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The $325,000 burger set to debut in London

Posting in Energy

The future of food: First bugs, now $325,000 hamburgers?

You'll have to forgive Mark Post for what has to be the most expensive five ounce hamburger in history; he grew it in a lab.

And The New York Times is reporting that the first in vitro burger could be eaten in the coming weeks at an event in London. But don't expect test tube burgers -- which are made using stem cells (more on that process here) -- to pop up on a menu anytime soon.

[G]rowing meat in the laboratory has proved difficult and devilishly expensive. Dr. Post, who knows as much about the subject as anybody, has repeatedly postponed the hamburger cook-off, which was originally expected to take place in November.

His burger consists of about 20,000 thin strips of cultured muscle tissue. Dr. Post, who has conducted some informal taste tests, said that even without any fat, the tissue “tastes reasonably good.” For the London event he plans to add only salt and pepper.

But the meat is produced with materials — including fetal calf serum, used as a medium in which to grow the cells — that eventually would have to be replaced by similar materials of non-animal origin. And the burger was created at phenomenal cost — 250,000 euros, or about $325,000, provided by a donor who so far has remained anonymous. Large-scale manufacturing of cultured meat that could sit side by side with conventional meat in a supermarket and compete with it in price is at the very least a long way off.

So what's the point of putting all this effort into a product that already exists? At least one study says that meat produced in vitro instead of by traditional methods of, say, beef production, can significantly reduce energy use and emissions outputs while lowering land and water use. Now we just have to improve the production process to bring down the costs. But even then, who knows if there will be a strong enough market for test tube meat.

Would you eat meat grown in a lab?

Building a $325,000 Burger [New York Times]

Photo: Flickr/Another Pint Please...

— By on May 15, 2013, 10:52 PM PST

Tyler Falk

Contributing Editor

Tyler Falk freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C. Previously, he was with Smart Growth America and Grist. He holds a degree from Goshen College. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure