Will the Test Tube Burger Feed the World?

We’ve been hearing rumors of the test-tube burger for years. Are fast food chains already secretly using lab-grown meat to cut costs? Is that how some chains can manage to sell a double cheeseburger for 1 dollar? Say just about anything you want to about the quality of that ‘burger’, but there is no way they are using test-tube meat. Why? Because that stuff’s expensive!

Scientists from the University of Maastricht in the Netherlands recently grew the world’s first test-tube burger. The burger was created by mixing lab-grown animal fat with 20,000 strips of cultured meat. There’s no word on just how big the burger is, but we do know that it took nine weeks to grow and cost about 384,000 dollars. Besides having the distinction of being the first lab-grown burger, I believe this also wins the award for most obnoxiously expensive burger ever.

The motivation for such a project is quite interesting. As the world population continues to expand, growing meat in laboratories has been promoted as a possible solution to world hunger. In addition to this, the world is becoming increasingly more ‘meat hungry’. According to the Worldwatch Institute, worldwide meat production has tripled over the last four decades. In the last 10 years alone, meat production has grown by 20 percent. If this trend continues, traditionally raised meat may, due to space, pollution, or cost issues, become a thing of the past.

What’s that? Still not ready to scarf down a large piece of in vitro meat? It’s technically cruelty-free (although I can’t see many vegetarians jumping on board) and it is probably still more palatable than the bug burgers others have been touting.

Thankfully there is a much simpler, and much more cost effective, solution to the problem. Switching to a plant-based diet is a very viable solution to world hunger. Consider this: David Pimentel, a professor of ecology at Cornell said, “If all the grain fed to livestock in the United States were consumed directly by people, the number of people who could be fed would be nearly 800 million.” That is a whole lot of food being used in a terribly inefficient way.

It’s time that we start to take a better look at our actions. A vegetarian or vegan diet is well able to meet the nutritional requirements that humans have. Eating meat is not only an excess, but its consumption is contributing to the rapid growth of lifestyle diseases in our communities.

Rather than develop expensive—and rather worrisome—methods of creating an inferior product (meat), it’s time we focus our efforts on promoting and adopting plant-based diets. These diets will not only contribute to the health of our world, but they will also address issues such as world hunger, pollution, and animal cruelty.

So, is the test-tube burger worth it? The short answer is no.

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Jon Ewald, MD

Jon Ewald grew up in Minnesota and has a love for the outdoors. He obtained his medical degree at Loma Linda University, graduating in 2020. He is currently completing his residency in Radiology at University of Pittsburgh.

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