A new kind of happy meal: Lab-grown meat on the menu by 2020

Where do you see yourself in five years’ time? Your answer probably wasn’t “chowing down on a lab-grown beef burger,” though if it was, then kudos on setting an achievable goal. Because the Maastricht University team that pioneered the first expensive lab-grown sandwich is aiming to have a markedly cheaper option on the shelves within the next five years.

A new kind of happy meal: Lab-grown meat on the menu by 2020

A company trying to make a meat product cheaper and tastier before it goes on sale would normally cause alarm bells, but given that the prototype lab-grown burger cost £215,000 to make, I think we can cut them a little slack on this occasion.

“I feel extremely excited about the prospect of this product being on sale. And I am confident that when it is offered as an alternative to meat that increasing numbers of people will find it hard not to buy our product for ethical reasons,” Peter Verstrate told the BBC.

More ethical is one thing, but the team has a tough job making their lab-grown burger an appealing proposition on supermarket shelves. It’s not that it doesn’t have a compelling story, as all marketers say a product needs to succeed (guess who watched The Apprentice last night,) it’s just this one might be a little too compelling.lab-grown_burger

This is how a lab-grown meat is made – you may feel a little squicked out. Stem cells are extracted from cow muscle tissue, and are then cultured with nutrients and chemicals to help them grow and multiply. In just three weeks, you have more than a million stem cells, at which point they’re moved to dishes where they form into small muscle strips, around a centimetre long. They’re then layered together, mixed with fat and get some colour added in. Bon appetit!

The first one – a snip at around the cost of a middling League Two midfielder – was cooked and eaten in London two years ago. “Close to meat, but not that juicy,” was the verdict.

Still, if we refuse to stop eating meat, this is one of the solutions we have to consider, and as the researchers point out, it’s actually an ethical one. Not only are no cows harmed in the making of the lab-grown burger, less livestock will be needed for farming should these take off. This is the best news the planet has heard in ages, with a view to tackling climate change.

Let’s just hope they get the taste and cost right. Given the cost is said to be down to nearly £50 per kilogram, I think we can legitimately call anything over £99,000 a rip-off now.

Read The Week’s verdict on the lab-grown burger’s flavour, here.

Images: Alpha and Katherine Lim used under Creative Commons

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