Singapore has just become the first country to approve public consumption of chicken nuggets that have been grown in a laboratory. A US based company called Eat Just has won approval from the Singapore Food Agency to sell its cultured “chicken bites”. The CEO of Eat Just, Josh Tetrick has been quoted as saying “I think the approval is one of the most significant milestones in the food industry in the last handful of decades…..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.”
Traditional meat production and farming methods have come in for a huge amount of criticism over recent years, not least from the climate change brigade. Livestock need space and they need food. More and more land has been cleared to allow for the rearing of animals for food. Unfortunately the World’s population is ever increasing and putting more demand on natural resources.
Add to that the fact that cattle particularly produce a massive amount of methane, a greenhouse gas, and the environmentalists have a very strong argument for making us all eat a plant based diet. Many meat alternatives have hit the market but for a confirmed carnivore they just don’t cut the mustard. I understand, however, that if we want to do something positive for the environment then cutting back our meat consumption is going to be essential.
There are so many questions around this concept. So how do you grow meat without killing the animal? From what I have read it is a fairly simple idea. You start with stem cells, in this case from a chicken, put them in a culture to feed them and finally into a bioreactor. The CEO of Eat Just has compared the process to brewing beer.
The controversial part if you are not a meat eater is where the stem cells might come from. In cultured chicken that requires the use of unhatched eggs but in cattle they come from the blood of an unborn foetus – possibly from the cow that is being slaughtered.
So what does it taste like? I have absolutely no idea but as the old saying goes, “it tastes like chicken!” I am led to believe that you would not tell the difference between cultured chicken and one that had feathers and had run round the yard.
At present Eat Just only produces it in bite size pieces so it is ideal for nuggets or for companies that normally process chicken meat into other shapes and sizes. However, whilst researching this I came across an article in The Guardian newspaper about a restaurant in Israel producing cultured chicken burgers in a lab behind the kitchen. Currently their meat is not approved for sale but I am sure that is about to change.
Is it safe? Singaporian authorities believe so. The process has to be stable and consistent to be permitted for human consumption. The product is also reportedly healthier than regular chicken with higher protein levels and lower levels of pathogens such as salmonella and campylobacter. And there are not any antibiotics used in the production. Most of the harmful part of meat comes from contact with the gut of the animal or its feces.
Will cultured meat be acceptable to both meat eaters and vegetarians? Convincing a generation of hardened meat lovers that something grown in a lab is actually meat is going to be challenging but I can see some people who gave up eating meat due to concerns over animal cruelty or the environmental impact of producing meat, giving it a go. Either way this is only the start and I am sure we will see cultured meat making an appearance in many pre packed ready meals in the very near future. It will open the old argument of knowing where your food comes from.