We may not all be eating cultivated meat yet, but there could be a time very soon when we’re filling up on lab-grown chicken, cultured salmon filets, and synthetic beef burgers.
Cultivated meat, or cultured meat, is genuine animal fat and muscle produced by scientists and high-tech labs that grow meat directly from animal cells. Lab-grown meat might sound gross (or at least weird), but the process could be an incredible boon to the Earth if the industry is able to level up.
The History of Lab-Grown Meat
Since 2017, at least 34 startups have sprung up (including 10 in the U.S. alone), forging the first inroads into the cultured meat market. So why haven’t you seen more lab-grown meat? The market is limited by regulation. Thus far, only one country has allowed only one company to sell cultivated meat. After two years of working together, Singapore now allows Good Meat (a subsidiary of Eat Just Inc.) to sell its lab-grown chicken.
“It became very evident to us that Singapore would be the perfect place to move forward,” Andrew Noyes, head of global communications and public affairs at Eat Just Inc. said. “Singapore is unique. They’re a small island nation, and there’s no room for animals to graze, so they import more than 80% of their food.”
Noyes noted Singapore, as one of the Asian Dragons, is on the cutting edge of a number of industries through capital innovation and government intervention. The country’s “30 by 30” initiative, for example, is a public and private effort to produce 30% of its food domestically by 2030. This and Singapore’s renowned food safety reputation led to a perfect match with Good Meat for Eat Just.
The start-up is interested not just in offering an alternative product, but one that tastes good. From fine dining establishments like 1880 to Singapore’s ubiquitous hawker food stands, Good Meat is trying to get its cultivated chicken in front of diners. The first hawker the company recruited is one of the most famous: Mr. Loo and his 75-year-old stand.
“If you can convince Mr. Loo, you can convince anyone that cultivated meat is part of the future,” Noyes said. “He was very skeptical at first, but when he cooked with it and tasted it, and saw all these people lined up at his stall to try it, his perception changed.”
The Benefits of Lab-Grown Meat
Eat Just subsidiary Good Meat now sells its lab-grown chicken in restaurants throughout Singapore. For Eat Just and most of the companies populating this nascent industry, this isn’t only about bringing a novel product to a wealthy, food-conscious audience. This helps to build a bridge for mindful eaters who still want to consume meat, but in a more sustainable way.
Cultivated meat is made of the same cell types arranged in the same or similar structure as animal tissues, thus replicating the sensory and nutritional profiles of conventional meat.
“When you send a piece of our chicken off to a lab and send a piece of chicken that you got at the grocery store off to a lab there, the nutritional composition is going to be very similar,” Noyes said. “The things that you won’t see with our chicken is the contamination that is part and parcel with conventional meat products.”
Growing meat in labs eliminates the need to raise and farm animals for food. And for those wondering if their favorites are included, the lab-grown meat industry is producing cultured pet food, chicken, beef, pork, seafood, BBQ, and kangaroo.
“We decided the way that we reach people who are maybe not as interested in plant-based meats would be to offer them real meat, just without the externalities and consequences of conventional animal agriculture,” Noyes said.
Industrial meat production is environmentally devastating. Deforested lands contain penned hordes that contaminate the ground, water, and air with antibiotics and waste products like blood, fecal matter, and methane. Sustainably minded cultivated meat startups represent a planet-wide vision to reduce and eventually replace this system.
Cultured meat could give many more people access to high-quality meat at a lower environmental cost. Acumen Research reports that, according to the World Animal Protection Organization, cultured meat requires 99.9% less land and five times less water to manufacture. There is less pollution byproduct and very little antibiotic or other contamination.
The Future of Lab-Grown Meat
The challenge of this field will be scaling up commercial production — going from making meat in a lab to feeding millions of mouths. This will require an entire system of innovators who improve cell slurries, lab equipment, and other production means. Good Meat already has some of those systems on the way. Noyes noted that the meat company partnered with ABEC to build bioreactors for avian and mammalian cell cultures much larger than have ever been built before. ABEC is working on 3,000-liter and 6,000-liter bioreactors scheduled to be delivered in the coming months. A 6,000-liter bioreactor has the capacity to generate tens of thousands of pounds of meat per year. Further down the road, materials are in development for 250,000-liter bioreactors.
Though Good Meat is not yet profitable, private investors believe in its long game. Eat Just has raised north of $850 million since its 2011 founding. $267 million of that was raised specifically for Good Meat in 2021 alone.
This food has the power to shape a better future for the Earth and the people who populate it. It was apropos then, that the first guests to ever sit down and try Good Meat chicken were Singaporean school children.
“We identified (them) as wanting, in their own lives, to grow up and be a part of the solution to some of the big challenges in the food system. And so those kids are very special to us,” Noyes said.
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