Blog: Dean BestThe artificial burger that brings attention to a very real problem

Dean Best | 6 August 2013

To much fanfare in the UK yesterday, the world's first test-tube burger was unveiled in London. Reviews of how the synthetic meat tasted were mixed but, even if the project (funded by Google co-founder Sergey Brin) is unlikely to be the first step to artificial burgers appearing on supermarket shelves, it has added to the debate about how we will feed the world's growing population.

At a briefing in London, Professor Mark Post of Maastricht University, who led the five-year project that culminated in the mock meat, admitted the burger, developed from strands of meat and grown in a laboratory, was a work in progress.

The audience at the venue in west London did not get the chance to taste the burger but heard from those that did.

"It's close to meat. It's not that juicy but the consistency is perfect," said Hanni Rutzler, one of the tasters chosen to sample the burger in front of the audience.

Actor Josh Schonwald added: "The texture of the mouthfeel has a feel like meat. The absence, I feel, is the fat. But the bite feels like a conventional hamburger."

With the world's population expected to hit 9bn by 2050, and with demand for meat rocketing in emerging markets, one can understand why researchers and academics are studying ways to feed the planet.

There will, of course, be those who will be concerned that such projects need to include robust research into any possible side-effects of eating such products.

Google co-founder Brin reportedly spent GBP250,000 on funding the project, small change for a man Forbes says is worth $22.8bn. However, perhaps Brin could divert some of his cash into funding education and marketing projects to encourage those that currently eat meat to eat less of it.

Initiatives like Meatless Monday have gained some traction in the West to convince meat-eaters to give up chicken or beef for a day to improve their health and the health of the planet.

Making such a change does not demand too much of a consumer, just opening one's mind to what else is out there to eat.

The test-tube burger grabbed headlines around the world - the story was front-page news on the UK's most popular tabloid The Sun - and perhaps that is the point.

The artificial burger may help get people discussing the very real debate about how and why we should eat less meat.

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