The cost is currently the main obstacle to mass production, Stephens said. Fetal bovine serum, also used to make vaccines, costs about $250 per liter, with up to three fetuses required to produce each liter, according to a recent paper published in the journal Regenerative Medicine.
Any association with genetically modified foods is unwarranted, according to Post. "Cultured beef is normal beef," he said. "It consists of cow cells."
Scientists growing lab steaks say alternatives are needed to avoid depleting too much of the earth's resources as the world population increases and meat consumption grows. Cultured meat production uses up to 60 percent less energy, resulting in up to 95 percent lower greenhouse gas emissions and 98 percent lower land use compared with conventional production in Europe, according to a study conducted by Oxford University and University of Amsterdam researchers and funded by New Harvest, a non-profit cultured meat research group.
In Columbia, Mo., Andras Forgacs and his father Gabor are growing meat and leather using bioprinting, the 3-D assembly of tissues driven by computer-controlled processes.
"We've already been growing food with cultures to make beer, wine, yogurt," the younger Forgacs said at a TED talk in Edinburgh in June. "It's clean, efficient and humane. Perhaps we are ready for something literally and figuratively more cultured."
It's too early to know whether the public is ready to adopt meat that comes from the lab, though so far there hasn't been much organized resistance from vegetarians or industrial producers. Acceptance of in-vitro fertilization could serve to gauge society's response to cultured beef, according to Stephens of Cardiff University.
"What's weirder?" he said. "Growing meat in a dish or growing people in a dish?"