In December of 2020, Singapore became the first country in the world to sell lab-grown meat, also known as cultured meat or clean meat, for human consumption. Singapore’s Food Agency (SFA) gave the green signal to Eat Just’s GOOD Meat Cultured Chicken for commercial sale. The landmark debut was made in 1800, a members-only restaurant in Robertson Quay in Singapore.
“This historic step, the first-ever commercial sale of cultured meat, moves us closer to a world where the majority of the meat we eat will not require tearing down a single forest, displacing a single animal’s habitat, or using a single drop of antibiotics,” said co-founder and CEO of Eat Just, Josh Tetrick.
Given the catastrophic circumstances of the world presently, more and more people are adopting a clean and green lifestyle (consumption of clean meat or going vegan). Scientists have been trying to perfect these commodities – be it cultured meat or vegan meat – for years, just in time for the surge in demand by the masses now.
But what is cultured meat and how Is It made?
The many names of cultured meat, namely – lab-grown meat, clean meat, in vitro meat, synthetic meat, cellular agriculture, slaughter-free meat, animal-free meat, etc, gives one an incoherent idea of what the meat is about. However, the science of how it is made is quite stimulating.
A simplified explanation of the complexities behind its making is as follows: The scientists take muscle stem cells of a living animal to harvest it in a bioreactor. These chosen cells can proliferate when fed with necessary micronutrients. Once fed, the cells are encouraged to mimic tissues of a living organ and also form its shape – burger patty, nugget, or steak. Under the microscope and biologically, the meat tissue is a replica of a living animal’s tissue. The method of regenerating medicine is applied to create this slaughter-free meat.
Scientists can duplicate, alter and enhance the taste of cultured meat as per the requirements. It also matches, if not exceeds, the level of proteins, fats, amino acid compositions, and other fundamental elements. Eat Just’s GOOD Meat was made in a 1,200-litre bioreactor, surpassing the mineral content of a living animal.
Is Eat Just the first and only manufacturer of cultured meat?
No! There are a plethora of companies and scientists across the world striving to perfect cultured meat as well as to make it more accessible to everyone. In 2013, Dutch scientist Mark Post created the first synthetic hamburger called Mosa Meat for EUR 250,000 (USD 280,400). This pricey burger meat was financed by Google’s co-founder Sergey Brin and was taste-tested on live television.
“The burger was this expensive in 2013 because back then it was novel science and we were producing at a very small scale. Once production is scaled up, we project the cost of producing a hamburger will be around 9 euros,” said Mosa Meat’s spokesperson to Reuters regarding its unduly expensive price recently. In comparison with Mosa Meat, GOOD Meat should fetch at less than USD 50. The company withheld disclosing a definitive price range of the meat but had previously stipulated their nuggets at USD 50 which is expected to plummet further.
After Mosa Meat’s burger patty, Memphis Meat introduced the first-ever cultured chicken and duck meatballs in 2017. Around the same time, an Israeli startup company named SuperMeat started their version of a viable animal meat replacement focusing completely on chicken meat. Another Israeli clean meat company, Aleph Farms, partnered with Mitsubishi to sell their synthetic beef in Japan earlier this year. Some other companies who have made great strides in the field are Meatable from The Netherlands, Future Meat from Israel, Wild Type from San Francisco, Blue Nalu from California who operates on producer cellular seafood, and more!
Can Cultured meat be classified as Vegan meat?
Vegan Meat or Plant-based meat, as the name suggests, is made totally from plants – the ingredients of which differ from companies to companies ranging from soy protein, heme, wheat gluten, coconut to using beet juice to imitate blood.
Although cultured meat eliminates the slaughter of animals, at its foundation it contains animal meat; going against the requirements of a vegetarian. Synthetic meat widely uses FBS or Fetal Bovine Serum, a key requirement for animal cell culture. FBS is harvested from fetuses during the slaughter of a pregnant cow and is also quite expensive to acquire. The fetuses are ostensibly exposed to pain during the harvesting of FBS, which contradicts the purpose and moral conscience of most vegans. All the aforementioned frontrunners of cultured meat also use FBS, including GOOD Meat.
An attempt to obliterate FBS and produce lab-grown was accomplished by a group of American scientists who created Ouroboros Human Steak. You read it right, Human Steak! Designed and created by scientist Andrew Pelling, Ouroboros was Andrew’s answer to innovate lab-grown meat without using FBS. Ouroboros human steak is “a DIY meal kit for growing gourmet steaks from one’s own cells.” The steak is made from human cells from the inside of one’s cheeks and expired blood. It then takes around three months for the steak to be edible and fully grown.
“Growing yourself ensures that you and your loved ones always know the origin of your food, how it has been raised, and that its cells were acquired ethically and consensually,” it says on their website. It has been commissioned at the Philadelphia Museum of Art for ‘Designs For Different Futures.’ Controversies soon surfaced criticizing the move as a promotion of cannibalism which “technically” isn’t according to its creators.
It took years for cultured meat to be approved for human consumption. Going with that, it will take another good set of years for Ouroboros human steak’s consumption (if it comes to that).
Should we opt to consume cultured meat over conventional meat?
Currently, lab-grown meat is not accessible to most people due to its high price and lack of availability. With the approval of GOOD Meat in Singapore, cultured meat becoming a mass commodity is a viable prospect.
Most companies contend cultured meat to have a dramatically low environmental impact in comparison with conventional meat. A 2011 preliminary study shows cultured meat requires “approximately 7–45% lower energy use (only poultry has lower energy use), 78–96% lower GHG emissions, 99% lower land use, and 82–96% lower water use”.
However, recent research from the LEAP (Livestock, Environment, and People) program at the Oxford Martin School reveals that there might not be such a drastic difference between the two as previously stated.
“There has been a great deal of public interest in cultured meat recently, and many articles highlight the potential for substituting cattle beef with cultured meat to provide an important climate benefit. We show that it is not yet clear whether this is the case, partly because of uncertainties about how cultured meat would be produced at scale,” says the study’s lead author, Dr. John Lynch.
In conclusion, consuming artificial meat might come down on the consumer who switches for animal welfare and healthy meat alternatives. “Consumers who learn about cultured meat usually think primarily of the benefits to animals. Having said that, environmental factors will be an issue for some consumers, and many environmentally conscious buyers are already moving away from meat and dairy consumption” said Dr. Chirs Bryant in a BBC article.