NPR Story
12:09 pm
Mon August 5, 2013

First Lab-Grown Burger Has 'Quite Some Intense Taste'

Originally published on Mon August 5, 2013 3:32 pm

The world’s first lab-grown hamburger was cooked and eaten in London today. The burger was grown from stem cells taken from a dead cow.

It cost $325,000 to grow, but researchers believe the technology will eventually reduce the cost of meat production and meet growing demand.

The BBC’s science correspondent, Pallab Ghosh, has had exclusive access to the laboratory in the Netherlands where the meat was grown, and spoke to the researchers involved.

Austrian food critic Hanni Ruetzler, who tasted the burger, said: “There is quite some intense taste; it’s close to meat, but it’s not that juicy”

Reporter

  • Pallab Ghosh, science correspondent for BBC News. He tweets @BBCPallab.
Copyright 2013 WBUR-FM. To see more, visit http://www.wbur.org.

Transcript

ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:

From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Robin Young. It's HERE AND NOW. They came. They chewed. They weren't conquered. Volunteers tasted their first lab-grown hamburger cooked up in London this morning. Their verdict?

HANNI RUETZLER: It's close to meat. It's not that juicy. And there is quite some flavor with the browning.

YOUNG: Some flavor. That meat was grown from stem cells taken from a dead cow, and that burger cost more than $300,000 to grow. But researchers believe it could eventually reduce the cost of meat production, meet growing demand for meat, and maybe mean fewer dead animals. The BBC's Pallab Ghosh toured the lab in the Netherlands where the meat was grown.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Let's have a quick look around.

PALLAB GHOSH: London's catering made easy exhibition in 1964.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: How about a quick snack?

GHOSH: What a jolly good idea.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: That's where the beef burger comes in. Feed it one pound of fine mince meat, and in less than no time, it makes 16 beef burgers ready to be fried or grilled.

GHOSH: It was a revolutionary food of the future back then.

MARK POST: We take all these small tissues to produce a hamburger.

GHOSH: And a revolutionary food of the future in the future.

POST: Here you see from this freezer the first batches of muscle tissue that eventually are going to make the entire hamburger.

(SOUNDBITE OF MACHINERY)

GHOSH: Professor Mark Post proudly shows me around his laboratory at Maastricht University. Around me are incubators filled with layer upon layer of trays containing pink liquid, each growing stem cells taken from a dead cow. These then grow into thin strips of white-colored muscle, which is then painstakingly put together into patties, which will eventually be put together to make the world's first lab-grown burger. But why?

POST: We are doing that because livestock meat production is not good for the environment, is eventually not going to meet the demand of the world, and it's not good for the animals.

GHOSH: But Professor Tara Garnett, of the Food Policy Research Network at Oxford University, says policymakers need to look beyond technological solutions to address what she describes as the immense problem of meeting growing demand for food across the world.

TARA GARNETT: We have a situation in the world at present where 1.4 billion people are overweight or obese, and at the same time we have a situation where nearly a billion people worldwide go to bed hungry. That's weird, and it's unacceptable. And the solutions don't lie with necessarily producing more food but changing the systems of supply and access and affordability.

(SOUNDBITE OF COOKING)

GHOSH: Food writer Sybil Kapoor sizzles up her own homemade hamburgers. She says she feels uneasy about increasing the amount of synthetic food in our diet.

SYBIL KAPOOR: I'm a great believer in things being natural, and I think that the further you get away from a normal natural diet for people, the more potential risks that people can run in terms of health and all sorts of other issues. I don't really like the idea of everything coming out of the factory.

GHOSH: For many, lab-grown meat may seem like the ultimate in processed food, an unnatural abomination. But for the researchers behind the project, the real abomination is to carry on as we are and waste precious resources to farm meat in an ever more unsustainable way. But the latest U.N. report on food and agriculture suggests that the rise in demand for meat across the world is slowing. So lab-grown meat may turn out to be a technological solution to a problem that may never emerge.

YOUNG: The BBC's Pallab Ghosh in London. Well, coming up, there ought to be a law. At least some members of Congress think there should be a law to govern college sports. That's in one minute. HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.