Google founder bankrolls lab-grown beef
Sergey Brin invests €700,000 in cultured beef research to find farming alternative
Food writer Hanni Rützler said the cultured beef burger had an intense taste. “It’s close to meat – it’s not that juicy but the consistency is perfect.” Photograph: David Parry/Getty Images
Sergey Brin, the billionaire founder of Google, has emerged as a backer of a project that has been dubbed the future of meat – laboratory- grown beef.
The first public tasting of meat produced in the Dutch project took place in London yesterday. Project leaders believe such burgers will be on supermarket shelves in 10 to 20 years.
Prof Mark Post of Maastricht University, who has led the research, said Mr Brin had put €700,000 into cultured beef research – with the aim of finding a sustainable alternative to growing meat through livestock farming – and expected to contribute more in the future.
The investment enabled the scientists to produce enough lab-grown meat fibres from beef muscle stem cells to make three 140g (5oz) burgers. Each contained 20,000 muscle fibres grown in special culture chambers.
Two burgers were cooked privately over the weekend and Richard McGeown, chef at Couch’s Great House restaurant in Cornwall, prepared the third burger on stage at the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith, London.
Two professional food writers, Hanni Rützler of Austria and Josh Schonwald from the US, were called to pronounce on its taste. The verdict was that the burger tasted meaty but rather dry in texture and bland in flavour. The lab- grown beef lacks the fat that lubricates even lean meat from animals.
“I was expecting the texture to be more soft. There is a bite to it. There is quite some intense taste. It’s close to meat – it’s not that juicy but the consistency is perfect,”Ms Rützler said.
Mr Brin has regularly invested in futuristic science-based ventures, including private space flight, asteroid mining, electric cars and genomics.
Speaking at the burger launch by video link, he said he looked for technology that “if it succeeds . . . can be really transformative for the world”.
The Google co-founder agreed with Prof Post that the world needed a new way to produce meat that was less demanding on resources than traditional agriculture.
“There are basically three things that can happen,” he said.
“One is that we all become vegetarian. I don’t think that’s really likely.
“The second is we ignore the issues and that leads to continued environmental harm; and the third is that we do something new.”
Prof Post said he was talking to the food industry as well as Mr Brin about funding the next stage, which would need about €10m to add natural fat cells and more red myoglobin pigment to the lab-grown beef.
Far more investment would be needed to scale up production and bring cultured beef to the market. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2013