“Test-Tube Hamburger”

A friend of mine on Twitter sent me a link to an article titled “First ‘test-tube’ hamburger to be produced this year” and wanted to know my thoughts, so…

The idea of being able to take bovine stem cells, growing muscle tissue in a lab and then taking that tissue and turning it into “hamburger” is an intriguing idea. It makes me think of a science fiction movie or even Star Trek.

Those who know me and have followed my blog also know that I am a supporter of utilizing technology to improve the ability of agriculture to provide safe and wholesome food in the most efficient manner possible while also being environmentally friendly. This endeavor could potentially provide an option for people to choose, when it comes to choices of “meat.”

After being intrigued by the initial presentation of the idea, I then reached the point in the article where the author begins describing the “benefits” of having being able to create “hamburger” in a test-tube. Yes, I am putting the word hamburger in quotations…I just have a tough time calling something hamburger that comes from lab.

Some of the benefits listed included:

“Conventional meat and dairy production requires more land, water, plants and disposal of waste products than almost all other human foods.”

It is important to realize that most of the land utilized to raise cattle is of very poor quality and not land that is favorable for growing “human foods.” Particularly in the west, cattle run on mountain and dessert range, where elevation and length of growing season limits production to grasses. Additionally, where cattle have been managed properly, beneficial grasses actually increase, for both the cattle and wildlife, fuel loads are reduced and organic material in the soil is increased.

“Animal farming is by far the biggest ongoing global catastrophe,” Patrick Brown of the Stanford University School of Medicine told reporters. More to the point, it’s incredibly ready to topple … it’s inefficient technology that hasn’t changed fundamentally for millennia,” he said. “There’s been a blind spot in the science and technology community (of livestock production) as an easy target.”

I am not sure where Dr. (?) Brown has been, but for some reason he seems to have forgotten a few technological advances that have been advanced and even introduced through agriculture, for the benefit of humans. Artificial insemination and the freezing of semen, use of ultrasonography for checking pregnancy, muscle and fat, genetic allele identification for specific traits and embryo transfer, just to name a few. It is not a surprise that these contributions are often overlooked.

“The global demand for meat is expected to rise by 60 percent by 2050, said American scientist Nicholas Genovese, who organized the symposium. But the majority of earth’s pasture lands are already in use,” he said, so conventional livestock producers can only meet the booming demand by further expansion into nature. The result would be lost biodiversity, more greenhouse and other gases, and an increase in disease.”

Mr. Genovese failed to mention that we are meeting demand with the smallest cow herd in the United States since the 1950’s. Livestock producers are continually improving the efficiency of cattle, improving conception, weaning more live calves, improving rates of gain and raising more pounds of lean beef per animal than ever before. It is also likely that he may not have read the University of California at Davis study on greenhouse gasses resulting from bovines; actual contribution is less than 3%.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the entire U.S. agricultural sector accounts for only 6.4 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), and livestock production, according to the U.S. Inventory of Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks accounts for only 2 percent. Meanwhile, fossil fuel combustion contributes over 79 percent of all GHG emissions.

Environmental Protection Agency

Back to the initial idea of “test-tube hamburger,” I will not say they should not proceed with their testing, it is actually quite ingenious. I will say that the supporting arguments “in favor” of moving forward are a bit disingenuous and I will stick to the real thing thank you.

What are your thoughts?

  1. February 27, 2012 at 5:51 AM

    Great review Jeff! I would consider test tube “hamburgers” to be GMO products! The silly thing is that most* people that consider results of our current agriculture today as being GMO food products believe in the reasons that article says is why we need test tube “hamburgers”!

    • commonsenseagriculture
      February 28, 2012 at 6:29 AM

      Interesting perspective Eric…I wonder if they would technically be considered to be genetically engineered?

  2. February 27, 2012 at 8:12 AM

    Thanks for your comments Jeff! I really liked your point about how human food cannot be produced on many pasture lands. I am a farmer from the west and you’re right on that cattle is pretty much always grazed on land that is too rocky or doesn’t have the growing conditions that allow for food to be grown. We farm what we can, and are grateful for those areas, but I’m also very grateful that there are areas that can be utilized for other food sources such as beef. Great blog article!

    • commonsenseagriculture
      February 28, 2012 at 6:30 AM

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Range land is often mistaken as “fertile” land.

  3. February 27, 2012 at 9:03 AM

    Excellent piece! I too shall stay with the real thing.

  4. February 27, 2012 at 9:10 AM

    I put this picture on my pinterest site, hope you don’t mind. I agree technology is great, but I feel like this is yet another way to control things under the guise of being helpful. Hey, the idea would make a great sci-fi movie. What they put in the “hamburger”. genetically alters the human body. Think about it….muhuwahahaha…. Know this might not be what you had in mind, but I couldn’t resist.

    • commonsenseagriculture
      February 28, 2012 at 6:31 AM

      LOL…thanks Alyse 🙂

  5. Ned
    February 27, 2012 at 9:30 AM

    ‘Where’s the BEEF in a test tube burger’? Real beef uses energy from the sun that produced grass (and other plant materials) plus rain water to make a nutritional product disired by many for the main item for dinner.
    It would be real interesting to know what the ‘footprint’ of test tube burger is?? Bet it is along the lines of bigfoot!

    • commonsenseagriculture
      February 28, 2012 at 6:33 AM

      I can’t imagine that it would have any flavor…more of a bland paste. It would be interesting to know the “energy” required to create 1 pound and how it compares with the real thing.

  6. marcushollmann
    February 27, 2012 at 10:19 AM

    Excellent! If I may add, there is always one very important aspect lost in the discussion about ‘test-tube meat’: Its production requires resources, too! In order for those cells and tissues to grow, one needs to supply 1) nutrients and 2) maintain a constant temperature.

    1) These nutrient have to be in a ready-to-absorb-and-utilize form. Cells cannot convert fibers (forages/grasses), complex proteins from byproducts, or energy from grains or oilseeds into cell-usable nutrients/energy. These eould have to be manufactured prior to feeding the cells. I’m curious about how this compares to just feeding cattle.

    2) Cells and tissues will only grow at a very narrow range of temperature – about 98-104 F. Thus, the facilities in which this test-tube meat is grown must be temperature-controlled – this uses energy, too. In addition, any glitch may ruin the meat product. In the current system, cattle (and all other mammals and most birds) control their body temperature by utilizing energy from their feed and the fermentenation/metabolic energy.

    • commonsenseagriculture
      February 28, 2012 at 6:35 AM

      Great information Marcus, thank you for sharing. As I mentioned to Ned, above, I wonder what the energy required would be to produce a pound?

  7. February 27, 2012 at 10:37 AM

    I’ll ALWAYS prefer the real thing, Jeff…and do appreciate you opening my eyes to these things that I’d otherwise not even think about. The beauty of friends on the web…

    • commonsenseagriculture
      February 28, 2012 at 6:36 AM

      Thanks Bruce! I always appreciate your feedback. See you at #dadchat this week 🙂

  8. February 27, 2012 at 11:13 AM

    This reminds me of learning many years ago that they could take a soy-based product and give it the texture and taste of chicken.. Was supposed to do away with the need for the “real thing”, cheaper/less environmental impact.. the same kinds of things I see here.

    I have no idea whatever happened to the product in the marketplace, you can probably buy it I suppose, doesn’t seem to have had much of a market impact. I suspect the same may happen here..

    But I’m all for continuing to push science forward in efforts to meet global food/resource needs, and giving individuals the choice on what they want to use/consume.

    • commonsenseagriculture
      February 28, 2012 at 6:37 AM

      In the back of my mind I can’t help but think that they are trying to “recreate the wheel.” After all, we already have tofu… 🙂

  9. February 27, 2012 at 4:09 PM

    As a consumer who knows a bit about agriculture I’ll stick with the beef that bleeds versus the “beef” from a test tube. Ditto my corn and other commodities.
    For that matter I like my bacon from pigs and my lettuce grown without the use of sewage sludge.

    • commonsenseagriculture
      February 28, 2012 at 6:38 AM

      Thanks for posting Todd. I too prefer to stick to the real thing 🙂

  10. February 28, 2012 at 6:56 AM

    As a mom of a child with a very limited diet (very low-protein), I have to admit that this type of science intrigues me. I prefer to eat the beef out of our backyard, but if I could get a meat product that tastes like beef, yet is low-protein, then our son could enjoy a similar meal without feeling left out. He’s only two, and I already have to watch for him to steal food, and he definitely knows that he’s not eating the same things that that rest of the family are enjoying.

    I would never imagine something becoming main-stream, but I can see a use for such a product.

    This isn’t where I ever planned to be in an issue like this, but my son has opened my eyes to so many things. Without scientific research and advancements, he wouldn’t be here today…and I’m relying on those same principles to help him live the longest, fullest life possible.

  11. February 28, 2012 at 8:00 AM

    Sounds like we are one step closer to becoming the Jetsons. I can’t imagine how this would be produced on a large enough scale to have an impact on world supply; the energy footprint would be enormous. I’m sticking with the real thing as this sounds like a solution to a problem that really doesn’t exist.

  12. May 9, 2012 at 5:32 PM

    I think that is amazing that we have come this far but I just wonder would it taste different or would it have the same nutritional value. Well I guess we may find out. Thanks for the great info.

  1. February 27, 2012 at 10:59 AM
  2. March 16, 2012 at 1:20 AM

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