Synthetic meat moves closer after Dutch research

By Mike Stones

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Greenhouse gas

Meaty potential: The Dutch scientists claim their research could boost the energy efficiency of meat production while cutting its environmental impact
Meaty potential: The Dutch scientists claim their research could boost the energy efficiency of meat production while cutting its environmental impact
Environment-friendly synthetic meat has moved a step closer with the publication of research detailing how Dutch scientists used stem cells to create strips of muscle tissue.

Scientists at Maastricht University in the Netherlands, lead by Professor Mark Post, have grown muscle pieces about 2cm long, 1cm wide and 1mm thick.

Resembling calamari in appearance, the off-white strips will be mixed with blood and artificially grown fat to produce the world’s first laboratory-grown hamburger later this year.

Speaking at a science meeting in Canada, Post said synthetic meat could reduce the environmental footprint of meat by up to 60%.

Post told BBC News: “The reason we are doing this is not to show a viable product but to show that in reality we can do this. From then on, we need to spend a whole lot of work and money to make the process efficient and then cost effective.”

£200,000 price tag

Post estimated the cost of producing the hamburger at about £200,000. But further research would make commercial production feasible, he predicted.

Laboratory-grown meat could become more efficient than conventional production, said Post. At present, 100g of vegetable protein must be fed to pigs or cows to produce 15g of animal protein, an efficiency of 15%. But synthetic meat could be produced with an energy efficiency of 50%, he added.

Global food production must double within the next 50 years to meet the rapidly rising global population, according to some estimates. But, during the same period, greater urbanisation, climate change and shortages of key resources such as water are likely to make food production more difficult.

Meanwhile, synthetically-grown meat could cut greenhouse gas emissions by up to 96% compared with conventional livestock production, according to research published last year by scientists from Oxford University and Amsterdam University.

Artificially produced meat

They calculated that artificially produced meat would need between 7% and 45% less energy than the same volume of conventionally-produced pork, beef, or lamb.

Production could also be planned to use only 1% of the land and 4% of the water associated with conventional meat.

In addition to providing environmental benefits and cheap nutrition, laboratory-grown meat could help to improve animal welfare.

Improving diets in emerging economies, such as China and India, is leading to big increases in the consumption of animal protein. This, is turn, is leading to increased grain prices, which has been exacerbated by the diversion of crops for energy use.

Some environmental campaigners argue that persuading people to eat less meat offers the best hope of minimising environmental damage.

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