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For Meat Lovers, the Challenge of Faking It

Some people in the Netherlands are spending three hundred thirty thousand dollars -- on a hamburger. The people are scientists at the University of Maastricht. They want to prove that they can make a hamburger that tastes good and does not require an animal to be killed.

Researcher Mark Post and his team have been growing muscle-tissue cells in a laboratory with muscle taken from a cow. He says, "We have committed ourselves to make a couple of thousand of these small tissues and then assemble them into a hamburger." Several teams around the world are trying to produce meat without killing animals. So far the Dutch team appears to have made the most progress. Mr. Post says he wants to show that the world's growing demand for meat could be satisfied more efficiently and with less harm to the environment. He says he is driven by care for the environment and food production for the world, and an interest in "life-transforming technologies."

Seth Tibbott is the founder of Turtle Island Foods in Hood River, Oregon. His company makes a vegetarian turkey substitute called Tofurky. Mr. Tibbott says the idea of a hamburger made in a lab sounds "pretty disgusting." Tofurky is made from tofu. Tofu is made with soybeans. The company estimates that about three percent of Americans are vegetarian. Many others are known within the industry as "sometimes vegetarians" or "flexi-tarians," says Mr. Tibbott. Vegetarians do not necessarily want food that tastes like meat. But he says a lot of other people might try meatless alternatives if those products did look and taste more like real meat.

Turtle Island Foods is building a new Tofurky factory that will let the company produce three times as much starting next year. Biochemistry professor Patrick Brown at Stanford University in California has started his own company developing a meat substitute. His food scientists are working with plant proteins and oils to try to reproduce the look and taste of the real thing. But he thinks the only way to really win in the market will be to make it a lot cheaper than real meat. The American beef industry uses the marketing slogan: "Beef, it's what's for dinner." Jack Field is the director of the Washington Cattlemen's Association, in Washington state. He says he is not too worried about competition from fake meat. In his words, "Real beef will be what's for dinner, now and into the future."

For VOA Special English, I'm Alex Villarreal.