By now, we’re all probably aware of the need to reduce our intake of meat – it’s not just for our health, but also for the environment. That’s why many companies are now trying to come up with the next ‘clean meat’, and we’re not talking about tofu or veggie replacements – we’re talking about real meat that’s actually grown in labs. And this ‘cultured meat’ (aka lab-grown meat) could be the future of food.
What exactly is lab-grown meat?
Cultured meat is different from your meat alternatives like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods – those are made from plants which are engineered to ‘bleed’ like meat. While it’s a boon for the vegan community, meat eaters still prefer real meat that doesn’t compromise on the quality and taste, and yet could eliminate much of the cruel treatment of animals and the environmental toll of factory farming.
Enter cultured meat: while it doesn’t come from a dead animal, the reason it behaves like meat is because it is. It’s actually made by taking a muscle sample from an animal, which is then fed a nutrient-rich fetal bovine serum to stimulate the cells to grow on their own. According to Mosa Meat, one tissue sample from a cow can yield enough muscle tissue to make 80,000 burgers!
Beef isn’t the only meat on the menu either: lamb, chicken, duck, kangaroo, and even seafood are in the works.
A number of startups – Memphis Meats, Aleph Farms, Higher Steaks, Mosa Meat and Meatable, to name a few – are in the race to produce the first commercially-viable cultured meat, and they’re expected to hit the shelves in the next few years.
Making meat from… your breath
If you think that’s impressive, a number of startups like Air Protein, Solar Foods, and Calaysta are actually creating protein out of thin air! Researchers have found a type of microbe that can convert carbon dioxide into protein which is then turned into a flavourless powder. This powder is then used to develop meat alternatives and protein supplements.
Singapore’s very own lab-grown meat
Soon, you’ll be able to eat lab-grown lobsters, crabs, and shrimps made by local enterprise Shiok Meats, Southeast Asia’s first cell-based seafood company, which is helmed by two women founders, Dr Ka Yi Ling and Dr Sandhya Sriram.
Currently, a kilogram of their shrimp – which resembles mincemeat – costs S$5,000 to produce, but it could drop to just S$50 by next year. Next on their list are lobsters and crabs, the prices of which could be significantly cheaper than live ones since the global lobster population is being threatened massively by global warming.
In addition to being cost-friendly, they’re also free from microplastics and other ocean pollutants.
Why should we try them?
There are many pros for cultured meat; lab-grown beef requires 45% less energy use, 99% less land use, and produces 96% fewer greenhouse gas emissions than conventional beef. In terms of health, you won’t be eating meat injected with antibiotics or growth hormones, and contagious diseases like bird flu or swine fever will be a thing of the past.
For land-scarce Singapore, the possibility of growing our own food is also about food security. Imagine having our own meat industry without issues like pollution or space scarcity.
While cultured meat could compete with traditional meat in the future, people will always be sensitive about what they eat. The thought of your burger coming from a lab can be a strange idea, but much like genetically-modified (GM) food, people will slowly overcome that hurdle.