Got chicken? Singapore becomes first to approve lab-grown meat

US-based Eat Just’s meat is created from animal cells, not plant-based substitutes. After chicken, beef may be next.

Eat Just is making Singapore the global hub for its cultured meat production [File: Eat Just handout via Reuters)

Eat Just Inc., a maker of meat and egg substitutes, has been approved to sell its laboratory-created chicken in Singapore, which becomes the first government to allow the sale of cultured meat.

The product, created from animal cells without the slaughter of any chickens, will debut in Singapore under the GOOD Meat brand as a chicken bite with breading and seasoning in a single restaurant. Eat Just is initially working with local manufacturer the Food Innovation and Resource Centre to make the cultured chicken. Additionally, the company is buying more equipment to expand sales to other restaurants — and eventually grocery stores.

“We want Singapore to be the focus of our manufacturing globally,” Chief Executive Officer Josh Tetrick said in an interview. “They’re just really forward thinking in building an enabling environment for this kind of work.”

He added that the chicken’s flavor and taste are the same as the real thing.

Singapore is moving quickly to allow the sale of cultured meat, a move that fits into its broader food-security agenda. The densely populated nation, which relies mostly on other countries for food, has deepened its focus on getting enough to eat for its 5.7 million people as the Covid-19 crisis exposes fragility in supply chains worldwide.

In response to the pandemic, Singapore is trying to produce 30% of its own food by 2030, up from less than 10% today. It has recently accelerated funding for local farms.

“Singapore has really spent a lot more time and energy getting this right than Western Europe and the U.S.,” Tetrick said.

The new chicken product will be priced similar to premium chicken for the first six months, Tetrick said, adding that the cost will come down over time as the company builds global scale. “Eventually we want to get to the place where it is significantly more cost effective than conventional production.”

That could take a while, since chicken is one of the most inexpensive proteins. In the U.S., it’s also the most popular — with consumption being higher than that of any other meat. Grocery stores regularly sell $5 whole rotisserie chickens, and some restaurants offer $1 chicken sandwiches.

Humane, Sustainable

At the same time, fast-food chains and grocery stores have been rapidly adding meat alternatives to their menus. While cultured meat is real meat, and not a plant-based substitute, it can be marketed as more humane and environmentally sustainable.

In Singapore, cultured burgers may be next. Eat Just is planning to submit its application for lab-created beef there during the first half of next year. The approval process for cultured meat products is moving slower in Europe and the U.S.

San Francisco-based Eat Just, which isn’t yet profitable, is planning an initial public offering in the U.S. at some point.

“Our plan is to hit operating profitability before the end of next year,” Tetrick said, adding the company would look to go public at some point after that.

Source: Bloomberg