The meat you'll find in your local grocery store all comes from the same place: a once-living animal. However, that might not be the case in the future: Singapore has just approved the sale of meat grown from animal muscle cells — outside of a living creature.
Also known as "cultured meat" or "clean meat," this alternative to standard chicken and beef has been under development for years, but this marks the first time a nation has approved its sale — and now that the first domino has fallen, others could follow suit.
Meatier Meat Alternatives
Interest in meat alternatives has soared in recent years, as people look for ways to enjoy the taste of meat that are healthier, more humane, or less harmful to the environment.
Currently, all of those meat alternatives are made from plants, but some are getting ever closer to replicating the flavor and texture of real meat. Cultured meat might be able to fill the gap further, as it starts out with actual animal cells, not soybeans or pea protein.
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The cultured meat that Singapore approved for sale is the work of U.S.-based startup Eat Just.
To make it, chicken cells are placed into large containers, called "bioreactors," along with ingredients to help them grow. The animal cells are then combined with plant-based ingredients to create a kind of nugget called "chicken bites."
Before granting its approval, the Singapore Food Agency reviewed data on Eat Just's manufacturing process and safety testing and found it met its standards.
At the same time, a panel of experts in food safety, cell biology, and other related fields reviewed the cultured meat and found it to be both nutritious and safe for human consumption.
Now that the approval has been granted, Eat Just plans to make the chicken bites available to diners at one restaurant in Singapore "in the very near term," CEO Josh Tetrick told Reuters.
Cultured Meat: Yea or Nay?
So, the cultured meat is safe — but will people want to eat it?
Some may be hesitant to try lab-grown meat simply because it sounds "unnatural." Others might not want to pay extra for cultured meat when they could just buy the real stuff (the cost would presumably drop if/when demand increases, but you need initial demand to be strong enough to scale up the business).
The “chicken bites" are a combination of lab-grown cells and plant-based ingredients.
Additionally, while cultured meat is more humane than slaughtering animals, it's still not clear whether it has any environmental benefits over factory farming, so some people might not be interested until that's proven.
Still, the only way to find out if people are willing to bite on cultured meat is to start selling it, and now that one nation has it, it might be easier to get others — including the U.S. — to follow suit.
"I think the approval is one of the most significant milestones in the food industry in the last handful of decades," Tetrick told The Guardian. "It's an open door and it's up to us and other companies to take that opportunity."
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