No-kill meat – or cultured meat – is making headlines again after a company that grows meat in a laboratory had its products approved for sale by a regulatory authority abroad.
US company Eat Just’s lab-grown chicken has been approved by the Singapore Food Agency for sale, in what is deemed a world first for this type of meat.
The meat is produced directly from animal cells, which means no animals need to be fed, bred or slaughtered to make it. And while it might sound incredibly futuristic, it’s likely we’ll be seeing more of it on the market as more companies get behind the idea, and regulatory authorities approve them for general sale.
Here’s what you need to know.
How is no-kill meat made?
A small sample of cells is taken from live animals and fed nutrients and grown into muscles in a laboratory. The process to make meat from the cells takes about four to six weeks.
What are the benefits?
There are multiple benefits to this type of meat, say its makers. Firstly, no animals are harmed in the making of it, which is a huge deal. Secondly, it’s considered better news for the planet.
Environmentalists have long warned that the world’s growing appetite for meat is not sustainable because beef, pork and poultry require far more resources than plant-based proteins. The greenhouse gases produced by cows, of which there are many, are also a problem.
Meat grown in a lab requires far less land, energy and water, though it will still depends on rearing and keep some animals to harvest cells for the production of the meat.
Is ‘no kill’ meat safe?
Due to it being such a new concept, not a huge amount is known about the potential health benefits and drawbacks of no-kill meat. However, it’s believed that cultured meat has a lower risk of containing intestinal pathogens that you’d find in animals like E.coli and Salmonella. It’s also unlikely to contain antibiotics.
Eat Just’s product has undergone rigorous testing to be approved by the Singapore Food Agency (SFA). According to the company, safety and quality validations demonstrated the cultured chicken met the same standards as poultry meat, with low and cleaner microbiological content than conventional chicken.
Eat Just also claims its 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.
As part of the SFA approval process, the cultured chicken was confirmed to be safe and nutritious for human consumption by an outside panel of international scientific authorities in Singapore and the US with expertise in medicine, toxicology, allergenicity, cell biology and food safety.
The SFA said: “It was found to be safe for consumption at the intended levels of use, and was allowed to be sold in Singapore as an ingredient in Eat Just’s nuggets product.”
Is it suitable for vegetarians?
An Eat Just spokesperson tells HuffPost UK that because its meat is real meat, but made from cells instead of animals that are raised and slaughtered, the cultured chicken it produces is not a plant-based, vegan or vegetarian product.
But because the meat is made in a way that does not involve animal suffering and the process of making it is generally considered better for the planet, some vegetarians say they would happlly eat it.
How affordable is it?
One of the key challenges of lab-grown meat is that it costs a lot to make, which means it also costs a fair bit to buy. Eat Just previously said it would sell cultured chicken nuggets at $50 each (almost £40), which let’s face it, most people wouldn’t pay for a plate of nuggets.
“Singapore is the first country in the world to approve cultured meat. We’re working with regulators in the U.S. and elsewhere on a path to market,” says its spokesperson. “We hope that Singapore can be a model for other countries as they create frameworks for companies to sell cultured meat.”
The company plans to first launch its product at a restaurant in Singapore – “we are working with their chef and team on the menu, accompaniments, and price,” says its spokesperson.
“Right from the start, we will be at price parity for premium chicken at a high-end restaurant. We’ve made considerable progress on what it costs to produce cultured meat as well. However, to achieve our mission, we’ll need to be below the cost of conventional chicken, which we expect to happen in the years ahead.”
As more people get on board with the idea and production of such products is scaled up, the price will inevitably come down.
Will it be coming to the UK?
So far there’s no news of Eat Just’s cultured chicken arriving on UK soil, however that’s not to say other no-kill meat products aren’t in development here. Chances are it’ll be a while before we see any in restaurants and on supermarket shelves, however.
The authorisation of ‘lab grown meat’ or ‘cultured meat’ in the UK will depend on how the food is produced. Any new food products (or food produced through a new process) that weren’t on the market before May 1997 are considered ‘novel foods’ and require pre-market authorisation.
Such products have to undergo a rigorous scientific risk assessment and be authorised before it can be sold. The Food Standards Agency (FSA) confirmed that, at present, no applications for such products have been submitted and, consequently, none can currently be marketed in the EU.
“The FSA’s top priority is ensuring that UK food is safe and what it says it is,” a spokesperson told HuffPost UK. “Our enhanced risk analysis process will ensure we are equipped to maintain the UK’s high standard of food safety and consumer protection.”
Researchers at the University of Bath have been growing meat in a laboratory to determine how they could make it on a large scale. One of the biggest issues facing “no-kill” meat producers is how to upscale the production to make it financially and environmentally sustainable to feed the masses.
Dr Marianne Ellis, senior lecturer in biochemical engineering, told PA Media last March: “The UK really is one of the key essential players globally on the scale-up so that is what we’re working on as engineers, developing systems to grow the cells on a large scale.”
“In terms of when we’re likely to see it in the supermarkets, probably the most advanced company at the moment is Mosa Meat and they are predicting four to five years,” Dr Ellis told PA.
So, who else is making it?
Mosa Meat’s founders introduced the world to the first cultured beef hamburger in 2013 by growing it naturally from cow cells. The Netherlands-based company is now working on scaling up production of the same beef product and getting the approvals it needs to sell it to the public.
While its first burger product cost a massive €250,000 to make, according to Sifted, the company now projects that each burger will cost a more palatable €9 thanks to tweaks in the production process.
Memphis Meats is another contender in the cultured meats market. Based in the San Francisco Bay Area, the company released the world’s first cell-based meatball in February 2016 and the world’s first cell-based poultry in March 2017. It also has investment from the likes of Bill Gates and Richard Branson.