Science |Analysis

Lab-grown meat: how can we satisfy future demand?

  1. Mark Post's team made the world's first lab-grown burger
  2. In 12 weeks they could make hundreds of thousands
  3. By 2050 global meat consumption is predicted to double

Talk (10)


Larry Adlard

"I can see the point of this project b..."
Harry Ridgewell

Harry Ridgewell

"Thanks Wild Jerry. I don't suppose y..."
Harry Ridgewell

Harry Ridgewell

"Thank you. That sound's like a good i..."

Wild Jerry

"That is a great idea! If noone edits ..."

Meat consumption is forecast to double in the next 30 years as the world gets richer and developing nations form a taste for farmed protein. However, it’s a shift the planet may not be able to sustain with traditional farming. One solution is lab-grown meat.

In 1932, the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill pondered the madness of growing an entire animal to eat only part of it.

“Fifty years hence, we shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing, by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium,” he wrote in his collection of essays, Thoughts and Adventures.

Then, the prediction was the realm of science fiction. Now, however, it may be an answer to the ever-increasing pressure put on the planet by farming meat.

“You don’t need a lot of resources, you don’t need a lot of water … and thirdly you don’t need a lot of skilled forces to do this,” says Professor Mark Post of Maastricht University in the Netherlands.

Lab burger researcher, Professor Mark Post of Maastricht University, Netherlands. Photo credit: David Parry/PA (CC BY -SA 3.0)
Lab burger researcher, Professor Mark Post of Maastricht University, Netherlands. Photo credit: David Parry/Press Association (CC BY -SA 3.0)

Post is credited with developing the first ever cell-cultured beef hamburger. In 2013, at an event in London, he showcased his creation. He had taken a muscle sample from a cow and separated the muscle specific stem cells. He then allowed these cells to multiply until they numbered in their trillions. Then he again separated the cells into smaller groupings that could be compacted together. Post added salt and breadcrumbs before cooking the finished product. Voila – a lab grown burger.

Using this method, the burger required just 225g of nutrients to produce 200g of beef whereas the typical burger requires 1.3kg of feed to produce 200g beef. Producing the lab-grown meat also had 96 percent lower greenhouse-gas emissions, 99 percent lower land use, and 82 to 96 percent less water use than European produced meat – excluding poultry.

Post believes that if his method can be scaled up it will have a huge impact on the future of agriculture and the world.

“It will tremendously reduce the amount of livestock farming that we have on this planet, because of all the negative consequences of it.”

The scale of the problem

The Food and Agriculture Organization projects total meat consumption will more than double between 2000 and 2050 – by which time the world’s population will be 9.7 billion people.

Roughly one third of the Earth’s land is used for agriculture and 70 percent of this is used for raising livestock. If this pasture was used to grow crops instead it could potentially provide enough calories to meet the basic needs of an additional 4 billion people –more than enough to meet the needs of the forecasted 2050 population.

But that transition is unlikely to happen. For example, in Asia animal protein consumption increased 225 percent per person between 1961 and 2007. While such rates are unlikely to continue, developing countries will experience the greatest increases in meat consumption in the future.

Lab grown burger made up of muscle fibers. (CC BY SA 3.0) David Parry/PA
Lab grown burger made up of thousands of muscle fibers compacted together. Photo credit: David Parry/Press Association  (CC BY -SA 3.0)

However, the United States is still top of the meat eating pile, consuming 30 times more meat per person annually than the bottom ranking meat-eating country – India. Half of the United States’ land, 80 percent of its freshwater and 17 percent of its fossil energy is spent on food production.

Global livestock production is already responsible for about 12 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, of which cattle make up 65 percent. This is because cattle are ruminants – mammals which get nutrients from plants by fermenting them in their stomachs prior to digestion. The fermentation process produces methane and carbon dioxide which the animal then emits.

But in order to meet overall food demands in 2050, the world will have to produce 60 percent more food than it does now. At the current trend, that means more land, more cattle and more greenhouse gas emissions. It’s apparent that meat production and its consumption is increasingly unsustainable.

Hence, meat grown in a lab.

One of the options

Mark Post’s team at Maastricht University expects a lab-grown burger to cost around $10 once production is scaled up. Because of this price point, the team thinks the burgers will initially be a restaurant product, before output is scaled up and rolled out in supermarkets several years later.

Post believes that lab-grown burgers will be in restaurants in five years and in supermarkets in ten. However, it is estimated that a $160 million investment is needed to make lab-grown meat for the mass market.

Since revealing the lab-grown burger in 2013, the Maastricht University team have been working on adding myoglobin, which gives beef its red color and iron content. They have added fat after criticism that the burger wasn’t juicy enough and they have eliminated fetal bovine serum from the lab process, as it requires a large number of calves. They have worked to make the entire procedure more efficient so it can be scaled up for industry.

In theory you could make hundreds of thousands of burgers from one sample from one cow. Because cells replicate exponentially, it takes 10 weeks for Post’s team to make just two burgers but in 12 weeks they could make hundreds of thousands of burgers if they had the resources. This means humans could reduce the number of cows globally from about 1.5 billion currently to just the tens of thousands necessary to keep cow populations genetically healthy.

At the moment, Maastricht University is just focusing on lab-grown beef burgers because they are one of the most popular meat products, and therefore one of the most marketable.

From a sustainability point of view there is also the most to gain as cattle produce more methane and it takes far more feed to get 1kg of beef compared with other livestock, poultry and fish. However, Post says as long as an animal has muscle-specific stem cells – which mammals, birds, and fish do – then it should be possible to grow other variants of meat in a lab.

Lab-grown meat also reduces food and water demands. Post says that the best way to help the environment would be for everyone to switch to a plant-based diet but that the behavioral change required in a short amount of time “we have left” would be “too much to ask.”

He says it’s likely that the technology will be embraced by developing countries as much of the process will be automated.

“It doesn’t require a whole educational system and years of setting up that system and training people to make this happen.”

That’s why Post thinks we need to bank on several solutions – and one of those is cultured meat.

“As far as I can see, it is one of the technologies that has the potential for us being able to still cherish our meat eating behaviors without the negative consequences,” he says.

Sources & References

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Harry is one of the journalists at WikiTribune. He is a masters graduand from Cardiff University, with a diploma in Magazine Journalism. He has an interest in politics and science, having previously studied Geography at Aberystwyth University. Follow Harry on Twitter @harryridgewell

History for stories "Lab-grown meat: how can we satisfy future demand?"

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02 February 2018

16:23:55, 02 Feb 2018 . .‎ Harry Ridgewell (Updated → minor changes)
11:37:40, 02 Feb 2018 . .‎ Peter Bale (Updated → Fixed crosshead and removed Reference crosshead)
11:18:29, 02 Feb 2018 . .‎ Ed Upright (Updated → summary tweak)
11:15:17, 02 Feb 2018 . .‎ Ed Upright (Updated → summary)
11:13:24, 02 Feb 2018 . .‎ Ed Upright (Updated → publish)

02 January 2018

21 December 2017

12:11:26, 21 Dec 2017 . .‎ Harry Ridgewell (Updated → added highlights)
12:06:41, 21 Dec 2017 . .‎ Harry Ridgewell (Updated → added highlights)

29 November 2017

( tax ) .. - Tag fake videos created; 14:39:58, 29 Nov 2017.. Harry Ridgewell (talk | contribs)‎ ( created )

Talk for Story "Lab-grown meat: how can we satisfy future demand?"

Talk about this Story

  1. Rewrite

    I can see the point of this project but it seems to me elaborate for a “burger.” If that is all you want, a Quornburger is available for less than $0.50. A burger is minced meat with a binding agent. Surely their aim is to replace a steak, a much more valuable product. Since we are approaching a possibility of growing organs, growing the kind of muscle to produce an acceptable steak has to be the object. This research is a step on the road, but I can’t see it as an end product.

  2. Other

    I’d like to suggest talking about companies like Memphis Meats who have successfully commercialised lab-grown meat! They had a solid round of successful crowd-funding and my understanding is that they are well on their way.–2#/

    1. Rewrite

      That is a great idea! If noone edits it within 24 hours, I might do it myself!

      1. Rewrite

        Thanks Wild Jerry. I don’t suppose you have had any time to contribute to the story yet?

    2. Rewrite

      Thank you. That sound’s like a good idea. Memphis Meats is certainly interesting. Would it be possible for you to add it to the story?

  3. Rewrite

    Claims for artificial meat as well as genetically modified food to meet the supposed “world food shortage” should be juxtaposed to data that shows the excessive consumption of food leading to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, strokes et cetera in the developed world and how a better diet in the developed world would make more food available for those who have less.

    The “smart Alec” answer, “well name one” when mother told you to eat all of the food on your plate because there were children starving in India no longer applies. We can name the children who are starving in India, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen and we can feed them if some others want to eat less.

  4. Flagged as bias

    There are quite a few unsupported statements. Lets try to make this as objective and well supported as possible. A few points:

    – Lab-grown meat is exciting, and will LIKELY (not definitely) be a viable way to produce meat

    – There are many other ways that meat or meat alternatives can be produced without using Lab-grown meat

    – Lab-grown meat is still in it’s infancy, so please try not to use this article to hype up something. I’ve seen and discussed this field with experts in the field, it has a long, long ways to go before it will be viable

    – Another possibility is that we leave things at the status quo, which means cutting down more rainforest to produce soy meal. This is a very complex, interconnected issue, so framing the scope of this article is important

  5. Rewrite

    The title of this article suggests that this is an overview of the possible ways to supply meat in the future, but only addresses one of them. The title should either be revised to indicate it is specifically targeting lab grown meat, or it should take a broader perspective on this issue.

    Topics to flesh out including:

    – review of the interconnected problems within meat production/consumption

    – dialogue on the history of development (agricultural productivity versus demand)

    – supply and demand projection, and where this can be filled from (Amazon rainforest soy production, etc.)

    – and several of the opportunity spaces for alleviating this problem (aka. improved efficiency of current food usage, closing of gaps via food transformation, alternative sources including lab grown but also including aquaculture, vegetable formulated substitutes, etc.)

  6. Rewrite

    Adding a photo of a raw t-bone steak where it would be visible along with the headline would work fantastically. (Something like:

  7. The headline is a little too clever.

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