JUST what potential does laboratory-grown meat have to bump beef off the menu?
Registered dietitian Ginger Hultin, from the world's largest food professionals organisation, the United States-based Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, says someday it could be cheaper that raising livestock.
Also called “cellular agriculture”, artificial or synthetic meat comes from growing muscle tissue from animal stem cells in a laboratory rather than harvesting from livestock.
“Creating cultured meat requires adding a collagen matrix, taken from either living or deceased animals, to adult muscle stem cells from a live animal, which together proliferate into strips of skeletal muscle grown in a lab,” Ms Hultin explained.
“Fat cells need to be co-cultured to replicate the flavor of natural meat and to enhance texture and tenderness. Growing cultured meat also requires a circulatory system to deliver oxygen and nutrients and to remove metabolic waste.”
Right now, it’s much more expensive to produce. In 2013, after five years of research, Mark Post of Maastricht University in the Netherlands introduced the first burger made from bovine stem cells.
This prototype burger cost more than $300,000 to make.
“However, in vitro growth takes several weeks before meat can be harvested, rather than months for chickens or years for pigs or cows,” Ms Hultin said.
“In addition, cultured meat can be stored in the facility where it is grown, reducing the need for land, labor and feed to raise animals. Hopefully, though, it would change the livestock farming industry. It could create a new, profitable industry. “More research is needed to develop the technology and make it accessible to large populations.”
Ms Hultin acknowledged low consumer acceptability was a major concern for researchers developing cultured meat.
However, there was a lengthy list of pros, including the fact cultured meat could be engineered to have an impact on specific health and nutrition outcomes by altering the profile of essential amino acids and fat in addition to adding vitamins, minerals and bioactive compounds that match or exceed the amount in natural meat, she said.