Recently, a small group of food critics was given the opportunity to try a hamburger patty made from meat grown in a laboratory, rather than from a dead cow. The burger was created by researcher Mark Post of the University of Maastricht in the Netherlands, and was sponsored by Google co-founder Sergey Brin. The goal of the project is to develop meat that can be raised from stem cells and grown without killing an animal.
The environmental implications of such an accomplishment would be significant. Livestock produce one sixth of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, and animal welfare advocates are right to point to the factory farming system as unethical and unsustainable. The development of a lab-grown alternative could save trillions of animal lives and dramatically reduce climate change.
Unfortunately, the taste testers reported that although the burger had the feel of genuine beef, it was mostly tasteless (it was pure muscle tissue, and had no fat cells).
The biggest impediment to widespread use of lab-grown meat is that it is expensive. The hamburger that was tested cost over $300,000, and the process of making it involved using fetal bovine serum – blood derived from cattle fetuses – meaning that some animals had to die in the production of the meat.
But the process has promise. Some scientists believe fetal bovine serum could be replaced with blue-green algae, and technologies and processes often start out as costly experiments before scientists figure out ways to industrialize and scale them up for mass production. Post believes that we could see lab-grown meat in supermarkets within a couple decades.