The short history of meat being produced in a lab for human consumption (otherwise known as "clean" or "cultured" meat) goes like this: In 2013, researchers at a Dutch institute in London announced they had successfully made the world's first lab-grown beef burger from the use of billions of cow cells. The man-made burger cost over $300,000 to produce at the time, according to the BBC.
Then, in 2018, U.S. company Memphis Meats, which had made its own ground beef in a lab, priced a quarter pound of it at $600, according to The Scientific American. The mass production of animal-free meats seemed like it was still just a pipe dream, but companies started to pop up in hot pursuit of creating clean fish, shrimp, and even chicken.
Fast-forward to today, and lab-grown chicken nuggets have officially been approved to be sold at a restaurant in Singapore—and for a bit above the price of premium chicken, according to Reuters. Singapore is the first country to approve the San Francisco-based startup, Eat Just, Inc., and its new brand GOOD Meat, to sell its lab-grown chicken to customers. (Eat Just also makes JUST Egg, a plant-based egg product, which is currently sold in the U.S.) The chicken bites are made from cells sourced from a biopsy of a live non-GMO chicken, which has been cultured in bioreactors and fed plant nutrients that grow the cells into a final chicken-like product within a few weeks. According to GOOD Meat, no animals need to be slaughtered in the process, and the cultured chicken is nutritionally identical to conventional chicken. The company says the cost of production is also coming down, which will make the chicken nuggets cheaper for diners as well.
This development is part of the revolution that could change the future of meat—and how we make it—forever. As we've seen, demand for meat alternatives is higher than ever—even McDonald's has entered the plant-based burger wars. All of these recent advancements in the field mean people who avoid eating meat or are turning to plant-based alternatives for health, environmental, and/or ethical purposes can now enjoy a version of it without sacrificing their values. Compared to meat made from animals, a preliminary study found that lab-grown meat emits 78-96% less greenhouse gas emissions, uses 99% less land, and 82-96% less water.
"I think the approval is one of the most significant milestones in the food industry in the last handful of decades," Eat Just's CEO Josh Tetrick recently told The Guardian. "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."
Of course, there are still challenges ahead before the world completely turns on conventional meat and goes 100% plant-based or lab-grown. And one of the primary concerns about lab-grown meat is the taste. "Is it different? For sure," Tetrick said. "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."
In the meantime, here are ways you can reduce the amount of meat you eat right now, and even more meat substitutes to consider.
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