The Silicon Valley startup known for creating a plant-based egg substitute is now set on launching lab-grown meat into the mainstream. After receiving what it called “first-in-the-world” approval in December, Eat Just made its inaugural commercial sale of chicken created directly from animal cells. The futuristic food made its debut appropriately enough at a dinner of young climate change activists at 1880, a private members’ club in Singapore.
To produce the biotech marvel, stem cells taken from the fat or muscle of an animal are placed in a culture medium. These are then moved to a bioreactor, a sterile enclosure containing nutrient liquids to support cell growth. The resulting product contains no antibiotics and minimal microbiological content, such as salmonella and E. coli, and no chickens are killed to secure the cells needed to make Good Meat.
The project is part of what Good Food Institute executive director Bruce Friedrich calls “a new space race for the future of food.” Bill Gates and Sir Richard Branson are among the heavyweights funding other lab-meat first-movers, all looking to inject more positive social impact into animal agriculture. And with good reason: Global meat consumption is on the rise, expected to increase 1.4 percent per year through 2023, according to a 2020 study by Packaged Facts. But the segment is also one of the leading causes of soil erosion and pollution, deforestation and biodiversity loss. A special U.N. intergovernmental report even described moving away from meat as a major opportunity to mitigate climate change.
“This historic step moves us closer to a world where the majority of meat we eat will not require tearing down a single forest, displacing a single animal’s habitat or using a single drop of antibiotics,” Eat Just co-founder and CEO Josh Tetrick said.
Already a testing ground for autonomous vehicles and other hyperconnected innovations, Singapore is now out to stake its claim as an incubator for next-gen sustainable food production, too. The Singapore Food Agency and the country’s Agency for Science, Technology and Research have invested SG$144 million for research funding to seed a government initiative that aims to increase the country’s locally sourced food supply from less than 10 percent to 30 percent by 2030.
Eat Just spent nearly two years working to gain approval from the Singapore Food Agency. To get the project across the finish line, the company completed 20 production runs to demonstrate their facilities consistently met the safety and quality standards for poultry meat.
That rigor should help the team prepare for what’s next: scaling Good Meat for production in other countries, including the United States. But the synthetic sustenance will face some serious obstacles, including resistance from conventional meat producers. Eat Just also needs to bring down its production costs. But Tetrick says a solution is already in the works: Moving to higher-capacity bioreactors will help the company put a price tag on Good Meat that aligns with premium chicken.