Scientists have used animal cells to create an artificial form of meat without the need for the rearing and slaughtering of livestock.
The product, known as "in vitro meat", is made from thousands of stem cells which multiply to produce strips of muscle tissue without ever leaving the lab.
Dutch scientists experimenting with pig cells say it could be just six months before the first test tube sausage is produced, and within a year lab-grown burgers could be created using similar techniques with cows.
The growing world population could soon mean that our farms cannot produce enough meat to feed everyone, creating a market for artificial beef, pork, lamb and chicken.
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Shifting the production of meat from farms to laboratories would also help cut down the billions of tonnes of greenhouse gases released by livestock, while requiring 99 per cent less land than beef farming.
Prof Mark Post of Maastricht University, who is leading the research, said the technique is far from ready for mass production and the cost of creating the first burger could run higher than £220,000 (EUR250,000).
But once the meat is ready for consumption, production lines could be set up in plants producing large amounts much more quickly and cheaply.
Currently the strips of tissue created in the lab, which are 2.5cm long and less than a centimetre wide, appear grey and soggy but experts hope to make their product as similar as possible to the real thing.
The tissue, created by feeding a pig's stem cells with a serum taken from a horse foetus, is attached to Velcro and stretched to mimic the way muscles grow but still lacks the appearance of real meat.
Prof Post told the New Scientist magazine: "It's white because there's no blood in it, and very little myoglobin, the iron-bearing protein.
"We are looking at ways to build up the myoglobin content to give it colour. I'm hopeful that we can have a hamburger in a year."
There is no indication yet of how the meat tastes because strict regulations prevent anyone from consuming tissue grown in a lab which has been fed on animal products.
Experts based at the University of Amsterdam hope to get around the problem by creating a synthetic feed which provides the stem cells with everything they need to grow.
If scientists are successful in creating an edible product, the harmless technique could even be applied to rare and endangered animals, paving the way for products like panda burgers, experts said.
The World Health Organisation has predicted that meat consumption will double by 2050, and the increasing cost of animal feed is likely to rapidly inflate the price of meat before then.
In 2008 the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) organisation offered a $1 million (£600,000) reward for the first scientist to produce a marketable lab-grown meat before 2012.
Despite the moral and ethical arguments surrounding stem cell research, researchers believe it is inevitable we will have to resort to in vitro meat in the near future.
Prof Post said: "I don’t see any way you could rely on old-fashioned livestock in the coming decades. In vitro meat will be the only choice left."
Dr Helen Ferrier of the National Farmers' Union said: "Clearly we would prefer people to continue buying beef produced directly from the British beef industry well into the future, rather than from cattle stem cells.
"There is great potential for traditional beef farming to be sustainable and efficient, to reduce emissions and feed a growing population while continuing to offer benefits to the environment, landscape and the rural economy."
Emma Hockridge of the Soil Association added: “We mustn’t forget all the benefits that grazing animals bring to the beauty and sustainability of our countryside. It is unlikely that lab grown meat would ever replace meat production in the UK and clear that there is still a long way to go before these products are anywhere near being commercially viable."