Most cultured meat is made in a similar way. Cells are taken from an animal, often via a biopsy or from an established animal cell line. These cells are then fed a nutrient broth and placed in a bioreactor, where they multiply until there are enough to harvest for use in meatballs or nuggets. A slew of startups have been founded using variations on this approach, in the belief that cultured meat will appeal to flexitarians—people who want to reduce the amount of meat they eat for ethical or environmental reasons, but don’t want to give it up entirely.
The budding industry has progressed a long way since a $330,000 burger was famously cooked on TV in 2013, driven by the idea that if it’s done right, meat could be produced with far lower greenhouse-gas emissions and zero animal suffering. But cost is still a hurdle: the high price of the growth factors required to develop the cells mean the price tags for pure cultured meat products are still measured in hundreds of dollars per pound, far too expensive to compete with regular meat. So Just’s first chicken products will be chicken “bites” that use cultured chicken cells mixed with plant protein—although Tetrick wouldn’t say in what proportion. “Chicken nuggets are already blended—this one wont be any different,” he says. The bites will be labeled as “cultured chicken” on the restaurant’s menu.
Singapore’s decision could kick-start the first wave of regulatory approvals around the world.
“We are hoping and expecting that the US, China, and the EU will pick up the gauntlet that Singapore just threw down,” says Bruce Friedrich, executive director of the Good Food Institute, a nonprofit that works in meat alternatives. “Nothing is more important for the climate than a shift away from industrial animal agriculture.”
While Just has beaten them to the punch, many big firms are already working with regulators to get their own products to market. This is not something to be rushed, Friedrich says: “It is critical for cultivated meat companies to be extra careful and to go beyond consumer expectation in ensuring consumer comfort with their products.”
Memphis Meats, which counts Bill Gates, Richard Branson, and traditional meat manufacturer Tyson Foods among its many investors, has teamed up with a number of other firms, including Just and cultured-seafood makers BlueNalu and Finless Foods, to form a lobbying group that is working with US regulators to get their products approved.