food science

What’s the Deal With the World’s First ‘Lab-Grown’ Steak?

Aleph Farms’ lab-grown “minute steak”. Photo: Aleph Farms

For the general public, the dream of lab-grown beef began back in August 2013, when scientist Mark Post held a showy press conference in London to introduce his lab-grown burger, which cost a whopping $300,000 of research to produce.

In doing so, Post officially launched the race to get the first lab-grown beef products to market. He started his own venture called Mosa Meat, which hopes to have its product in grocery stores within the next two to three years. But this week, execs at Israeli company Aleph Farms said they’ve got a head start, and will go one step further by bringing a lab-grown “minute steak” to market within two years. Here’s why their success could change food as we know it.

How is meat grown in a lab?
Scientists start by taking a tissue sample from a living animal and then isolating its stem cells, which are prized for their chameleon-like ability to transform into more specialized cells. The stem cells are fed a “nutrient-dense serum” that helps them to multiply before they’re treated with proteins that turns them into muscle cells and fat cells, creating a lab-grown patty.

Isn’t growing meat the normal way (with live animals) way less expensive?
In the short term, sure. It’s way cheaper to just raise a cow than to invest millions of dollars in hiring scientists to grow part of a cow in a lab. But in the long term, humanity needs to either find a more environmentally friendly way to grow beef or give it up altogether. Last month, an advisory council encouraged the British government to cut the number of cows and sheep in the UK by 20 to 50 percent to attenuate their negative impact on the environmen,t while a more all-encompassing 2018 study found that beef consumption must fall by 90 percent in wealthy Western countries to meet 2050 climate goals.

Why is the Aleph Farms news so big?
First, they’re growing their steaks using a number of different cell types, which means creating a texture and taste that is closer to the meat you find in a grocery store. A chief complaint about Mark Post’s 2013 lab-grown burger was that it wasn’t very juicy. Aleph has managed to bring blood vessels into the mix, which makes their product even closer to the real, bloody deal. More importantly, Alelph is growing its steaks without the highly unethical practice of using fetal bovine serum, which is drawn from calves while they’re in utero.

How much do these steaks currently cost?
$50 for a slice of meat that’s approximately the size of a credit card.

Is there an overproduced video featuring a professional chef preparing and praising Alelph’s “minute steak”?
Of course.

What’s the Deal With the World’s First ‘Lab-Grown’ Steak?