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The dismal future of America's food supply? Lab-grown burgers could eventually hit fast food menus

Thursday, May 30, 2013 by: Jonathan Benson, staff writer
Tags: shmeat, lab meat, artificial meat

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(NaturalNews) Scientists from the Netherlands have apparently come up with a new method to produce meat that almost completely does away with the animals. By combining animal stem cells with fetal serum and other materials in their laboratory, Dr. Mark Post and his colleagues from Maastricht University were able to successfully create a meat-like substance in petri dishes that they hope will one day become a mainstream substitute for real meat.

Like with genetically-modified organisms (GMOs), this new laboratory concoction is being hailed by its creators as a potential solution to the world's hunger needs, particularly in developing countries where growing populations are demanding more food. But at a price tag of roughly $325,000 for a single burger - this is how much it cost Dr. Post to develop one laboratory meat patty - it is hard to imagine that such an invention could ever replace real meat.

"This is still an early-stage technology," said Neil Stephens, a social scientist at Cardiff University in Wales, to the NYT about the creation of what has now been widely dubbed as "shmeat." Stephens is also involved in the development of shmeat at his own institution. "There's still a huge number of things [scientists] need to learn."

Such things include figuring out if shmeat is even safe to eat, as it is obviously not formed naturally in the same way that meat from an actual animal is formed. According to reports, each tiny strip of muscle tissue in a piece of shmeat must be carefully cultured using a special type of stem cell known as a myosatellite cell. Under normal circumstances, the body uses myosatellite cells to repair injured muscle tissue, but Dr. Post and his colleagues manipulated these cells to perform other unnatural functions.

"The cells, which are found in a certain part of muscle tissue, are removed from the cow neck and put in containers with the growth medium," explains the NYT about the unusual technology. "The cells are then poured onto a small dab of gel in a plastic dish. The nutrients in the growth medium are greatly reduced, essentially starving the cells, which forces them to differentiate into muscle cells."

'Shmeat' not actually meat; could eventually require human fetal cells to develop commercially

But as you can probably imagine, shmeat does not contain any separate fat like normal meat does, and it also does not grow on bones. This means that growing a shmeat steak, for instance, would be an impossibility, as would growing any other type of meat besides that which loosely resembles some kind of fat-free ground beef. This technically also means that shmeat is not actually meat at all, at least not compositionally speaking, the human body will more than likely process it differently than real meat upon consumption.

Then, there is the issue of needing tens of billions of cells just to create a single piece of shmeat. Stretched out to meet commercial demand, this implies that countless trillions of cells would be needed just to culture enough shmeat to meet the nutritional needs of a single family, let alone an entire town, city, or country. And in order to obtain enough cells to make shmeat commercially available, scientists admit they would eventually require materials from "non-animal" sources, which could mean human fetal cells and other controversial components.

"People need to wrestle with the idea of whether this is meat or not," added Stephens to the NYT.

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