In a few years meat grown in laboratories from animal cells may become part of our regular diet, a prospect that raises complex technical, social and ethical questions
I am sitting at a kitchen worktop in the airy offices of San Francisco food startup Eat JUST. As a vegetarian, I’m in angst about what is being gently turned over for me in the fryer by one of the chefs. Sitting beside me, the company’s CEO Josh Tetrick tries to put my moral dilemma into perspective. “You’re not my target market,” he says. “It’s people who are eating meat for breakfast, lunch and dinner.”
The product in the fryer is a JUST prototype chicken nugget, which costs about $50 to make. It is manufactured from what the industry calls cultured, cell-based or cultivated meat (though the outside world knows it more commonly as lab-grown meat). Not to be confused with “meat” that is plant derived, it is produced directly from animal cells with little need to raise and no need to slaughter actual animals. It is a technology with the potential to fundamentally change the world – significantly replacing the way meat is produced now with a kinder and less environmentally damaging alternative.
Cultured meat is a “colossal” market opportunity says Bruce Friedrich, co-founder and executive director of the Good Food Institute (GFI), a nonprofit organisation that promotes cultured meat and plant-based meat. Even a tiny bite of the $1.4tn annual global meat market would be a lot.
No cultured meat products are on the market yet and nor has it been approved in any country – but they are expected to begin trickling into high-end restaurants over the next couple of years. A plethora of companies are at various stages of scaling up production and several have done public and private tasting of various prototypes. They are working on everything from chicken to beef to fish and have both humans and pets in their sights.