Editor's Note: The following interview was conducted by Justin Allen, Jared Bernard, Max Gravender, and PJ Sullivan of California State University Channel Islands and is published with full permission.
We were fortunate to speak with Dr. Mark Post of Maastricht University, lead researcher and the voice behind the first ever eaten cultured patty, for our interview. He was nice enough to open a spot in his busy life up for us to interview him. Max Gravender and PJ Sullivan met with Dr. Post online through Skype to to answer all the questions we had.
They started off asking Dr. Post about his background. He says he accidentally came across the project that had already been started. The last program leader had gotten ill and could no longer lead. He said the program was federally funded and that the funds had run dry. Because of his background in cell repair, he felt he was the strongest candidate to step in. The funding for the project was running too low so he decided to create the first in-vitro burger to raise public interest.
Dr. Post says his target audience is the meat eaters. He goes on to say that this meat could be produced anywhere and everywhere through the use of factories, probably in third-world countries. His hope is for fast food chains like McDonald’s (MCD) to one day adopt the use of in-vitro beef.
Is Cultured Meat Safe?
We asked if there are any negative effects or any reason to believe the process is unsafe? Dr. Post’s response was, “No negative effects other than we might put some farmers out of business.” Which is a good thing, not for the farmers but for the greenhouse admissions. He then went on to say that during replication, the cells might mutate and become cancerous. But he said it can be a safety issue just as much as any other medical field. Dr. Post says that eating cancerous cells is virtually harmless and we eat them in regular meat. And jokingly, he adds that its much safer than attaching a cancerous limb, with a smile.
We were wondering a possible date of an on-shelf product and he explained that the burger was done in August just to show the public it could happen and hopefully get some more funding. Dr. Post said that in the next two years he hopes to get the taste and the texture down, and maybe be able to produce a final product in three to five years. He said that as a scientist he doesn’t like to give exact dates, so he said within the next 20 years. Saying he has no predictions; only obstacles.
Although as of now, the process takes cells from slaughtered cows. Dr. Post feels like in vitro is an alternative for vegetarians and vegans once the initial animal sample is removed from the process. So animals are still not completely unharmed yet but he is working on ways to improve the process. The first in-vitro beef burgers cells were taken from a recently slaughtered cow and bovine serum was used to cultivate the cells. Dr. Post said, “We need to get rid of it. It is not sustainable.” Now synthetic serums are in the works.
Ethical Shift Surrounding In-Vitro Beef
One major benefit of the in-vitro beef is the increase in overall efficiency. Although they still have to slaughter one animal for all the cells, it’s far better than slaughtering thousands. The shift would be from thousands to the single digits. There will eventually just be a handful of cows on a farm and they will become living animals to us rather than just food. However, certain ethical issues will arise. Dr. Post says people will think it is and was barbaric to kill for food. He believes it will take 10 to 15 years for ideals to shift in this ethical direction.
Still, with all the research there are many questions and ideas that are coming up with the arrival of the first in-vitro beef burger. We had asked Dr.Post if this was considered cloning, and his response was that cloning does not come up much in this field. But technically speaking, yes, only because the process of cloning is creating without the use of reproduction, which is exactly what they were doing in the lab tests. So although the team may not be taking a cow, and cloning it to have two of the exact same animals, what they are doing is taking muscle from the cow and creating new cells, and eventually growing edible meat, all without reproduction of the animal.
The big question was whether or not vegans will ever catch on and start to accept the in-vitro meat. The product does still contain an initial animal sample, so once they are able to remove this and replace it with something not containing these samples, Dr. Post believes vegans will, in fact, begin to accept this as a food source, which will be a great breakthrough for the vegan community and all non-meat eaters.
Perfecting In-Vitro Meat for the Masses
In the 3D model he spoke of vessels, so we asked Dr.post to explain. He said that they would create channels to flow sugars and oxygen through a pump that will help feed the cells. This will be possible through the use of a 3D printer to create the system of channel for the fluids to flow through.
The color of the meat, when it was originally finished, did not come out looking very natural. The team used beet juice to actually tint the meat red so it looked like its familiar beef patty. We asked Dr. Post if there was another method, maybe more natural to get the meat the correct color. His response was that using an incubator with lower oxygen levels helps to make the meat resemble its natural color. Taking the oxygen levels from 21 percent to only 2 percent will greatly increase the amount of myoglobin, thus recreating the natural red color. This is due to the fact that he is not working with blood. Most people focus on the fact that red color indicates blood and blood contains iron, which is believed to be easier for the body to consume. Dr. Post’s believes this notion to be bogus because he vegetarians have fine iron levels.
As for the current status of his research, Dr. Post said they are working on it on a scientific level, and it is costly. However, costs will go down when this becomes more of a factory process on a larger scale. And he currently has six incubators, one is low oxygen, which uses a lot of nitrogen to dilute the oxygen. He is focused on showing what can be done to the public in this field. And as for the future, Dr. Post says he needs a 3D printer for the creation of slabs of meat and further testing of cutivating. The final stage would be a test factory for the formation of a company to replicate the process in a cheaper manner and mass produce.