Monday, 12 August 2013

Craving for some meat? How about a Test Tube burger?

The lab grown burger.Photo Courtesy AFP
A month ago, i had a chance of being part of an agricultural conference whose major themes were etched on how Africa can realize the elusive goal of food security. Of particular interest, was the keynote address by one of the speakers during the Youth, Education and Farming session. She teased that with the static trend of many youths not having an interest in agriculture coupled with the dire need to feed a growing population, in the near future, food production might shift  from the farms to the laboratories with our consumption consisting of mainly  insects and  food pills. This evoked some laughter and some giggles could be heard here and there. That was not possible. Yeah, Not in our time .Definitely not now.

Fast forward to August and actually the occurrences are talking place already. Food and Agricultural Organization of the UN recently released a publication titled "Edible insects.Future prospects for food and feed security" that outlines major edible insects of the world and the role they can play in the looming global food insecurity. And that is not all.

Just a week ago, Sergey Brin, the Google co-founder startled the world by investing close to 250,000 euros to create the world's first lab made burger. This was made possible by a team of researchers led by Dr Mark Post of Maastricht University. For a period of five years, they had researched on how to grow the said beef in the lab using  stem cells from a cow's muscle. With some beetroot juice, butter, sunflower oil and muscle stem cells , the burger was up and ready for testing.Their research objective of producing meat in the lab which is identical to the normal meat seemed close to being realized.

The Reasons behind this........
As Brin revealed during the beef tasting event in London last week, his  idea came about after seeing how animals were treated in the process of ensuring the final beef comes to your table.A process he repeatedly stated he wasn't comfortable with.
Sergey explaining why he funded the first test tube hamburger

Dr Post displaying the lab made burger.Photo David Parry EPA
Dr Post on the other hand accepted to take lead in the said research after considering how global meat production is affecting the environment in terms of increases in GHGs emissions and pollution. He views cows as inefficient animals which utilizes close to 100g of vegetable protein to manufacture only 15g of edible protein.If lab made beef became evident, it would imply that less feed would be utilized hence the saving on production resources and also a reduction in  methane production,a major constituent of the green houses gases and usually produced by cows.

More questions than answers?
The test tube burger is one that hasn't failed to bring forth some heated topics on its contribution to the global food security given the increasing  population numbers.A majority of countries in the world really on livestock for their livelihoods. Back home, close to 70% of the population rely on livestock for their daily livelihoods. Does this burger in any way promise a better standing for them?

What of the nutritional value and taste derived from the burger.Is it another junk food type in the making? Also the description of the taste by the attendants was "the burger tastes like a protein cake". Some went ahead to state that only when you closed your eyes and imagined the burger, would you tend to feel its taste similar to the beef ones.

Also it raises the question on why do meat consumers prefer meat over other food types? Is it because of its appearance in the reddish, muscle state or is it because of its taste? My Maasai friends once told me that the blood and fat are the major components making meat tasty and juicy. What now?

During last year's World Water Day whose  theme was "Water and Food Security" , meat is rated as one of most water intensive products. It takes 20 times more water to get 500 calories from beef than from rice. But, the discrepancy comes in to place as to whether the world ready for Test tube burgers while most of the smallholder farmers in developing countries are grappling with issues like lack of access to finances, lack of available extension services,

All said and tasted, the big question still remains. Is the world ready for some test tube burgers? And  can lab grown meat satisfy the  increasing demand for meat globally? What are your thoughts on the same?