The Cultured Burger
Imagine biting into a juicy burger or steak that was obtained without killing an animal. Sound impossible? Not so! Meat is now being grown in many laboratories and these companies are receiving millions of dollars in funding. Just recently, one of the companies took in nearly $20 million from sources that included Bill Gates.
Ground breaking technology is now allowing scientists to remove a small amount of muscle tissue from animals (similar to a biopsy) without harming the animal and isolating and culturing the cells from the tissue in the laboratory. With proper nourishment and environmental conditions, these cells multiply and grow into primitive muscle fibers. These fibers then bulk-up to form meat. The cells isolated are stem-like cells and can be coaxed into differentiating into specialized cells of muscle, fat, and connective tissue. The cells proliferate in the lab just as they would if they remained in the animal donor. However, the nutrient broth can be altered by scientists to make the meat healthier. This laboratory meat has become known as ‘clean meat’ as opposed to traditional agricultural meat obtained by slaughtering animals who become contaminated with bacteria and thus require antibiotics as well as growth hormones to hasten the animal to maturity. The meat is also exposed to unwanted animal parts during the slaughtering procedure and the animals certainly don’t fare well.
Cattle farmers are currently sacrificing an average size beef cow to obtain approximately 1800 ‘quarter-pounders’ whereas it is estimated that the small tissue sample used to make manufactured meat in the laboratory could produce over 80,000 ‘quarter-pounders’ with no harm done to the animal.
There is increasing awareness of the environmental impact of a massive industrial livestock system keeping pace with Americans consuming 26 billion pounds of beef each year. One cow can consume 11,000 gallons of water annually while consuming exorbitant quantities of grains and grasses. These foods for the cows are very high in fiber and most of us are aware of a common by-product of fiber being digested in the gut – gas. In the case of cows, the typical gas produced is methane, expelled fore and aft, and contributing to the “green-house gas effect’ thus influencing climate change. Estimates are that the livestock population is responsible for 15-20 % of greenhouse gas emissions.
When the taste and consistency are perfected and pricing is acceptable, widespread consumption of lab grown meat could reduce or eliminate much of the cruel treatment of animals raised for food. This would also reduce the considerable environmental cost of agricultural meat production and resources would only be needed to generate and sustain cultured cells, not in an entire animal from birth.
In the near future, we will be growing burgers in laboratory vats rather than in grain and grass fields. These cultured clean meats will be healthier for the consumer, the animals, and the environment.
Dr. Tippett is the founder of Comprehensive Quality Healthcare Providers, a concierge internal medicine practice located at 1210 Commerce Dr. Suite 106 Greensboro, Ga. 30642. He can be reached at 706-510-3659. Visit his webpage at www.drtippett.com