The world of meat-eaters got a rude awakening earlier this year when it was found that meat passed off as beef in the U.K. was actually horse meat. But, if you thought meat in the U.S. was safe from secret ingredients, the bliss of your ignorance may soon be shattered. A recent analysis into several different fast food hamburgers found relatively little meat, and a whole host of other “stuff”.
According to GreenMedInfo, the study was to determine what exactly Americans are eating when they consume their 5 billion hamburgers annually. The burgers, from 8 different fast food establishments, were analyzed by weight and then microscopically for tissue types.
Their analysis found that water constituted about half of the weight of the burgers, with water content ranging from 37.7% to 62.4%, with an average of 49%. Meat, what you’d expect to make up the majority of the burgers, was found to be as low as 2.1% in some cases, to the maximum of 14.8% in others.
If you think that those providing the least meat did so to cut costs and deliver savings to you, you’d be wrong. The researchers found that the cost per gram of hamburger ranged from $0.02 to $0.16 and was not related to the meat content of the burger. In other words, the cost was likely related to what was on the burger, the packaging, the fast-food company’s greed, or the name on the greasy bag.
In addition to a whole lot of water and a little meat (muscle tissue), the burgers contained connective tissue, blood vessels, peripheral nerves, adipose tissue, plant materials, bone, and cartilage. In other words, the burgers were a slew of animal parts with only brain tissue missing.
In two of the studied hamburgers, intracellular (Sarcocystis) parasites were found. Also present, ammonia—used in sterilizing the meat and creating what is known as “pink slime.”
If you really thought your value menu burger contained mostly meat, you haven’t been paying attention. Though this is an interesting study to be sure, it isn’t the first of its kind and it won’t be the last. Fast food makers are interested in profit. Any seeming thought to your health is purely done to increase their bottom line. Your best bet: to avoid these messengers of death altogether. Source
Lab Grown Meat
Dr. Mark Post, a vascular biologist at the University of Maastricht in the Netherlands, is one of a handful of scientists around the world working on the problem of cultivating meat artificially in a laboratory. The idea is to find a way to create the meat without the animal by growing it directly. Speaking to the Reuters news agency, Dr. Post estimates that, if he succeeds, his first burger will cost a staggering $345,000, but when the technique is perfected and scaled up to industrial levels, economies of scale should kick in and make lab-grown beef (or pork or chicken or fish) as cheap, if not cheaper, than its four-legged counterpart. He also believes that the advantages of in vitro meat, as it is called, are such that it will go a long way toward alleviating world hunger and saving the environment.
A long predicted dish
The idea of growing meat in a vat without the animal middle-creature has been around longer than many people realize. The most famous prediction of the coming of in vitro meat was from none other than Winston Churchill. During his “wilderness years” of the early 1930s when he was out of political favor, Churchill passed the time by writing and one essay penned for Popular Mechanics magazine in March 1932 dealt with predictions of what life would be like fifty years ahead in far off 1982. In this he wrote – “We shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing, by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium.”
How to grow a steak
Cultivated in vitro meat has a huge challenge before it is to pass as a burger patty-much less a slab of hung, rare Argentine steak. This starts with the cell. To be specific, it starts with stem cells. In order to cultivate meat, it’s necessary to induce cells to reproduce, but mature muscle cells, like most animal cells, are difficult to cultivate and only reproduce a fixed number of times before dying. Therefore, the meat cultivator has to take a biological step backwards to the precursor cells that become mature cells. This means working with stems cells and similar immature cells types that can be induced to reproduce regularly and coaxed into becoming the various tissues that make up what we call meat. Though it may sound simple as a statement, stem cell technology is still in its infancy. Obtaining and propagating stem cells and the like is relatively difficult, requiring very strict controls against contamination, and even though the end product is intended for the dining table, many of the problems are identical to those working on stem cell therapies for medicine.
But it isn’t simply a matter of growing cells. A collection of beef cells grown in a flask wouldn’t look remotely like anything you’d call meat. It would be more like a handful of wet whitefish run through a blender until it was pureed into a slurry. It wouldn’t have the texture of meat, nor would it have the color and hardly any of the flavor. For all of that, the cells need variety and structure as well as a few added ingredients.
As of today, there are two major approaches to doing this. The first and more likely to produce cultured meat in the near future is called “scaffolding”. In this, embryo cells, called myoblasts, that develop into muscle cells or immature muscle cells, called satellite cells, are grown and attached to a “scaffold” made out of a mesh of collagen or edible microbeads. This is then bathed in nutrients in a special container called a bioreactor, which is designed to provide the cells with a suitable growing environment. As the cells grow, they are coaxed to fuse together into tiny structures called myotubes. These then, if all goes well, are turned into simple muscle fibers called myofibers. Then end result resembles sausage meat or hamburger in texture, though having never had blood circulate through it, the meat has a color more like ground scallops. This can be cooked an eaten just like conventional meat, but it is literally anemic and a long way from what most people regard as “meat”.
The second method is a bit more complicated. Called “self-organizing”, in this technique thin sheets of muscle tissue are taken from a living animal. In recent experiments, these have usually been goldfish. When placed in a bioreactor with a suitable nutrient solution including muscle cells, the sheet is coaxed to grow. The advantage of this method is that such sheets contain the variety of cells required to give the meat more of its expected taste and texture. The disadvantage is that the sheets must be very thin. Muscles, like all animal tissue, are heavily dependent on blood vessels to provide the cells with nutrients and oxygen while carrying away waste products. If the sheets are very large or become more than a few cells in thickness, the cells inside the sheet quickly suffocate and die. Also, since most of the work has been done on tissues from relatively simple animals such as fish, there is the question of how well it would work with more complicated organisms. And, as with the scaffold meat, the results are not very appetizing. In the case of Dr Post’s experiments, the end product are extremely thin sheets only about an inch (2.5 cm) wide. It would take approximately 3,000 of these sheets with some lab-grown fat tissue thrown in to make the first in vitro burger. Unfortunately, this must be done under laboratory conditions using very labor-intensive techniques, hence the staggering price tag of $345,000. And the result, admits Dr Post, looks like ground scallops.
Where to from here?
The question is, where will in vitro meat sit on the food chain? Will restaurants serve lab-grown chops? Will we have fish fillets on our plate that never saw the sea or even a fish? Will fast food fried chicken receive the PETA seal of approval? Or will in vitro meat be like the processed meat that we see today in things like chicken nuggets? Maybe instead of a featured item on the menu cultured meat will be an ingredient that exists behind the scenes and we are only aware of if we read the list of ingredients on the package.
Or, perhaps, it won’t even be something we eat. The story of synthetic foods has taken many odd turns and as the pioneer in the field Dr. Magnus Pyke pointed out in his book Synthetic Foods, many of the successes have nothing to do with creating new foods, but rather with creating substitutes for foods that were used for industrial purposes, such as animal fats going into soaps or proteins into adhesives. Every year, millions of tons of food that once would have been used for everything from fertilizer to squash rackets now feeds the hungry of the world while science creates substitute supplies for industry. Even today, over half of the United States corn crop goes to making ethanol, which shows how much food is used by industry.