In the past decade, in-vitro meat has been so frequently discussed and so little tasted that it's started to seem like something of a fantasy, like flying cars or weight-loss pills that don't make you shit yourself or turn into a personal version of Sara Goldfarb. Yeah, it would be great to transform large-scale animal agriculture into an efficient, sterile, cow-free process from the sometimes unethical, often unsafe, and very environmentally unsound system that we currently have in place.
Lab-grown hamburgers have been created (and tasted), but the methodology was exorbitantly expensive and virtually impossible to scale up for mass production. And lately, Israeli scientists have moved on from petri dish beef to test tube chicken. But on a consumer level, we're left wondering: Where's the beef?
Dutch professor Mark Post thinks that he has found a way to change the game. While his first lab-grown burger that was suitable for consumption cost a whopping $325,000 to produce in 2013, Post says that he has pioneered a new method that would lower that cost to about $11.36 per burger. That's a pretty big price cut.
The 2013 burger was made by taking muscle cells from a cow, using it to cultivate stem cells, and then fusing them with collagen. Then, electricity was used to stimulate the subsequent "muscle" strands, causing them to flex in a way that would render them meatier and more similar to conventional beef. Sounds like a breeze, right? Then consider that 20,000 of these individual strands would need to be cultivated, processed, and seasoned in order to create a single burger.
Post has been tinkering with his process since then, and has found a way to cut costs to just $80 per kilo—rendering it not exactly dirt-cheap, but far more competitive with farmed beef than ever before.
In an interview with ABC Australia from Friday, Post showed great optimism that lab-grown meat could take off and significantly threaten cattle farming, specifically in 20 or 30 years as the world's demand for protein grows, and with it, a more dire need for sustainable agricultural practices.
"I do think that in 20, 30 years from now we will have a viable industry producing alternative beef," he told ABC reporter Dominique Schwartz. "Cattle are very inefficient animals in converting vegetable proteins into animal proteins." He also pointed out that from one small piece of muscle, you can produce 10,000 kilograms of meat.
There are still roadblocks, however. Tracey Hayes, CEO of the Northern Territory Cattlemen's Association, also toward Schwartz, "I think it's too big a stretch to expect the broader public or the general consumer to consume beef that has been prepared in the laboratory."
It's also significantly harder to make lab-grown meat into larger cuts of meat, as their composition requires the development of blood vessels and other attributes that create the discernibly steak-y texture that we're accustomed to. Burgers are relatively simple because many small pieces of meat can be used in a single patty.
Regardless, Post's progress presents a big step forward for in-vitro of meat. Until then, let's hit the grill with some bloody veggie burgers and call it a day.