The world's most important hamburger

“Right now, we are using 70 per cent of all our agricultural capacity to grow meat through livestock,” Professor Mark Post, the lead researcher, told The Independent at a conference in Vancouver last year. “You are going to need alternatives. If we don’t do anything, meat will become a luxury food and will become very expensive…

“Livestock also contributes a lot to greenhouse-gas emissions, more so than our entire transport system,” explained Post, a medical physiologist at Maastricht University in the Netherlands. “Livestock produces 39 per cent of global methane, five per cent of the CO2 and 40 per cent of the nitrous oxide. Eventually, we will have an eco-tax on meat.” On meat raised in the open air, that is, whereas meat grown in the lab is a potentially inexhaustible resource, and it does far less environmental damage.

According to an Oxford University study published in 2011, a tonne of “cultured” beef would require 99 per cent less land and between 82 and 96 per cent less water than its “natural” rival, and would produce between 78 and 95 per cent less greenhouse gas. It would also use 45 per cent less energy.

These are seriously impressive numbers. If Post’s process can scale up successfully, then in 10 or 20 years we could be producing enough meat for a growing global population even though many people are eating more meat per capita as their incomes rise. Moreover, we would be able to turn most of that 70 per cent of agricultural land back into forest and prairie or switch it to growing grain for human consumption.