Lab-Grown Meat Is Approved for Sale in Singapore

For the first time people will be able to eat "kill-free" meat.

Eat Just chicken bites
Chicken Bites.

Eat Just

Lab-grown meat has been approved for sale for the first time by the Singapore Food Agency. The "chicken bites" made by U.S. company Eat Just have passed a safety review and will soon be sold in limited quantities at a single restaurant in Singapore, with the long-term goal of becoming more widely available as production is scaled up.

This is a huge step forward for the cell-grown meat industry, which has been working for years to turn its ambitious concept into a marketable product. There are numerous companies racing to get their products out, all working on versions of meat (ground beef and chicken tend to be the easiest to make, and thus most common) that harm no animals in their making and are kinder to the environment than the current resource-intensive way in which meat is raised.

Eat Just's chicken bites follow the same formula used by all lab-grown meats right now. They start with chicken cells taken from a live biopsy that are then fed a serum during an incubation period for growth. The serum is sourced from bovine fetal blood, but Eat Just says a plant-based serum will be used in the next production line; this option was "not available when the Singapore approval process began two years ago."

Indeed, the growth serum is a point of contention for many vegans and vegetarians who would entertain the idea of eating "kill-free" meat, but are uncomfortable with the fact that its main fuel for growth has, up until recently, come from animals. It has been challenging for companies to find a plant-based alternative. Israel's SuperMeat was one of the first to manage it, telling Treehugger in 2016 that using fetal blood obviously defeats the purpose of trying to move people away from livestock consumption.

There is hope that lab-grown meat can accomplish what various other efforts have failed to do – that is, convince committed meat-eaters to give up conventional meat. Plant-based meat alternatives such as the Impossible Burger and the Beyond Burger have done an impressive job at replicating meat, but they do not taste quite the same.

Eat Just chicken bites on plate

Eat Just

Meat grown in a lab is nutritionally identical to conventional meat, minus the many issues that plague its production, from antibiotic overuse to crowded and inhumane conditions to bacterial contamination from animal waste. It slows the length of the production chain, minimizes waste, and can be adjusted rapidly to meet market demand. A press release from Eat Just states,

"No antibiotics are used in this proprietary process. Safety and quality validations demonstrated that harvested cultured chicken met the standards of poultry meat, with extremely low and significantly cleaner microbiological content than conventional chicken. The analysis also demonstrated that cultured chicken contains a high protein content, diversified amino acid composition, high relative content in healthy monounsaturated fats and is a rich source of minerals."

The biggest issue is its high carbon footprint, due to the intensive energy demands required for small-scale production. The Guardian reports that this will improve: "Once scaled up [lab-grown meat] manufacturers say it will produce much lower emissions and use far less water and land than conventional meat." 

Brian Kateman is the president of the Reducetarian Foundation, which works to reduce societal consumption of animal products. He told Treehugger that he welcomes the news:

"This regulatory approval for the sale of cultured meat in Singapore is huge. It sends a clear signal that meat without slaughter is the way of the future. Other countries will need to swiftly follow suit if they don’t want to fall behind. Never before have we seen a race to the end of factory farming. It’s long overdue, and our planet will be better for it."

It is true that Singapore is setting a high bar for other nations to follow. No doubt pressure is mounting on other companies to produce marketable products as soon as possible.