As concerns over the environmental and ethical consequences of meat production continue to rise, food scientists have been trying to develop more sustainable options to satiate the world's appetite for meat. In a monumental step forward, the Singapore Food Agency approved "cultured chicken" to be sold as an ingredient for chicken nuggets, making it the first lab-grown meat to earn regulatory approval, reports Ryan W. Miller for USA Today.
Eat Just, a United States-based start-up, will start rolling out their lab-grown chicken bites for a restaurant in Singapore, reports Damian Carrington for the Guardian. But these aren't the "fake meat" you might be familiar with from the grocery store.
Alternative meat products like tofu turkey, jackfruit sausages and veggie burgers have been formulated to look, taste and feel like real meat. But cultured chicken is real meat—it just doesn't come from a slaughtered chicken. Eat Just scientists start with muscle cell biopsies from live chickens, and 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," Josh Tetrick, Eat Just’s chief executive, tells Mike Ives of the New York Times. "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."
In 2019, Eat Just revealed that each chicken nugget would cost $50 to make, Deena Shanker reported for Bloomberg last year. But the company has brought production costs down since then, and now the price will be on par with high-quality chicken that could be ordered at a restaurant, reports the Times.
While plant-based meat alternatives have gained momentum in the U.S. market, lab-grown meat hasn't been approved of yet. Tetrick hopes this spurs the U.S. and other countries to join in the race to produce meat that "doesn’t require killing a single animal or tearing down a single tree," he tells the Guardian.
Approval in one country may seem like just the first step in lab-grown meats making their way to our plates, but experts say this industry will expand in the coming years. At the moment, more than two dozen companies across the world are working to grow beef, chicken and fish in labs. The investment bank Barclays estimates that the industry could be worth $140 billion before the end of the decade, report Aradhana Aravindan and John Geddie for Reuters.
"Singapore has thrown down the gauntlet and other countries need to pick it up," Bruce Friedrich, the executive director of the Good Food Institute, says in a statement. "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."
Beyond being cruelty-free, growing meat in labs addresses some of the environmental consequences of mass meat production. Greenhouse gases from livestock account for nearly 15 percent of all human-caused emissions, according to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations. Growing meat in labs would mean that forests wouldn't have to be razed to create fields for cattle to graze, which is a driving force in deforestation in regions like the Amazon rainforest.