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Frankenfood returns?

Posted 06/08/2013 by cgodfrey

Have we as scientists learnt nothing from the European debacle over genetically modified (GM) food? Now whether you support the introduction of GMOs or not, it was to be hoped that the lessons that were so sorely learnt by Monsanto might have influenced those who organised this week’s unveiling of the first so-called ‘test tube burger’.

Greater preparation for the launch, not just for the burger itself, might have meant that it would not have suffered the same accusations that we remember from the first discussions of GM crops, like the term Frankenfood, which has been shocked into new life itself.

After all, everyone concerned with the projects has had over 18 months to consider the launch since C&I carried a feature-length account in November 2011 of the group’s efforts to grow meat in the laboratory rather than the field. And it is not as if the project’s backer, also revealed this week as the co-founder of Google, Sergey Brin, does not know anything about the value of marketing!

After watching the frying of the ceremonial burger, it was handed to the official first tasters who themselves were virtually unknown, at least to a UK audience. Had it been impossible to find any more visible, and perhaps supportive, food experts? And watching this group of unknowns eat their portions of burger was an increasingly restive audience made up mainly of journalists all looking for a story – and as we all know the only story that makes the headlines is a scare story or one that at least hints at bad news. 

And to talk about using stem cells from a dead cow is really just asking for problems; and synthetic isn’t really the right world for something that is based on, and grown from, a natural product.

There can be no argument with the basic premise behind the project that aims to meet the demands for meat eating from an ever-increasing global population. And thanks to the various environmental groups we all now know the quantities of land, water, feed etc that are needed to fulfil our demand for meat – humans are designed as omnivores after all; just look at our teeth!

This is a first tentative step in this very long project – already six years old – to help meet this key societal challenge to feed the world. Whether it will ultimately be successful remains to be seen – the initial taste and texture responses from the tasters were not particularly encouraging – but to have not prepared the ground thoroughly will only make the team’s job harder.

Would I eat it? I don’t know, but then as a science fiction fan I can’t forget Edward G. Robinson’s last cinematic role with Charlton Heston in Soylent Green – at least in that story the food was made from dead humans! 

What do you think? Let’s see what you have to say below.

Neil Eisberg - Editor

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