We all know now that not all people are fans of meat. The reasons for that are mainly environmental and ethical consequences. And because of that, food scientists have been trying to develop more sustainable options for the ones who are fans of meat.
Pioneering from the Southeast Asia region, the Singapore Food Agency has approved “cultured chicken”. Meaning, they’re legally an ingredient for chicken nuggets. This makes the first lab-grown meat to earn regulatory approval.
Eat Just, a United States-based start-up, will start rolling out their lab-grown chicken for a restaurant in Singapore.
For those of you who are new to this, lab-grown doesn’t mean fake. It’s not like the vegetarian alternatives we can find in grocery stores. You know, the ones like tofu turkey, jackfruit sausages and veggie burgers have been formulated to look, taste and feel like real meat.
Lab-grown means that it’s real, as in the real deal. It just doesn’t come from a slaughtered chicken. Scientist at Eat Just start with muscle cell biopsies from live chickens. Then they supply the samples with plant-based nutrients in a 300-gallon bioreactor to help the tissue grow.
“This is a historic moment in the food system. We’ve been eating meat for thousands of years, and every time we’ve eaten meat, we’ve had to kill an animal—until now,” said Eat Just’s chief executive Josh Tetrick.
Meat-grown chicken nuggets
Back in 2019, Eat Just revealed that each chicken nugget would cost $50 to make. That’s expensive, for sure, but the company has lowered production costs. The price now will be on par with high-quality chicken that you would order at a restaurant.
In other words, it’s still pretty pricey, but at least it’s not $50.
Plant-based meat alternatives are approved in the US market, but not lab-grown ones. Tetrick hoped this could spur the U.S. and other countries to produce meat that doesn’t require killing.
It may not seem much, but approval in one country is a good, first step. It’s an opening for lab-grown meats to make their way to our plates. Experts say that this industry will expand in the future.
Right now, there are more than two dozen companies in the world trying to grow beef, chicken, and fish in the labs. The investment bank Barclays estimates that the industry could be worth $140 billion before the end of the decade.
Executive director of the Good Food Institute Bruce Friedrich said, “Singapore has thrown down the gauntlet and other countries need to pick it up.
“Cultivated meat will mark an enormous advance in our efforts to create a food supply that is safe, secure, and sustainable, and Singapore is leading the way on this transition.”
Growing meat in labs won’t only address animal cruelty but also the environmental consequences of mass meat production.
According to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, greenhouse gas from livestock account for nearly 15% of all human-caused emissions.
With lab-grown meat, we no longer need to cut down forests in order to create fields for cattle to graze. Providing fields for cattle is one of the reasons for deforestation
In an interview, Tetrick praised the country’s initiative and progressiveness. “We want Singapore to be the focus of our manufacturing globally. They’re just really forward thinking in building an enabling environment for this kind of work.”
Perhaps due to its food-security agenda, Singapore is moving quickly to allow the sale of alternative proteins like cultured meat. As we know, this country is small but densely populated.
Hence, it relies mostly on other countries for food. But recently it has deepened its focus on getting enough to eat for its 5.7 million people. The Covid-19 crisis has exposed fragility in supply chains worldwide.
Singapore authorities allow alternative proteins to be sold after they are found to be safe for consumption. Plant-based meat maker Impossible Foods Inc. Has also entered the retail market in Singapore and Hong Kong.
Thanks to the country’s open-mindedness, more startups around the world are on the move. They’re preparing to test production of lab-grown meats like beef and chicken in factories.
Getting lab-grown meat on our plates will take a long way, but what we’ve got right now is a crucial step in getting cell-based products ready for supermarket shelves.
Cultured meat factories
The rise and demand of cultured meat may have started from Mosa Meat BV, started by pioneer Mark Post. It’s among at least eight companies building or operating pilot sites.
Mosa Meat BV made the world’s first cultivated beef burger and it has been raising funds for those efforts and plans to upgrade small-scale output. The Dutch company’s also planning to a full industrial site as early as the end of 2022.
Chief Executive Officer Maarten Bosch said, “We proved already in 2013 that we can make a hamburger. Now it’s all about scaling up and getting the cost where it should be. That’s exactly what this phase is all about.”
According to consultant Lux Research Inc., lab-meat startups have grown from a handful in 2016 to at least 60 now. The sector wants to make production more humane and environmentally sustainable. That has attracted record venture-capital funding this year.
Meat that we get from the labs sounds good, but for now it still faces lots of challenges. The biggest ones are cutting high costs, making large-production feasible, and winning regulatory approval.
Right now, the average cost of cultivated meat ranges from $400 to $2,000 a kg (2.2 pounds) to make. According to Lux, there’s still a long way until prices compete with conventional meats
Lux analyst Harini Venkataraman said, “Economies of scale are likely to help lower the cost in years to come. That is why these pilot plants are such important milestones.”
Startups announcing test plants include Memphis Meats Inc., which has received backing from Richard Branson and Tyson Foods Inc. Other than that, also cell-based seafood maker BlueNalu Inc. Aleph Farms Ltd.
The latter, by the way, has hosted Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to taste its beefsteak. Companies such as BioTech Foods, SuperMeat and Eat Just have already started testing sites. SuperMeat itself has started a test kitchen for cultured chicken in Israel.
CEO of SuperMeat Ido Savir said, “It’s not a question whether this is feasible. It’s a question of how long it will take us to go from a pilot setting, where we’re at, to a commercial scale. Things are becoming very exciting now.”