Eat Just’s chicken, produced from the cells of animals without the need for slaughter, will be available for purchase in Singapore.
It’s been less than a decade since the first lab-grown burger debuted. That one cost $300,000 to produce. Now, Eat Just, Inc., can bring its cultured meat to market in Singapore. It’s not cheap. But you won’t need to take out a second mortgage for this one.
The San Francisco-based food-tech company has received approval from the Singapore Food Agency to market its cultured chicken.
“I think the approval is one of the most significant milestones in the food industry in the last handful of decades,” Eat Just founder Josh Tetrick said in a statement. “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.”
Cultured meat, also called lab meat and cell-based meat, is bioidentical to animal meat. It’s created by taking a cell sample from a live animal and growing those cells into muscle meat. The process has been compared to brewing beer or yogurt.
“The [Eat Just approval] is a very big deal for the future of meat production globally,” Bruce Friedrich, founder of non-profit Good Food Institute, told the Guardian. “A new space race for the future of food is under way.”
Cultured Steak or Factory Farmed?
By removing the mass amounts of animals from the meat equation, cultured meat drastically reduces the environmental impact of the agriculture industry. More than 130 million chickens are slaughtered every day across the planet; 60 percent of all mammals on the planet are livestock.
Producing cell-based meat would also have a significant impact on resource use; raising livestock is particularly resource-intensive, using significant amounts of grain, fresh water, and land. Cultured meat removes the need for much of this.
Animals raised for food also use up the majority of the world’s antibiotics — drugs given to offset widespread illnesses common in densely-packed factory farms. But the drugs are also used to enhance growth and speed animals to market weight. This industry-wide practice is linked to the increase in antibiotic-resistant infections. They kill more than 23,000 Americans every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Livestock pose another threat: zoonotic diseases like COVID-19, which to date has killed more than 1.4 million people.
The Market for Cell-Based Meat
Eat Just, which also produces the popular vegan Just Egg made from mung beans, has long-promised it would be first to market with cultured meat. But it’s not the only company on the hunt for regulatory nods.
A number of food-tech startups, including Memphis Meats, Mosa Meat, and Blue Nalu, are developing lab-based versions of meat, poultry, and fish. Already, the nascent industry has raised billions of dollars to produce meat without the animal. But consumer costs is still one of the biggest impediments. That first lab-grown burger, developed by Dr. Mark Post, now of Mosa Meat, cost about $300,000 when it debuted in 2013.
Tetrick says the industry is closer to price parity than ever before. The Eat Just chicken is grown in 1,200-liter bioreactors. But the plan is to scale.
“If we want to serve the entire country of Singapore, and eventually bring it to elsewhere in the world, we need to move to 10,000-litre or 50,000-litre-plus bioreactors,” Tetrick said. It’s a bit of a lab-grown chicken and egg situation. The company needs sales to scale, and to scale in order to sell more.
As the tech develops, though, prices continue to drop.
Still, lab-grown meat is miles away from plant-based meat that looks, cooks, and tastes like beef, pork, or chicken at a fraction of the price. With their vegan offerings, Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods are closer than ever in price and taste to conventional beef burgers and sausages. They’re also upleveling nutrition; Beyond just launched new versions of its burgers with nutrition profiles similar to beef minus the cholesterol and saturated fat.
Eat Just and its rivals have a long way to go before they’re fast-food price competitive like Beyond and Impossible. But Tetrick says it’s only a matter of time before cultured meat compares with farmed meat.
The category also has another hurdle to overcome that may prove more difficult than price: the “Frankenfood” factor. While flexitarian consumers have embraced plant-based meat and dairy en masse, that shift took decades — it’s been 25 years since Tofurky first launched its turkey-like roast. That centerpiece, while heaven for vegans on Thanksgiving, was the punchline to many meaty jokes for years. Impossible and Beyond have played critical roles in softening — or, rather, beefing up — meatless meat’s image. But sales of vegan meat are still just a mere percentage of all meat sales.
For cultured meat, regulatory red tape and production challenges may be easier to navigate than consumer concerns. There are still fears around the production of cultured meat — concerns that sci-fi headless chickens, sustainable and ethical as they may be, are genetically modified and unnatural. But these are misconceptions Tetrick thinks can be corrected. Because the truth, he says, is far more interesting than the fiction around cultured meat.
“Is it different? For sure,” Tetrick says. “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.”