The Case of the $330,000 Hamburger
Aug 13, 2013
You don’t have to pick up your favorite sci-fi novel to read about a world where people sustain themselves on test-tube food. Just pick up the newspaper, instead.
That’s right, the world’s first lab-grown hamburger was eaten at a press conference last week in London. Scientists from the Netherlands took cells from a cow and grew strips of muscle they used to form the one-of-a-kind patty.
Total cost of the project: $330,000.
Of course, the cost will come down when and if the researchers move forward from the proof-of-concept stage into mass production. Food critics who tried the burger described it as having an "intense taste" with perfect consistency. (The biggest complaint was lack of salt.)
Not to be outdone, Missouri startup Modern Meadow has been working on creating 3D-printed meat. That’s exactly what it sounds like – computers lay down a structure of living cells and tissues in three dimensions. Sister technology is being used to research transplants (think skin grafts for burn victims, for example).
These emerging technologies bring forth a fascinating grab-bag of ethical and moral questions. Could 3D-printed meat be a viable solution for solving Third World hunger? Does it allocate more or fewer resources to produce this kind of protein? Would vegetarians be able to eat a lab-grown burger? Perhaps most importantly, could you get over the utter weirdness of eating a hamburger grown by scientists in a laboratory?
Those questions and more require answers. And at least one critic, Oxford professor Tara Garnett, says we aren’t even asking the right questions to begin with.
"We have a situation where 1.4 billion people in the world are overweight and obese, and at the same time one billion people worldwide go to bed hungry," she told the BBC News. "That’s just weird and unacceptable. The solutions don’t just lie with producing more food but changing the systems of supply and access and affordability, so not just more food but better food gets to the people who need it."