A new relationship with animals, nature and each other.

Scientists ‘Cooking’ on Laboratory Meat


Scientific advances could bring an end to the horrors of factory farming.

You care about animals but still can’t quit eating meat? Help is at hand, according to a panel of scientists at the annual AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) meeting in Vancouver.

The first laboratory-grown hamburger may even be on the menu and on supermarket shelves later this year.

mark-post-022112Until now, the lead research on “in-vitro” meat has been taken by Mark Post, a doctor by training, who is trying to grow meat from animal stem cells.

Post’s team is working with cow cells to make a hamburger, and his progress has been reported frequently (here and here). He said the team doesn’t yet have quite enough made in the lab to make a meatball, but that once they do, they’ll cook it and see how it tastes.

Before the in-vitro approach can become commercially viable, Post will have to find a way to significantly up the production. He said he has a “reputable” but anonymous financial backer on this project.

But the big news at the meeting was a presentation by Stanford University’s Patrick Brown, who is taking a very different approach. He’s working to make meat alternatives directly from plant sources that can actually compete with beef, pork, chicken and other animal products – even dairy.

patrick-brown-022112The point isn’t to make another tofurky or almond milk, Brown said. It’s to make something that “can compete head-on with meat and dairy products,” especially among people who would never touch a veggie burger.

Brown said he’s being backed by a “major Silicon Valley venture firm” and suggested that their first meat alternative could be on store shelves within the year.

The product “totally rocks,” he said, adding that it’s virtually indistinguishable from what it replaces, “even by hardcore foodies.” He wouldn’t elaborate on whether it will be more like a steak, sausage, chicken or rack of lamb. Hopefully, he said, the ideal product will be something that can satisfy all meat cravings.

Brown said he began his work several years ago when he decided to focus the rest of his life upon solving the challenge of weaning the world off of animal farming, which he called “inefficient technology, millennia old” that also represents “by far the biggest ongoing environmental catastrophe.”

Worse, humankind’s appetite for meat is such that consumption is expected to double by 2050

Less animal farming could also reduce the risks of livestock diseases that spread to humans, reduce the need for grazing land, and help to avoid food shortages by consuming crops directly rather than feeding them to animals.

“We can do more good by taking on the simple task of figuring out how to convert cheap, abundant sustainable plant materials into nutrient-dense, protein-rich foods that people deliberately choose to eat based on taste and value,” Brown said.