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Monday February 6th

Meat the new Frankenburger

	<p>Holly Beilin</p>
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Holly Beilin

The so-called test-tube burger (or, in a slightly less appetizing twist, the “Frankenburger”) is the culmination of a five-year experiment by Dutch scientist Mark Post. It involved growing cattle stem cells in-vitro into 20,000 strands of protein. The “meat” was then combined with salt, breadcrumbs and egg powder and formed into a patty.

Is this burger something that could, or should, appear on the dinner table anytime soon?

It’s a tough call.

While the experiment cost 250,000 euros, Post is convinced he will eventually find a way to make the product economically viable. Although the idea of meat flipped out of a Petri dish makes some squeamish, I also can see how it might appeal to vegetarians who have ethical concerns about the poor treatment of farm animals, but also crave a good hamburger (I’ll admit it, veggie burgers just don’t taste the same).

So would test tube meat solve this problem? The material is technically meat, but no animals are killed to produce it. That means no animals were born in an unhygienic birthing facility, caged in a tiny crate or run through a slaughter line. One of the most well-known organizations for animal welfare, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, is on board with the idea of the lab burger.

It’s also an environmental win. According to a 2006 report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, industrial agriculture contributes on a “massive scale” to climate change, pollution, energy use and biodiversity decline. The meat industry, particularly cattle farming, is the worst culprit, contributing about 18 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

And the demand for meat is growing — the World Health Organization says meat production is projected to rise to 376 million tons by 2030, an increase of more than 150 tons from current statistics.

But before we start replacing all Happy Meals with lab burgers, we have to look more closely at what this meat actually is. First of all, is test tube meat safe? The concerns about Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) crops having damaging side effects in the long run are only magnified when it comes to a product as new and unstudied as human-created beef.

Ethically, some vegetarians and vegans oppose the meat on the grounds that it reinforces the idea that animal products are necessary at all. If one advocates the complete rejection of animal products, lab meat seems like an expensive, roundabout way of supporting the use of animals for our own benefit.

But I don’t know if I agree with them. There’s more to be said for the ethics of eating meat than a “just say no” approach. Hamburgers give people enjoyment and pleasure, and if we can provide that without killing an animal and hurting the planet (as long as it’s safe), I’m all for it.

So maybe in a few years, we’ll be able to chow down on delicious, juicy Frankenburgers guilt-free in Lenoir. And yes, I will want fries with that.

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