- The big meat producers ought to take a look at the petrol companies. There, one has already begun to think about which energy sources that are to take over when the oil runs out. This says Henk Haagsman, professor of veterinary medicine in Utrecht in the Netherlands. He thinks that the global environmental problems med meat handling will lead to that we have to find alternative solutions in 30 to 40 years.
Haagsman’s idea is quite simple, but truly groundbreaking: if people do have to eat meat, why breed whole animals and then throw away most of them?
- Some could be replaced by plant protein, but some could also be replaced by animal proteins grown from grown cells, he says. There is still a long way to go, but it’s an interesting opportunity.
Henk Haagsman imagines a whole new kind of industry: meat factories in the true meaning of the word. The production line begins with the growing of stem cells – cells that might develop to any other cell.
The next step is to get the cells to develop muscle fibers – that is, meat. Haagsman imagines that the fibers should be grown in thin layers, so that they could be added oxygen and nutrition, despite that there are no blood vessels who does the job.
Just how long it would take to develop meat from a cell is not known yet.
- The process must not be all too long if it is to be profitable, Haagsman says. Though, it takes eight months for a pig to get ready for being slaughtered, and we should be able to it faster than that. After all, we won’t need to build a whole animal.
So far, the research is carried out on slaughtered pigs. But in principle, it would be possible to grow meat without ever having to kill a single animal.
- In principle, one should be able to one single stem cell line for eternity, says Haagsman.
Growing organs from stem cells is nothing new. Human urine bladders have for example been grown in the USA. Though, when it comes to growing meat, one will have to start from scratch.
Henk Haagsman and his colleagues started two years ago. Nowadays the work in a newly built laboratory in Utrecht, and their first task will be to develop stem cells from pigs, something that has never been done before.
After that, they are to get the stem cells to develop into muscle cells, to then trick the muscle cells to develop eatable fibers.
- On one hand, much is happening within stem cell research right now, he says. But on the other hand, many difficulties remains, so I think we have to be very pleased if grown meat can be for sale in say 20 years.
What such meat would cost, we don’t know. Though, you may count on that the price on regular meat will rise. The energy experts talk about Peak Oil – the point where the production begins to fall after having passed its highest peak. Henk Haagsman thinks that we soon will have passed Peak Meat – which is for example seen in an increasing interest for his project from the food industry.
- More and more people are enthusiastic about our work, he says. We get publicity from all across the globe.