National Geographic News
Professor Mark Post holds the world's first lab-grown beef burger.
Mark Post, creator of the world's first lab-grown hamburger, holds a petri dish of cultured beef. He believes lab-grown meat could provide a solution to global food shortages and help combat climate change.

Photograph by David Parry, Reuters

Amanda Fiegl

National Geographic

Published August 6, 2013

Would you eat beef grown in a petri dish? It may sound unappetizing, but when tasters bit into the world's first lab-grown hamburger at a London press conference on Monday, they declared it "close to meat."

To learn more about cultured beef, we spoke via email with Isha Datar, director of New Harvest, a nonprofit research group focused on alternatives to conventional meat production.

Today's taste test of the world's first lab-grown burger is attracting a lot of attention. Many people might wonder: What's the point of growing meat in a lab? Can't we just breed more beef cattle?

We actually can't. There is presently a global herd of 60 billion land animals for 7 billion people, and 70 percent of agricultural land and 8 percent of the global water supply is already devoted to livestock production. With the global herd in 2050 projected to be 100 billion land animals for 10 billion people, we just don't have the resources to maintain more animals. And livestock produce anywhere from 18 to 50 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions. Meat consumption is growing too fast, and we need to come up with several solutions for mitigating the risk to sustainability. In fact, current production is already unsustainable.

Also, our current factory farming methods bring about many opportunities to create widespread disease. Epidemic viruses are almost all from livestock farming (swine flu, avian flu), and widespread bacterial contamination opportunities make meat recalls an everyday occurrence. More animals means more risk to our population.

The burger in today's news was created by Maastricht University's Mark Post from the cultured muscle cells of living cows. Other scientists want to engineer meat from plant-based materials. What do you think is the best approach?

What is ideal is expanding the meat portfolio to include many different things: plant-based alternatives, cultured products, and everything in between. Even sustainably raised meat (grass fed, on non-farmable land) should be part of this. So in our future we will have a range of items, at a range of price points, that can adequately address demand while being more sustainable. Ultimately I would say a plant-based diet (and therefore plant-based alternatives) would be the ideal situation, but we don't expect the population to widely go vegetarian any time soon.

This message is important, though, and cultured meat is meant to complement the vegetarian effort. There are many other protein approaches; mycoprotein (Quorn) is one option, as is eating insects. These are much more effective ways to produce protein than through raising whole animals. Insects have been eaten by many people around the world for centuries, but cultural differences are holding it back from being a significant alternative in major meat-eating countries in the Western world.

 

 Chef Richard McGeown cooks the world's first lab-grown beef burger.
A chef fries up the world's first lab-grown beef burger in London for two taste-testing volunteers.

Photograph by David Parry, Reuters

 

How long might it be before lab-grown meat is available to the general public?

It all depends on funding. The more money, the faster it becomes available. The things that hold this technology back are: 1) creating a medium for the cells to grow in that is totally plant-based and sustainable, because at present it is not, and 2) making [lab-grown meat] affordably and quickly. But these are engineering problems. They are not problems of difficult science.

The implications of a publicly funded food technology are immense. It means open-source [not patented] food. It means cultured meat production could resemble beer production or cheese production.

Have you ever eaten lab-grown meat?

I haven't, and I wish I could have had a taste, especially since so many reporters ask me that question! I would eat it, definitely.

47 comments
Claire Lenahan
Claire Lenahan

I would definitely eat lab-grown meat. It seems like a wonderful solution to food shortages, animal ethics and health problems. The idea of making meat products from plant-based ingredients is a vegetarian's dream come true and healthier too for everyone else. (14050448)

Alan Braganza
Alan Braganza

I would gladly eat in vitro meat from this new stem cell technology and feel good about knowing especially that a living breathing and pain sensitive animal did not have to suffer before giving up its life for me to eat.  

I would feel great that our environment lands would be preserved for natural ecosystems instead of being used for meat farming because we can not keep up with the current demand for meat through livestock farming from the above quoted facts. I feel good that I eat more plant foods than animal foods and feel healthier as a result.

joann harper
joann harper

I think this is a little absurd, I like the animal meat. i want the animal. Sorry! 

Alan Braganza
Alan Braganza

IN-VITRO MEAT; A MULTIPLE BENEFIT BREAKTHROUGH: This really is the revolutionary breakthrough needed for allowing mass production of traditionally farmed meat without the need for living farmed animals. 

HOW AWESOME IS STEM CELL RESEARCH!!! We eat much less meat and more plant foods for reasons related to our health as well as the fact that we are animal lovers and believe in the humane treatment of all animals as organisms having a right to exist in harmony on Earth. As humans are stewards and guardians of the Earth, we are the caretakers of all life on Earth,  and we have duty and obligation to keeping the animals and plants in harmonious balance which involves allowing less animal pain and suffering and allowing balanced co-existence of humans and animals. This is now more than possible with the promise of cultured meat protein made to taste like the animals from which the stem cells originate from.

IMAGINE THE PRODUCTS FROM STEM CELL RESEARCH. This is an awesome development which has implications of tremendous magnitude. This research must be supported and allowed to further develop without opposition.

Currently and historically there are and have been animal health problems related to rearing, housing, caring for and maintaining, storing and transporting of livestock. The historic experiences with Bovine Spongiform Encephalitis, Avian Flu, bacterial contaminated meat in processing plants, diseased livestock, hormonally injected livestock, and the reality of how this has affected human children populations. From the 1980's to 2010's why have children been born having higher incidences of life threatening allergies or allergies to never before seen products and many children are reaching puberty much earlier which warrants questioning about the correlation of artificial hormones in our foods to these incidences. It is not just the air we breathe but what we consume.

Farmed animals are administered hormones for maximizing body growth and growth rates as well as to maintain health and reproduction. This artificially alters their physiologies.

Now everyone can feel better about a future where this does not need to continue. The mass production and processing of livestock will not be needed on such scales. It really will do a lot for animal welfare as these living beings are raised to give up their lives so we can eat them.

ANIMALS ARE KILLED FOR FOOD AND THIS MAY NOT NEED TO CONTINUE. Raising animals for food is inefficient and inhumane in its most basic analysis as the animals are quite aware of their impending slaughter and their ongoing despair releases stress hormones which affect meat quality to say nothing about animal welfare and dignity.

MAY I HAVE ONE ORDER OF 10 KG BEEF TENDERLOIN WITH 5% FAT, HOLD THE HORMONES!!! Here is the opportunity to change meat farming drastically and to make tremendous improvements in meat quality and meat composition where cultured or in-vitro beef, pork, chicken, lamb, turkey may be selected off the shelf in desired quantities as we do now but in relative percentages of fats, muscle, bone (if relevant).

Above all, the scientists and supporters of this stem cell science have allowed humans a choice and opportunity to end the process of raising, feeding, housing, transporting and slaughtering livestock for meat and science has rather given humans the choice to select exactly the proportions of muscle meat protein to fat in 1kg, 5kg or 10kg or other quantities for instance. 

It is revolutionary indeed because through science, human consumers can eat healthier meat products, lessen the burden of live animal dependency and preserve air, land and water ecosystems that are currently polluted by the products of animal farming. The natural forests, rainforests and land devoted to animal farming may be allowed to flourish with endemic animal populations and return to balance with nature...in theory.

Wishing this a happy future and with the greatest admiration for the scientist and supporting scientists behind this as well as the Google co-founder who supported this and continues to do so.

Not just me but the animals thank you and all the generations of life that are to follow....:)

Alan Braganza
Alan Braganza

IN-VITRO MEAT; A MULTIPLE BENEFIT BREAKTHROUGH: This really is the revolutionary breakthrough needed for allowing mass production of traditionally farmed meat without the need for living farmed animals. 

HOW AWESOME IS STEM CELL RESEARCH!!! We eat much less meat and more plant foods for reasons related to our health as well as the fact that we are animal lovers and believe in the humane treatment of all animals as organisms having a right to exist in harmony on Earth. As humans are stewards and guardians of the Earth, we are the caretakers of all life on Earth,  and we have duty and obligation to keeping the animals and plants in harmonious balance which involves allowing less animal pain and suffering and allowing balanced co-existence of humans and animals. This is now more than possible with the promise of cultured meat protein made to taste like the animals from which the stem cells originate from.

IMAGINE THE PRODUCTS FROM STEM CELL RESEARCH. This is an awesome development which has implications of tremendous magnitude. This research must be supported and allowed to further develop without opposition.

Currently and historically there are and have been animal health problems related to rearing, housing, caring for and maintaining, storing and transporting of livestock. The historic experiences with Bovine Spongiform Encephalitis, Avian Flu, bacterial contaminated meat in processing plants, diseased livestock, hormonally injected livestock, and the reality of how this has affected human children populations. From the 1980's to 2010's why have children been born having higher incidences of life threatening allergies or allergies to never before seen products and many children are reaching puberty much earlier which warrants questioning about the correlation of artificial hormones in our foods to these incidences. It is not just the air we breathe but what we consume.

Farmed animals are administered hormones for maximizing body growth and growth rates as well as to maintain health and reproduction. This artificially alters their physiologies.

Now everyone can feel better about a future where this does not need to continue. The mass production and processing of livestock will not be needed on such scales. It really will do a lot for animal welfare as these living beings are raised to give up their lives so we can eat them.

ANIMALS ARE KILLED FOR FOOD AND THIS MAY NOT NEED TO CONTINUE. Raising animals for food is inefficient and inhumane in its most basic analysis as the animals are quite aware of their impending slaughter and their ongoing despair releases stress hormones which affect meat quality to say nothing about animal welfare and dignity.

MAY I HAVA ONE ORDER OF 10 KG BEEF TENDERLOIN WITH 5% FAT, HOLD THE HORMONES!!! Here is the opportunity to change meat farming drastically and to make tremendous improvements in meat quality and meat composition where cultured or in-vitro beef, pork, chicken, lamb, turkey may be selected off the shelf in desired quantities as we do now but in relative percentages of fats, muscle, bone (if relevant).

Above all, the scientists and supporters of this stem cell science has allowed humans a choice and opportunity to end the process of raising, feeding, housing, transporting and slaughtering livestock for meat and science has rather given humans the choice to select exactly the proportions of muscle meat protein to fat in 1kg, 5kg or 10kg quantities for instance. 

It is revolutionary indeed because through science, human consumers can eat healthier meat products, lessen the burden of live animal dependency and preserve air, land and water ecosystems that are currently polluted by the products of animal farming. The natural forests, rainforests and land devoted to animal farming may be allowed to flourish with endemic animal populations and return to balance with nature...in theory.

Wishing this a happy future and with the greatest admiration for the scientist and supporting scientists behind this as well as the Google co-founder who supported this and continues to do so.

Not just me but the animals thank you and all the generations of life that are to follow....:)

Fanie Brand
Fanie Brand

But what about all the jobs that will become lost as the meat industry shrinks over the years because of the new lab grown meat? 

Jocelyn Desroches
Jocelyn Desroches

Considering all the hormones and  médications (some barely or completely illegal) they feed or inject to livestock from birth till the a short time before they are sent  to the meat factory , i am realy looking forward to eat clean meat.

Steve Johnson
Steve Johnson

we already have problem of  getting tricked into fake/cheap meat.

Now here we go, in the future you might get fake petri-dish meat!  as if cheap meat ( told to be good) wasn't enough!

Alan Braganza
Alan Braganza

CARNE SANS CARNAGE: The cultured or in-vitro meat discovery promises to be the most significant development concerning both human and animal welfare as it will reduce the dependency on: domestic livestock, the water and land for grazing, the destruction of rainforest and forest ecosystems. It will reduce the degree of gaseous and solid emissions of animal waste into water and air systems that pollute indiscriminately and threaten ocean and rainforest ecosystems. It will save hundreds of billions of dollars annually in transportation, housing and slaughter of hundreds of millions of livestock, the incidence of livestock borne diseases and transmission by microbial vectors. It will reduce the ongoing pain and suffering of livestock and domesticated animals for food. It will create the opportunity for hopefully careful management of local supply and demand and have profound implications for world hunger with regard to exploding birthrates and overpopulation which creates further cycles of hunger and poverty. Thank you to all who developed and financed this as it is revolutionary...   :)  

A. Dixon-Berry
A. Dixon-Berry

I believe this to be the beginning of a new era for the fast food industry. I could see the fast food industry taking the "lab burger" and feeding it to Americans without our knowledge. Therefore, it may not quickly end up in our supermarkets, but it could end up elsewhere in our food chain. 

MADHUMALA AND MANI MADHAVAN MD
MADHUMALA AND MANI MADHAVAN MD

It could save the animals from being killed for food. Animals have a place in this planet too. It's not just about us humans. This trend is welcome.

Loek Houben
Loek Houben

I think as allways , what will be the price or prize?? ,  Money rules the world , maybe someone could change it, or at least give it a chanche  , this might be a opportunity . We should try it out .

Linda Stepp
Linda Stepp

I believe plant based foods are much better for us than meat.  Meat consumption is partly responsible for many of our health issues.  I am not saying we should consume only vegetables or plant based foods, but we do need to reduce our meat consumption and include more plant based foods.  I do not want to eat insects but I see it coming to a future near us.  I can almost guarantee that the wealthy and powerful will be sure they get "real meat and real fish" the rest of us can eat the petri dish wonders.

Ivy S.
Ivy S.

If fresh meat is avalible it should be what we choose to eat. If this needs to happen, it needs to happen though.

Jody-Marie Davies
Jody-Marie Davies

How are they leaning on you National Geographic? I' ashamed of you... Since you're 'for' this with this article, trying to influence public opinion to create an imperial view that this is what we should be doing with NO MENTION WHATSOEVER of the NEGATIVE EFFECTS it could have on individual and mass health, jobs, small businesses, social communities, our landscape...

C. Dufour
C. Dufour

why dont we just eat insects?

Bo Wallen
Bo Wallen

The hygiene of the chef and the burned edges of the burger does not make it more appealing at all..No michelin star for him... But for sure we need alternatives for sustainable food production. My new hobby is Aquaponics. A great way to produce food and no advanced quadrupeds needed.

Deepanker Yadav
Deepanker Yadav

Is there really a need of lab grown meat................

Patricia Keiper
Patricia Keiper

Cells encouraged to grow from serum made from the blood of unborn calves in slaughter houses?!

I'd rather eat bugs.

Pra Naf
Pra Naf

Try Boca Burgers.  $4.00 for 4 patties at your local health food store's frozen food section.

Geneva Whitecotton
Geneva Whitecotton

I do not believe that livestock are responsible for 18-50% of the greenhouse emissions produced on this planet.

Alan Braganza
Alan Braganza

@Scarlett Shell You must enjoy all types of hot dogs so really consider what parts of the animal goes into making hot dogs. The truth may set you free...free to embrace in vitro meat.

Alan Braganza
Alan Braganza

@Fanie Brand Consider that in vitro meat from stem cells is still considered the meat industry but without live animals, without livestock and without the housing and transportation and butchering of live animals; however, the need for humans to work in this new and promising in vitro meat industry will grow in various forms and stem cell research will be very good for new employment trends. 

Alan Braganza
Alan Braganza

@Fanie Brand People employed in the meat industry from farmers to butchers will have many career options and opportunities to work in new and growing industries related in some way to their initial careers and they likely will earn a better wage because of new developments.  Whenever old jobs become redundant there are always new opportunities which compensate equally or better.

Alan Braganza
Alan Braganza

@Jocelyn Desroches The stem cell source or plant based source for in vitro meat will be healthier for us as well as for the land that would be used to farm the millions of livestock. This technology would preserve the land for other uses.  In vitro grown veal meat would be more humane than the currently accepted farming method. 

Alan Braganza
Alan Braganza

@Steve Johnson Not if strict government regulations are followed through regular inspections and follow ups to keep the highest quality control standards operating.

Alan Braganza
Alan Braganza

@Linda Stepp The real meat and real fish are not as healthy for us as would the stem cell source grown meat because of hormones and preservatives.

Tennille L
Tennille L

@Jody-Marie Davies I think if proper care is taken you could see positive effects in all of those areas. Seeing as this meat is being engineered why couldn't they add essential vitamins and minerals, lower the harmful fat content, and do extensive test before making it available to to the public. Once the process is perfected why couldn't they make the technology available to small businesses so they profit? Even if they didn't they wouldn't be hurting small farms that sell meat to locals, they would be taking away from the huge companies that do factory farming. Which was the main tone of this pro-petri article. I can't see this having an overly large effect on the job market because it will create jobs for people even if factory farming becomes less popular and those companies have to lay people off. I'm not sure what you mean when you say it will effect social communities. And as far a the landscape goes this is the answer to not having our landscape destroyed. If we don't find an alternative to factory farming then it is safe to say that more and more land will have to be converted for farm land to help raise and feed livestock.

I do agree though that it makes for a more interesting read when the writer plays devil's advocate. 

Linda Stepp
Linda Stepp

@Clement Dufour  No one is stopping you Clement.  If you want to eat insects then by all means blaze the trail!

Alan Braganza
Alan Braganza

@rich rat If you like a larger meal while vacationing in the Amazon you may munch on a Titan beetle (Titanus giganteus)

Alan Braganza
Alan Braganza

@Deepanker Yadav People will eat meat whether it is from farmed livestock or from stem cell grown sources. The latter source is much more humane and will not involve living breathing animals that feel stress due to any ill treatment such as confinement or slaughter.

Is there a need to reduce or eliminate animal pain and suffering?

Well just research into the growing number of animal welfare and protection organizations locally and worldwide...surely these guardian humanitarians are not misinformed or misguided. Do you support these organizations regularly...With good conscience you would and you would be correct to thank them for their selfless actions to change the way animals are treated.  

Here is an opportunity for humanity on a grand scale to significantly reduce the toll it has taken on billions of slaughtered livestock annually. There will always be farmers in countries who will continue to farm animals for food as humans are hunter gatherers but the grand scale commercial implications of this stem cell technology is clearly revolutionary for human development and human ethical treatment of animals.

Alex Whale
Alex Whale

@Deepanker Yadav Found the guy that posts before he reads the article.

Jonathan Patchett
Jonathan Patchett

@Deepanker Yadav Better than killing animals just because we can, dip s***.

Alan Braganza
Alan Braganza

@Geneva Whitecotton Well just consider that if 7 billion humans who have just eaten a high protein meat dinner are digesting their meal and imagine the volume emissions of greenhouse gases that will follow.  You would be correct not to believe that livestock are responsible for upwards of 50 % of the CO2 type  of the greenhouse emissions.  (livestock still contribute about 20% of it)

Alan Braganza
Alan Braganza

@Geneva Whitecotton

Consider 14 to 22 percent of all CO2 type gases annually. The published facts are noteworthy of global attention as,

 "current production levels of meat contribute between 14 and 22 percent of the 36 billion tons of "CO2-equivalent" greenhouse gases the world produces every year. It turns out that producing half a pound of hamburger for someone's lunch a patty of meat the size of two decks of cards releases as much greenhouse gas into the atmosphere as driving a 3,000-pound car nearly 10 miles."

This is a quote according to a 2006 report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) discussed in Scientific American magazine (How Meat Contributes to Global Warming. Producing beef for the table has a surprising environmental cost: it releases prodigious amounts of heat-trapping greenhouse gases. By Nathan Fiala. Scientific American. Feb.1, 2009.)

When people begin to realize how serious the existing issues are perhaps this ground breaking stem cell research on lab grown beef may be hastened towards making the widespread commercial production of various in vitro meats happen sooner in the next 10 to 15 years compared to the predicted 20 to 25 years.  The employment needs for new labour will grow.

This earlier time horizon needed for the in vitro meat may likely help several critically endangered species populations of plants and animals recover to some measurable degree that ordinarily may be expected to become extinct in a quarter century from now as a result of current global warming trends.

Mark Samule
Mark Samule

@Geneva Whitecotton "I do not believe that livestock are responsible for 18-50% "Then you would be wrong, but don’t take my word for it, this is based on the UN report “Livestock's Long Shadow”.  just do a google search.  Cattle are a major source of environmental disasters.  So yeah I think petri burgers are a great idea or you could become a vegetarian.

Share

Feed the World

  • How to Feed Our Growing Planet

    How to Feed Our Growing Planet

    National Geographic explores how we can feed the growing population without overwhelming the planet in our food series.

See blogs, stories, photos, and news »

Latest From Nat Geo

See more photos »

Shop Our Space Collection

  • Be the First to Own <i>Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey</i>

    Be the First to Own Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey

    The updated companion book to Carl Sagan's Cosmos, featuring a new forward by Neil deGrasse Tyson is now available. Proceeds support our mission programs, which protect species, habitats, and cultures.

Shop Now »