With the global population continuing to grow, it is clear that current methods of food production aren’t sustainable. That’s especially true for meat products. As such, scientists and companies are turning to alternative methods of meat production.
Current strategies include plant-based recipes and, more interestingly, growing meat in a lab. Although plant-based meats are currently doing well with consumers, the latter just hit a major milestone. Eat Just, a U.S.-based startup, just launched its lab-grown “chicken bites” in Singapore.
This marks the first time that lab-grown meat will be available to consumers.
Rather than slaughtering animals for their meat, Eat Just takes cell biopsies from live animals. From there, the cells are incubated inside massive bioreactors and then combined with plant-based ingredients to create the final product.
The cells are fed with nutrients from plants to help them grow in the bioreactor. The growth medium also contains fetal bovine serum, which is mostly removed as the meat is processed. However, Eat Just plans to use a plant-based serum in the next version of its production line.
The new serum wasn’t ready when it applied for regulatory approval with the Singapore Food Agency. Recently, Eat Just’s production and safety methods were approved by the agency, giving it the ability to sell its lab-grown meat products.
At first, the chicken bites will be available at a restaurant—the name of which has not been disclosed. Eat Just plans to expand rapidly from there, scaling to more restaurants and, eventually, into grocery stores.
The startup’s CEO Josh Tetrick says, “I think the approval is one of the most significant milestones in the food industry in the last handful of decades. It’s an open door and it’s up to us and other companies to take that opportunity. My hope is this leads to a world in the next handful of years where the majority of meat doesn’t require killing a single animal or tearing down a single tree.”
Many people are still uncomfortable with the idea of eating meat that is grown in a lab. Despite the major achievement, there are still plenty of challenges for the alternative meat industry. Perhaps the biggest of them is whether or not consumers are willing to buy the products.
Aside from the odd nature of eating lab-grown meat, the products will be much more expensive than traditional chicken—at least for now. That will be a barrier until companies are able to scale up their operations in response to increased demand.
Tetrick believes that the best way to solve this problem is with clear communication. He says, “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.”
He goes on to add that the startup’s lab-grown chicken is nutritionally the same as conventional meat. That makes sense considering that it comes from real chicken cells.
In the meantime, Eat Just isn’t the only company pursuing lab-grown meat. Firms like Memphis Meats, Mosa Meat, and Aleph Farms are also working hard on their own solutions.
It will be interesting to see how this sector develops in the coming years and whether or not consumers accept it.