The Economist Endorses Shamburgers

Here at Via Meadia we’ve long been awaiting the days when people can lay into a shamburger cooked entirely from fake meat. That day finally arrived last week when scientists cooked the world’s first entirely synthetic burger. While the taste left something to be desired, and the price was a somewhat steep $330,000, the burger already has some high-profile fans, including the New York Times’ Andrew Revkin. Here’s the Economist extolling the virtues of the new technology:

Meanwhile, as poor countries grow richer, so does their appetite for flesh. The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation forecasts global demand for meat to increase by three-quarters over the next 40 years. This is unsustainable. In contrast, growing meat in factories—or, one day, in your home—is estimated to use up to 45% less energy, 99% less land and 96% less water than farming, as well as to spew out 78-96% fewer greenhouse gases. […]

And, contrary to doom-mongers’ warnings about the perils of “Frankenburgers”, lab-grown meat should be safer than the farm-grown sort. It is, for instance, less vulnerable to animal-borne diseases which decimate livestock and can, as in the case of bird-flu, jump to humans. Nor is it genetically modified in any way—the breakthrough burger was cultured from the shoulders of a Blanc Bleu Belge and a Blonde d’Aquitaine—which should make it kosher to opponents of GMOs in places like Europe.

This is exactly right. Despite the opposition of many worried about the rise of GMOs and “frankenfoods,” ideas like this, which could help feed millions of people while reducing our impact on the environment, are exactly the sort of smart green developments we need to see more of.

Billions of people can leave better, richer lives even as humanity learns to coexist ever more fruitfully and sustainably with the world that nurtures us. That is the extraordinary promise of the 21st century, the most challenging and exciting time in the history of our kind.

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  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    $330,000 for one bad tasting burger, and you want to feed them to poor third worlders (it’s unlikely even they will want them). Why don’t you come back when it makes some economic sense? Although I doubt if it will ever be more economical than livestock raised on grass straight from the field.

  • I actually think this is a good thing, since this sort of thing is crucial to a spacefaring civilization. It’ll be awhile before we have cattle ranches or chicken coops on the Moon or Mars, but bogo-meat vats are far more likely. If we can make it taste decent, so much the better.

  • Hubbub

    I’m afraid mockmeat will not be inexpensive – the marketplace will see to that – even if it can be produced in laboratories (factories) instead of in the pasture. And safe for consumption? I imagine mockmeat will have it’s own forms of contamination that medicine will have to contend with.

    Oh, those of us, with utopian views of the future, that man will forever rise to the occasion and eventually do away with famine and pestilence and war and poverty and live as one big happy intermixed family…

  • Toads

    The price will come down…

    I would eat it if it got down to the price of twice that of high-quality steak, and tasted the same or better…

    Yes, I am willing to pay twice the price, for fake steaks.

    • Thirdsyphon


  • ljgude

    As a devotee of the Hindu God Nandi I continue to take a dim view of this idea. Moooooo!

  • BrianFrankie

    >> Nor is it genetically modified in any way—the breakthrough burger was cultured from the shoulders of a Blanc Bleu Belge and a Blonde d’Aquitaine—which should make it kosher to opponents of GMOs in places like Europe. <<
    The Economist (and VM) misses the point of those opposed to GMO's, and is setting themselves up for befuddlement when the reaction is diametrically different from their expectations. The opponents referred to, in general, do not care about the fact that foods are using genetic modification. That is only the pretext.
    Their resistance is much more deeply rooted than that. They are opposed to science, and progress (ironic, since they so often call themselves "progressives"). They are firmly Luddite, and tend to be statist. Their ideal society, as near as I can determine, is similar to the fictional future society portrayed in "Anthem".
    In short, lab grown meat will encounter fierce, utterly uncompromising resistance when it is ready to transfer from development to commercialisation. You can count on it. Opponents will employ any useful pretext – the "genetic modification" label (even though it is not modified), "Frankenfoods", and any number of other specious points developed by focusing on their speciality, argumentum in terrorem.
    It is precisely the same dynamic driving opposition to GMO's, and hydraulic fracturing, and childhood vaccines, and nuclear power, and DDT, and any type of resource extraction, and on and on. It is a cultural issue, and not amenable to logical suasion.

  • lukelea

    Sorry, wrong post.

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