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Dutch Government Funded Research in Cultured Beef: Mark Post, Maastricht University, on the Future of our Food

Our land resources are becoming very limited. It is not easy to ignore new methods of livestock farming which have emerged in order to meet the demand for meat.

With such desperate measures, livestock animals are subject to unhealthy and unsustainable farming practices. This is leading people to be increasingly mindful of their meat consumption, some converting to vegetarianism.

Yet, the world is not going to just stop eating meat. Meat provides vital and high quality proteins which fuels people with energy and nutrients.

Government can regulate livestock farming methods and practices, but this often leads to cost increases for farmers and profound effects on the competitiveness of the agriculture market.

As we have observed in the United States, farmers have put up a fight and argued that the agricultural industry is one of the most vulnerable sectors. This backlash occurred when the Environmental Protection Agency put more stringent regulations in place, following the outbreak of ‘Mad Cow Disease’.

In Australia, following the National Innovation and Science Agenda, the Department of Agriculture is taking swift action and amplifying its measures to support agricultural innovation which would support the industry’s future.

Professor Mark J. Post, Professor of Physiology, Maastricht University, highlighted these issues in his presentation at EmTech Asia, last week. He believes that Cultured Beef may be the solution.

Cultured Beef is created by the harvesting of muscle cells from a cow to create meat which is similar to taste and texture to that of meat produced by traditional means. It was in 2002 that NASA funded a research group to investigate the possibility of cultured meat being produced for astronauts on long space missions.

Prof. Post famously created the first synthetic beef pattie in the world, initially valued at £250 thousand. He believes that his research will prove that laboratory-produced meat is a sustainable alternative to the economically and agriculturally inefficient conventional livestock methods.

 “Cows are like an obsolete technology,” exclaimed Prof. Post, “They are very inefficient in converting vegetable proteins into animal proteins. If you can feed people in a much more direct way, you can solve a lot of issues from the growing population and growing demand for beef.”

Professor Mark Post first got involved in a Dutch government-funded programme investigating ‘in vitro meat’ in 2008. The programme had been initiated by Wilem van Eelen, an 86-year-old entrepreneur who held a long-time fascination for the possibility of culturing meat.

Prof. Post’s current research is a continuation of this programme, which initially doled out £2 million.

One of the major issues he raised during his presentation was that people are eating meat more often than ever before.

“If country’s become wealthier, more middle class incomes feed consumption increases.” Stated Prof. Post, “Diverting to vegetarianism on a global scale is not going to happen soon. In 2015, meat demand has increased by 70 percent. If you recall 70 percent of arable land, you are not going to meet that [demand].”

Given this, how are we supposed to sustain fair animal treatment?

Following his presentation, OpenGov sat down with Mark J. Post to discuss this issue further.

Prof. Post is confident that Cultured Beef will help to create a product which is both cheaper and more ecological.

We asked Prof. Post how cultured beef helps to decrease animal welfare consequences, allowing for more sustainable farming.

“There are a lot of animal welfare consequences to livestock farming. This is still an animal derived product, which I feel is kind of essential,” said Prof. Post, “We can reduce the scale of livestock for cows from 1.5 billion to, say, 30 thousand. This would allow for non-intensive farming and keep the animals alive. You would also not need to slaughter them at such a massive scale. You can then concentrate on the well-being of the animal.”

Although Prof. Post’s project is in the early stages, they foresee that the long term benefit of being able to produce more ecologically friendly, ethical, and cheap meat will have an enormous impact.

As a civil servant to the Dutch Government through his position as a state university professor, Prof. Post is able to continue his research and pay his technicians salary through the government.

In 10 to 20 years, Prof. Post expects that he could produce his synthetic beef pattie for around $80 per kilogram, making it commercially available. He is confident that the production of Cultured Beef will be one of the solutions in addressing future issues relating to food security and environmental sustainability.

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