The Jan. 17, 2013 news item on Nanowerk about Dr. Neil Stephens and his research into the social implications of vat-grown (aka, in vitro meat) poses some interesting questions,
he [sic] world’s first laboratory-grown hamburger has been produced by Professor Mark Post and his team in Maastricht, representing something radically new in our world. Dr Neil Stephens, Research Associate at Cesagen (Cardiff School of Social Sciences), has been researching the social and ethical issues of this technology and what this innovation in stem cell science might mean for us in 2013.
Will we be eating burgers made in test-tubes in the near future? That is probably unlikely considering Professor Post’s burger costs around £200,000 to produce.
The University of Cardiff Jan. 16, 2013 news release,which originated the news item, goes on to explain why Stephens is conducting this investigation,
However, the benefits this new technology can deliver – according to the scientists – include slaughter-free meat that is healthier and free from animal to human disease. The meat could also be grown during space travel and could have a much smaller environmental impact than today’s whole-animal reared meat. But it is not yet clear if any of these can be delivered in a marketable form.
Since 2008, Dr Stephens has been investigating these ‘social promises’ by interviewing most of the scientists across the world who are involved in this project. He looks to understand how this community of scientists came together and what strategies they use to justify the promises they make.
Professor Mark Post’s work at the University of Maastricht (Holland) was covered extensively last year when it was presented at the 2012 AAAS (American Ass0ciation for the Advancement of Science) meeting in Vancouver. This Feb. 19, 2012 article by Pallab Ghosh for BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) online highlights some of the discussion which took place then,
Dutch scientists have used stem cells to create strips of muscle tissue with the aim of producing the first lab-grown hamburger later this year.
The aim of the research is to develop a more efficient way of producing meat than rearing animals.
Professor Post’s group at Maastricht University in the Netherlands has grown small pieces of muscle about 2cm long, 1cm wide and about a mm thick.
They are off-white and resemble strips of calamari in appearance. These strips will be mixed with blood and artificially grown fat to produce a hamburger by the autumn .
…Some estimate that food production will have to double within the next 50 years to meet the requirements of a growing population. During this period, climate change, water shortages and greater urbanisation will make it more difficult to produce food.
Prof Sean Smukler from the University of British Columbia said keeping pace with demand for meat from Asia and Africa will be particularly hard as demand from these regions will shoot up as living standards rise. He thinks that lab grown meat could be a good solution.
But David Steele, who is president of Earthsave Canada, said that the same benefits could be achieved if people ate less meat.
“While I do think that there are definite environmental and animal welfare advantages of this high-tech approach over factory farming, especially, it is pretty clear to me that plant-based alternatives… have substantial environmental and probably animal welfare advantages over synthetic meat,” he said.
Dr Steele, who is also a molecular biologist, said he was also concerned that unhealthily high levels of antibiotics and antifungal chemicals would be needed to stop the synthetic meat from rotting.
There doesn’t seem to be any more recent news about vat-grown meat from Post’s team at the University of Maastricht; the interest in Stephens’ sociological work on the topic seems to have been stimulated by his inclusion in the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council’s (ESRC) annual publication, (Britain in magazine) Britain in 2013.
Here’s more about Stephens’ and his sociological inquiry,