The Cultured Meat Revolution: Singapore and Israel One Step Closer to Commercializing Lab Grown Chicken

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Although still in its infancy, the lab-grown meat sector is attempting to tackle the unsustainable food supply shortage without damaging the environment. Researchers at a variety of emerging startups are beginning to offer surprisingly innovative solutions to the demand for meat without the need to kill live animals. This nascent form of cellular agriculture has the potential to rely on 3D printing technology in the near future. In fact, several startups have already added cultured meat to the list of ingredients they are using to 3D print cuts of non-animal meat.

During the first week of December 2020, we learned that cell-cultured chicken meat had taken a leap from the lab and into the customer’s plate, as Singapore and Israel are leading the way by allowing the commercialization of new fake meat alternatives. The plant-based food startup Eat Just was granted the world’s first regulatory approval to sell its cultured chicken meat in Singapore as an ingredient in chicken bites, while Israeli startup SuperMeat now offers vegetarian chicken meat grown directly from chicken cells in its own new restaurant, the world’s first “test kitchen,” located in the city of Ness Ziona, near Tel Aviv.

Eat Just’s cell-cultured chicken grilled by a Chef. Image courtesy of Eat Just/GOOD Meat

The Silicon Valley food start-up Eat Just, best known for its vegan mayo, eggs from plants, and overall plant-based alternatives to conventionally-produced egg products, has food engineers and computational biologists working on cutting-edge science and technology to create healthier, more sustainable foods, looking to build a food system that makes it really easy for people to eat well. On December 1, 2020, the startup announced that, after a rigorous consultation and review process, its cultured chicken had been approved for sale in Singapore.

Co-founder and CEO of Eat Just Josh Tetrick said, “Singapore has long been a leader in innovation of all kinds, from information technology to biologics to now leading the world in building a healthier, safer food system. I’m sure that our regulatory approval for cultured meat will be the first of many in Singapore and in countries around the globe. Working in partnership with the broader agriculture sector and forward-thinking policymakers, companies like ours can help meet the increased demand for animal protein as our population climbs to 9.7 billion by 2050.”

Cultured meat is not yet available for sale anywhere in the world, but Singapore’s regulatory approval of real, high-quality meat, created directly from animal cells for safe human consumption paves the way for a forthcoming small-scale commercial launch in Singapore of Eat Just’s new GOOD Meat brand, created especially to commercialize the first-ever approved cultured chicken that will be priced just like a restaurant-quality premium chicken.

GOOD Meat Cultured Chicken on a grill. Image courtesy of Business Wire

The company begins by sourcing a small number of animal cells from high-quality poultry and then feed those cells nutrients, including amino acids, carbohydrates, minerals, fats, and vitamins, which grow the cells into meat. Instead of growing the entire animal, GOOD Meat only produces the edible portion, using fewer resources and completing growth in weeks rather than months or years. Then, the harvested product can be used by chefs in multiple formats, from less structured crispy chicken bites, savory chorizo, and sausages, to more textured products such as grilled chicken breasts, according to GOOD Meat. The company is also working on other types of meat, including beef utilizing cells from California pasture-raised cattle and Wagyu from the Toriyama farm in Japan.

According to the company, cultured meat’s role in creating a safer, more secure global food supply has been well-documented, and the last decade has given rise to a steady increase in the application of animal cell culture technology toward the development of food products. However, meat production has risen dramatically, projected to increase more than 70% by 2050, and is continually associated with major public health crises. More efficient and less environmentally harmful ways of producing meat are urgently needed to satisfy the growing consumer demand.

The Singapore Food Agency (SFA), the country’s regulatory safe food authority, and Eat Just have undertaken a rigorous approval process to bring cultivated meat to market in Singapore. Eat Just has demonstrated a consistent manufacturing process of their cultured chicken by running over 20 production runs in 1,200-liter bioreactors, without using any antibiotics throughout the proprietary process. Safety and quality validations demonstrated that harvested cultured chicken met the standards of poultry meat, with extremely low and significantly cleaner microbiological content than conventional chicken, and confirmed to be safe and nutritious for human consumption by a distinguished outside panel of international scientific authorities in Singapore and the United States.

When compared to conventional chicken, cultured chicken has much lower microbiological content because the chicken cells are grown in a safe, sterile, and controlled environment. Image courtesy of GOOD Meat

“Singapore has thrown down the gauntlet and other countries need to pick it up,” said The Good Food Institute’s Executive Director Bruce Friedrich. “Cultivated meat will mark an enormous advance in our efforts to create a food supply that is safe, secure, and sustainable, and Singapore is leading the way on this transition. A new space race for the future of food is underway. As nations race to divorce meat production from industrial animal agriculture, countries that delay their investment in this bright food future risk getting left behind.”

SuperMeat’s cell-cultured chicken burger served at its test kitchen restaurant The Chicken. Image courtesy of SuperMeat

In Israel, new bio- and food-tech startup SuperMeat, which is developing a technology to create clean meat from chicken cells in a controlled environment, opened its own restaurant. Called The Chicken, it is the world’s first test kitchen serving a menu of dishes developed from cultured chicken grown directly from chicken cells. The experience invites guests to observe the production plant and process and sit at the heart of a seasonally-inspired menu of locally-grown, freshly-sourced dishes made by a team of chefs in an open kitchen. The main course is the cultured chicken burger.

The Chicken, a restaurant experience where customers can enjoy SuperMeat’s cultured chicken meat at the factory-side. Image courtesy of SuperMeat

Hungry foodies who wish to dine at The Chicken can apply for a table here, as the restaurant is working on an invitation-only basis due to the ongoing COVID-19 restrictions. The restaurant’s first guest was The Guardian’s Jerusalem correspondent, Oliver Holmes, who described the experience as “similar to many chicken burgers, it breaks and flakes when pulled apart and is extremely tender.”

Similar to Eat Just, to manufacture this new type of fake meat, SuperMeat takes cells from a chicken only once. Once they are placed in a meat fermenter, warmth, oxygen, and feed make the cells grow and mature into meat tissue just as they would in the animal’s body. When the meat is mature, SuperMeat scientists harvest it from the fermenter by removing the remaining liquid feed. Finally, after the “chicken” has been harvested, it is ready to be prepped, cooked, and turned into a dish.

SuperMeat’s exponential manufacturing system: meat mass doubles every couple of hours, providing high harvest meat yield daily. Image courtesy of SuperMeat

So, when will most of us get a chance to taste lab-grown meat? Chances are “somewhere north of 15 years,” suggested Tetrick during a 2020 Smart Kitchen Summit (SKS) panel. To date, 34 companies worldwide are attempting to produce cell-based meat, the majority of them are located in the U.S. and Israel, and several are beginning to move from the laboratory to the factory. Although researchers estimate that the successful introduction of cell-based meat that looks and tastes just like the real one has the potential to displace conventional meat in the marketplace, the technology still has a long way to go, as both price and regulation barriers in almost every country remain some of the biggest challenges.

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