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Test Tube Beef: So Many Questions

By Gary F. Zeolla

On Monday, August 5, 2013, in London, the worlds’ first test tube grown hamburger was cooked and eaten. I first heard about this test tube beef on HLN’s “Morning Express.” Then I Googled “test tube meat” to find out more about it. I read several articles and the hundreds of follow-up comments by readers about the idea.

This innovation raises many questions. But first, the background.

The Background

It took five years and $332,000 to produce a five ounce burger. The researchers started with stem cells from a cow. Then:

A multi-step process is used to turn a dish of stem cells into a burger that can be grilled or fried:

•First the stem cells are cultivated in a nutrient broth, allowing them to proliferate 30-fold.

•Next they are combined with an elastic collagen and attached to Velcro "anchor points" in a culture dish. Between the anchor points, the cells self-organise into chunks of muscle.

•Electrical stimulation is then used to make the muscle strips contract and "bulk up" - the laboratory equivalent of working out in a gym.

•Finally the thousands of beef strips are minced up, together with 200 pieces of lab-grown animal fat, and moulded into a patty. Around 20,000 meat strands are needed to make one 5oz (142g) burger.

•Other non-meat ingredients include salt, egg powder, and breadcrumbs. Red beetroot juice and saffron are added to provide authentic beef colouring (Huffington Post: UK).

The two tasters said the meat tasted “okay.” It tasted like meat, but was lean and dry. But with time, it is predicted that the meat will be tastier, and much less expensive. In fact, they are predicting it could hit grocery store shelves within 10 years.

My Reaction

My first reaction to this was, “Yuk! There’s no way I would eat ‘artificial’ meat.” It just sounds like Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) food. In other words, very unnatural. But as I discuss at length in my God-given Foods Eating Plan book, I believe in eating foods in as natural of a state as possible. That means, no artificial ingredients, no GMOs, organic, and as little processed as possible. But this meat sounds like it is very processed, and anything but natural. And the above description of how it is made would seem to confirm this idea.

As such, I question the healthiness of the meat. What would be the nutrient make-up of it? Would it contain the same amount of protein, iron, zinc, B vitamins and other nutrients found in natural beef? And would there be any unforeseen adverse health consequences from it? Who knows what years or even generations of eating test tube meat would do to the human body and to the human race in general?

The Claims of the Researchers

However, the researchers claim it is, “100% natural beef, just grown outside the cow. No unnatural chemicals added” (CulturedBeef.com). The reason for this claim is they start with real cow stem cells. So what grows from them is also real cow cells. They also claim there are many benefits to cultured beef.

These benefits all stem from the many supposed problems with large scale meat production. They claim that it is very environmentally damaging to raise millions of cattle. They also claim the animals are raised in inhumane conditions. They also claim that as the world population continues to grow, and thus the demand for meat, it will be impossible to continue to feed everyone with conventional cattle production.

But their cultured meat would have little environmental impact. It would not require keeping millions of cattle in tight quarters. They also say their meat would not have the problem of conventional meat in that no hormones or antibiotics would be needed to be given to the few cows that would be need for the stem cells. And they also claim the meat could be genetically altered so as to have less saturated fat and cholesterol, so it would actually be healthier than conventionally grown beef.

But Are These Claims True?

The claims of environmental damage from livestock production and concern for inhumane treatment of livestock have been standard claims of vegetarians and animal rights advocates for years. So vegetarians are saying that we could avoid the need for this test tube meat by everyone just becoming vegetarians.

However, it is unrealistic to expect the entire world’s population to become vegetarians. In fact, the exact opposite is happening. Meat consumption is rising due to rising standards of living around the world and the popularity of low-carb diets and other eating plans that include the eating of meat, like my own God-given Food Eating Plan. But it does raise the question of if vegetarians would eat test tube meat as it would not have the problems that made them vegetarians in the first place.

However, as I discuss in my book, the use of hormones and antibiotics in large scale livestock production is not natural. And that is why I only eat meat that has not been raised with such. I also get my meat from a local farm that does not pack in its animals in an inhumane way.

However, there is question if such meat could be produced in sufficient quantities to feed the world. So maybe this test tube beef would be a way for people to be able to consume hormone, antibiotic, and cruelty-free meat on a large scale.

The claims of environmental damage from large-scale livestock production are controversial. It is out of the scope of this article to get into all of these debates. But it is true that far less cattle would need to be kept for the production of test tube beef.

However, who knows what the environmental impact of growing all of this test tube meat would be? I mean, that “nutrient broth” it is grown in needs to come from somewhere. And producing that broth large scale could have its own unforeseen consequences.

There’s also the issue of the “non-meat ingredients” that are used to make this burger. All of those ingredients would need to be produced. And note that one of those is “egg powder.” If everyone is eating cultured beef, then it would require a lot of eggs, so chicken production might need to go up, unless, this egg powder is also grown in a test tube. But then that raises its own questions.

Finally, genetically altering the meat to make it healthier opens a whole bunch of questions. These are the same as for current GMO plants. Again, what would be the long-term consequences of eating genetically altered meat?

More on the Non-Meat Ingredients

The non-meat ingredients include salt, egg powder, breadcrumbs, red beetroot juice, and saffron. Eggs and wheat are common food allergens. So people with such allergies would not be able to eat this cultured beef. And wheat contains gluten, which is a problem for those with gluten intolerance. The American diet already contains too much salt, ands having salt added to meat would increase this intake. And the carbs from the breadcrumbs and beet juice could be problematic for those on low carb diets. There are simply potential negative consequences to taking a food that has one ingredient, beef, and adding several more ingredients to it.

But We Might Have No Choice

So I have many misgivings about this test tube beef, but there might be some benefits from it. Only time and much research could answer my questions. But unfortunately, we might have no choice in the matter. Come a few decades from now, all beef could be produced this way. That is almost the case now with GMO foods. Unless you only eat organic wheat, soy, or corn, then you are probably already eating GMO foods, as most such plants grown today are GMO, but they are not required to be labeled as such. So be prepared, someday this test tube beef might be on your plate, without you even knowing it.

References:

Cultured Beef.

Huffington Post: UK: Test Tube Hamburger: 250,000 Stem Cell Patty Cooked And Eaten (And Google's Sergey Brin Picked Up The Bill).

Register, The: Sergey Brin's 'test-tube burger' cooked, eaten, declared meat-like.

Refinery 29: The World's First Test-Tube Burger Is Kind Of Okay-Tasting.

Yahoo News: First taste of test-tube burger declared 'close to meat.'

 

The Demise of the Twinkie Copyright 2012 by Gary F. Zeolla.

Disclaimers: The material presented in this article is intended for educational purposes only. The author is not offering medical or legal advice. Accuracy of information is attempted but not guaranteed. Before undertaking any diet, exercise, or health improvement program, one should consult your doctor. The author is in no way responsible or liable for any bodily harm, physical, mental, or emotional, that results from following any of the advice in this article.

The above article was posted on this site August 7, 2013.
It originally appeared in the free email newsletter FitTips for One and All.

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