Would you still take a bite of a hamburger or a sausage if you knew that the meat it contains did not come of a cow or a pig but was artificially created in laboratories? One could argue that the salad in a hamburger was grown in a green house, too, and was more or less forced to grow by adding fertilisers and artificial ultraviolet light. Or that the bread that comes with a sausage was also created by humans and therefore was an "unnatural" product aswell.
Of course, these examples can't be compared to the process of taking muscle cells from poultry or pigs, making them severely increase with a few tricks and then turning the tiny pieces of meat into chicken nuggets or sausage. A disgusting thought or simply unfamiliar? Would the decision become an easier one if the method could end a major part of animal suffering on the planet as well as animal transports across Europe and mass animal farming?
The list of theoretically possible benefits only goes on: Pathogenic germs and hazardous antibiotics in meat would no longer be an issue; gristles and fat would be a thing of the past and one could replace harmful fatty acids that increase cholesterol with healthy unsaturated fatty acids. The greenhouse gas methane, too, that forms through the digestion of billions of production animals, could be drastically reduced.
Already years ago, the New York cell biologist Dr. Morris Benjaminson, who was working for the NASA, succeeded in growing a piece of fish by 14 percent in liquid fertiliser. Back then, his hope for the project was that it could help improve the nourishment situation of astronauts on long flights, for example to Mars. The Dutch dermatologist Dr. Wiete Westerhof had a method of artificially creating meat patented after he managed to grow muscle cells of cows, pigs, poultry and kangaroos on an artificial skeleton made from collagen.
So how come the perfect artificial steak has not entered the market yet? One problem for the scientists is that the growing cells have to be nourished, since there is no bloodflow like inside a living animal. In the laboratory, everything is fine as long as the cells remain in direct contact with a liquid fertiliser. But as soon as they deal with a cell layer that is only a millimetre thick, the cells' nourishment cuts off and they die. Another difficulty is that one would have to "train" the muscle cells in order for them to become real muscle fibres. It might only be another few years until these problems are solved. In the meantime, though, the idea's biggest problem seems to (yet) be something else.
Microbiologist Prof. Dr. Hermann Katinger from the Vienna University of Natural Sources and Applied Life Sciences: "For me, this idea is like the fairytale about the miller's wife who would yarn straw into gold. In this case, it is just the other way round: This method yarns gold into straw. Practically, it is far to expensive to artificially grow meat, even if it would work some day. The cow out in the meadow and the hen in the barn are by far cheaper. A lot of people won't even pay more for their steak in order to support livestock husbandry. And as a true alternative to meat, there are plenty of products made from soy beans that are known to contain healthy vegetable proteins."
The scientist continues: "Years ago, I once tried one of those artificial meat products made from yeast bacteria. It was very difficult at that time to create something chewable out of an albuminous mash, and it tasted like a combination of steak and minced meat. Only, practically: who would buy something artificial like that and eat it?"