Just as the world is coming around to plant-based meats, lab-grown products are on the cusp of commercial viability. Global investment reached a record $3.2 billion in 2020, and the number of start-ups in the sector increased from around a dozen in 2017 to more than 100 today. Notable names include Eat Just (chicken) and Wildtype (sushi-grade salmon) in San Francisco, Singapore–based Shiok Meats (shrimp and crab), and Israeli companies Aleph Farms (beef) and Future Meat Technologies (chicken, pork, lamb). While the industry has yet to coalesce around a name for its product—cultivated, cell-based, and no-kill seem to be the most common, along with “cellular agriculture”—the potential benefits of cell-cultured meat appear promising. According to a study in the Journal of Environmental Science and Technology, it could take up to 40% less energy use, 99% lower land use, 85% lower greenhouse gas emissions, and 90% less water to produce. Another boon could be on the health front with potential lower cholesterol and saturated fat levels and the elimination of bacterial contamination such as E.coli.
So how long until you’ll be ordering lab-grown chicken parm, spicy tuna rolls, or Wagyu beef at your favorite restaurant? The FDA and U.S. Department of Agriculture already agreed to regulate cultured meat products in 2019 and the U.S. should see them begin to proliferate later this year or in 2022. Before you thumb your nose up at this nascent technology consider this: a writer for Bloomberg tried the pan-seared duck, harvested from a bioreactor, in 2018 and rendered a verdict that it was, wait for it, indistinguishable from the real thing. Three cheers for hashtag science.