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The Stem Cell Burger: What does this mean for British Businesses?

Supported by an anonymous benefactor who donated $320,000, researcher and scientist Mark Post will be sitting down today to indulge in the world’s most expensive hamburger, which doesn’t even contain real meat! Containing meat grown in a culture dish, the burger tasting will be conducted in front of an invited audience in London today.

Professor Mark Post will cook what’s become known to the world as the first lab-grown hamburger. He says it’s a kinder and greener way of producing meat. It cuts down on greenhouse gas emissions and will decrease the amount of animals slaughtered every year, plus he’s optimistic the product can be mass produced.

To briefly explain the process, Post took muscle stem cells from a cow through a biopsy. After multiplying, those cells developed into muscle cells that grew fibres which eventually became edible muscle tissue. This can then be ground into minced meat and made into a hamburger patty, mimicking the sight of real meat. Raw, it’s said to look grey with a texture resembling that of squid or scallop.

Back in May he conducted some preliminary tests whereby he concluded that the meat tasted “reasonably good” prior to the adding of any fat. He claims that growing meat in the lab rather than on the farm could reduce the required energy expenditure by 40%. It’s taken a ten year period to get the product ‘right’ and suitable for eating though and it’s more than likely to take far longer to make lab-grown beef commercially viable to the mass market. Commenting on this, Post has said he expects lab-grown meat to be commercially viable in 20 years, but whether this is accurate remains to be seen.

The Food Standards Agency have said they would need strong evidence that the meat would be able to provide the same nutritional quality as real meat and be safe for consumer consumption.

Burgers cultivated in labs have the potential to eliminate contamination problems and can address some of the environmental concerns that are associated with industrial livestock farms, however, Charles Q. Choi from the journal of Live Science said such research opens up strange and perhaps even disturbing possibilities once considered only the realm of science fiction. After all, who knows what kind of meat people might want to grow to eat? The question remains whether or not people will feel comfortable eating lab made meat.

As any new form of technology initially can be frightening and unfamiliar, but when compared to modern farming, the abattoir and meat processing, people may be more willing to embrace in vitro meat once they become more aware of the issues, especially concerning the welfare of our animals.

According to the Food and Agricultural Organisation we will be eating twice as much meat as we do now by 2050 while each individual in Britain eats on average 85kg meat per year. 

If successful, we must think what this could mean for British businesses, traditional farming culture and the landscape of the UK in the future. 

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