Winner Winner, Chicken Dinner

When you hear the term “cultured” meat, you might think of fine Kobe beef or a thinly sliced Prosciutto.
But cultured meat is actually grown in a lab using animal cells.

Yesterday, Singapore became the first country in the world to grant regulatory approval for a lab-grown meat product.

Meat-ing Expectations

To be clear, we are not talking about plant-based substitutes. Scientists have fine-tuned a process to create real meat from a petri dish, without the slaughtering and environmental footprint of the traditional meat industry.

On Wednesday the Singapore Food Agency said that cell-based chicken made by U.S. startup Eat Just meets its safety standards for use in chicken nuggets, opening the door to a commercial launch of cultured meat.

As a nation that imports 90% of its food, Singapore has prioritized agricultural tech investments as crucial to its food security:

  • This year Singapore investment firm Temasek teamed up with Bayer to create seeds for vertical farming – or growing crops in stacked layers to increase yield per acre (useful when your nation is about ¼ the size of Rhode Island.)
  • And Singapore is also launching an agri-food tech hub next year to develop urban food production systems for the region.

For its part, Eat Just has inked partnerships with Singaporean manufacturers to produce cultured chicken cells locally under its new GOOD Meat brand. Nuggets are all that’s on the menu for now, but the startup plans to file a permit to also bring fillets to the table.

Getting Cultured

While everyone from Tyson Foods to Softbank is investing in the budding cultured protein sector, food experts say there are still obstacles to widespread consumption:

  • Scaling up production will be a beefy task. Analysts from research firm IDTechEx claim that “reaching commercial scale will require time and investment into equipment development.”
  • And while start-ups report that younger consumers are open to cell-based protein, convincing people to line up en masse for meat grown in a vat is a dubious prospect.

But if wheatgrass shots are a thing, anything is possible.

The Takeaway: Eat Just said its nuggets will cost as much as a restaurant’s premium chicken dish. That might sound pricey, but it’s a step down from the first lab-grown burger, which cost roughly $300K to produce in 2013.