Okayama Research Lab Unveils their Newest Breakthrough: Turd Burgers

June 17, 2011

Note (22 June 2011): Story seems likely to be a hoax. Contrary to the claims in video below, however, there is a Mitsuyuki Ikeda, and he does work Okayama. Specifically, in the Environmental Assessment Center‘s Education for Sustainable Development Group.


[original post]

I feel like I’m behind the curve posting this, as I’ve already seen links and brief on several aggregator sites, but since this does fit my Japan, science and offbeat criteria, it would be remiss of me not to post it. So here goes:

Researchers at the Okayama Environmental Research Center have recently gained international attention for their work in producing artificial meat. Specifically, by recycling it from human feces.

My apologies for not citing this video properly, I’ve been searching around for the original source, but haven’t been able to find it yet. The youtube video was posted in April (CNN iReport ran what looks to be the same video around the same time), but for whatever reason the story’s waited until just now to go viral.

Anyway, head researcher Mitsuyuki Ikeda describes how he was contacted by sewage treatment facilities, who were facing a supply of ‘sewage mud’ that would eventually outstrip their ability to process and dispose of it all. They asked if he could come up with any alternative uses for the stuff, and his solution was to turn it into steaks. That wouldn’t exactly have been my first idea (what about cement for construction? Fuel? Fertilizer?), but the professor has a point: our feces do still contain a good deal of nutrients, especially protein, so it makes sense (in theory at least) to try and recover these proteins for possible re-use.

Mitsuyuki Ikeda holds up samples of his unconventional meat

The heat used in the reclamation process kills all the bacteria, so the meat is perfectly safe to eat. It’s also much leaner than most meat coming fresh off the animal, making it healthier as well. None of the news sources mention how much energy it takes to produce turd burgers (or how much it would take once the process reaches mass production levels), so it’s too early to say how it stacks up environmentally against beef or pork. Currently, the meat industry is the source of almost 20% of all greenhouse gases, which in addition to factors such as clear-cutting forests for grazing land and raising crops to use as feed, places a burden on the environment that will only get heavier as nations like China and India adopt more meat-rich diets.

Just when we could expect this meat to be ready for consumption by the general public, and more to the point, when the general public would be ready to ever give it a try, is anyone’s guess.

Some thoughts:

  • Ikeda correctly notes that a lot of people are going to have qualms about eating meat made from re-processed feces. However, if he wants to help them get over their squeamishness, he really needs to stop labeling it, “SHIT BURGER”. Just send a memo around the lab asking for alternate suggestions; I’m sure someone will have a good interim name that can be used until it’s ready for commercial release.
  • He also says that once the research costs are recovered, the meat should be about the same price as regular meat. News flash for Mr. Ikeda: given a choice of regular meat and ‘recycled’ meat at the same price, absolutely nobody is going to select your product. If you want anyone to even think of giving it a try, it will have to be significantly cheaper than any readily available alternative. Maybe in some post-apocalypse future where regular meat is impossible to come by.
  • I could see this as a possibility for long-distance space flights, where the questions of “how do we stock X years of food into Y cubic feet?” and “what do we do with all the crap astronauts produce?” outweigh “where can I get a good quality steak at a decent price?”
  • If the equipment could be miniaturized, I could also see mini-processors becoming a feature in emergency survival kits.

I have to admit feeling a bit skeptical about this whole story. Things like Ikeda having everything labeled ‘Shit Burger’ and him posing squatting over a toilet, just make it seem like it’s a put-on. This whole thing could be one big piss-take, and we’ve all fallen for it. I’ll see if I can’t look further into it, and try to dig up some original sources.

If it does turn out to be real, my bet is on Ikeda to take home an Ig Nobel Award this year.


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