Singapore has become the first country in the world to approve the sale of cultured meat. On Wednesday, the city-state’s Food Agency gave Eat Just, a US startup best known for its plant-based egg substitute, the go-ahead to sell its lab-grown chicken as an ingredient in chicken bites (pictured above). The company told NBC News initial availability of its meat will be limited, with only a single restaurant selling the nuggets to start. However, Eat Just plans to eventually sell the meat directly to consumers as it increases its manufacturing capacity.
Cultured meat is different from the plant-based alternatives we’ve seen from companies like Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat. In this case, it’s real meat that’s created by taking stem cells from an animal’s muscle or fat tissue and putting it in a medium that supports their growth. Josh Tetrick, the company’s CEO, compared the process to brewing beer. The resulting chicken is both safe to eat and includes a high amount of protein and a diversified amino acid composition.
Additionally, one major advantage of Eat Just’s manufacturing process is that it doesn’t involve any antibiotics. The overuse of antibiotics in industrial farming is turning into something of a ticking time bomb when it comes to human health.“We think that [the way] to really solve the meat problem — which is a health problem, a deforestation problem, a morality problem — is to make animal protein,” Tetrick told NBC News.
The startup had been working toward regulatory approval for approximately two years. As part of the process, it had to show it could consistently manufacture the cultured chicken. While Singapore’s decision to allow Eat Just’s could encourage other countries to follow suit, regulatory approval in the US and other countries where land isn’t in scarce supply is likely years away. In the US, in particular, there are strong lobby groups that represent cattle and other animal farmers that will be against cultured meat.