously some critical steps,” in cultured beef reaching the mass market, Post told TechNewsWorld. “Getting the cost down, determining how serious cultural aversion to factory meat might be, how strong the opposition is from agricultural interests, figuring out whether factory meat is a niche luxury food or an expensive commodity product — and how those play out will have a lot to do with the time frames involved.”

Further, as Post alluded to, don’t expect the beef industry to sit idly by and watch its cows replaced by beef grown in a Petri dish, for as we’ve seen with the oil industry, the prospect of making money always clouds industrial judgments regarding the management of resources and the development of sustainable alternatives (where is that hydrogen-fueled car anyways?)

Consumer and industry reactions aside, there are significant safety concerns regarding lab-built beef as well, James Tillotson, professor of food policy and international business at Tufts University explains. “You’re going to have to figure out how to control certain microorganisms from growing on this — not just in the lab, but also if you’re packaging and shipping the food. And you also have to look at the long-term effects of eating synthetic products. That’s a lot of testing.”

In the end, while it’s unlikely the culinary delights of the laboratory or a Petri dish steak have anyone’s mouth watering; it might not be long before it’s the only beef we have left.

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Written by: Matt Klassen. www.digitcom.ca. Follow TheTelecomBlog.com by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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