Lab‑Grown Meat Sold in a Restaurant for the First Time Ever, in Singapore
For the first time ever, lab-grown meat — chicken cells grown in bioreactors — has been approved for sale for human consumption. “Chicken bites,” developed by United States-based company Eat Just, have just been given the green light by the Singapore Food Agency. For now, the chicken bites will be sold in one restaurant.
Experts are hailing this development as a significant shift in the meat industry, as cultured meat — made without killing any animals — sees the limelight in consumer markets. The technology has been in the making for several years now, with several start-ups attempting to grow all kinds of meat — poultry, beef, pork, seafood — in a laboratory. The technology used to make the new chicken bites allows scientists to harvest cells from living animals through biopsies and grow the cells with the help of plant-based nutrients. The growth medium used for it is fetal bovine serum, a substance present in fetal blood; it is removed before forming the final meat product.
The lab-grown option, when possible to do it at scale, is supposed to appeal to traditional meat-eaters, for whom the vegan and plant-based substitutes seem unappetizing. But overall, the lab-grown option will be healthier for consumers as well, as it will be free of the prevalent hormones used in livestock today. It will also lead to a faster turnaround — “The whole process takes roughly six months to grow 180kg of meat, instead of the two and a half years it takes to grow a cow that can yield 180kg of meat,” The Swaddle has previously reported.
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But the technology is not without its challenges. First, taste and texture. “Is it different? For sure. Our hope is through transparent communication with consumers, what this is, and how it compares to conventional meat, we’re able to win. But it’s not a guarantee,” Josh Tetrick, of Eat Just, told The Guardian.
Second, cost. Lab-grown meat was presented to journalists as early as 2013, in which one patty cost more than $300,000. In 2018, another company called Memphis Meats reported the cost of production had fallen, to $600. The cost is tied to the intensive production process, which uses a high amount of energy and has a high rate of carbon emissions. But producers of lab-grown meat maintain that when scaled up, the process will use considerably fewer land and water resources than regular meat, ultimately proving better not only for wallets but also for the environment.
It’s a shift we desperately need today. Take water, for example — a 2010 study shows meat is by far the thirstiest food source. The water footprint of meat ranges from chicken needing 4,325 liters per kg to beef needing a whopping 15,415 liters per kg. The requirement is massive compared to vegetables that need 322 liters per kg and fruits that require 962 per kg. Animal breeding also takes up a sizeable amount of grain and contributes to high levels of water pollution that make communities unsustainable.
It’s clear we need a meat alternative soon, and one that’s appealing enough to help change the meat habits of billions of people around the world. Whether lab-grown meat can rise to the challenge remains to be seen.