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Cell-cultured meat facility like a beer brewery: Eat Just

Cell-cultured meat may be an innovation that started out in a laboratory – but when scaled up, it will be done in a facility similar to a beer brewery, said Mr Josh Tetrick, chief executive of Eat Just.

“The meat we’re making is created in large cultivators or bioreactors that, in time, will resemble a beer brewery or similar facility used for production of cultured food products,” he said.

The Californian start-up has just received approval from the Singapore authorities to sell its cultured chicken bites here – the first time that cultured meat products will be available on the market.

Mr Tetrick said: “(Referring to it as) lab-made is a red herring and has an inherently negative connotation. Many of the foods we eat… including most processed foods, start in a lab setting and are scaled up and commercialised.”

The creation of the cultured meat product begins with isolating cells from an animal, which can be done through methods such as performing a biopsy from a live animal, or getting the cells from an established animal cell bank.

Then, the cells are transferred into a nutrient-rich culture media, where they naturally multiply.

“Once a culture of cells has been established, the cells are fed with a proprietary mix of proteins, amino acids, minerals, sugars and salts and other nutrients while inside of a bioreactor, which mimics conditions inside the body of an animal,” said Mr Tetrick.

Once the animal cells achieve a sufficient density within the bioreactor, they are harvested.

“The harvested product can be used by chefs in multiple final formats, from less-structured crispy chicken bites, savoury chorizo and sausages, to more textured products such as grilled chicken breasts,” he said.

Ms Elaine Siu, managing director of The Good Food Institute Asia-Pacific, an international non-profit organisation that promotes protein alternatives, said cultivating meat in the equivalent of a brewery is safer, cleaner and more efficient than raising animals in farms.

“Rather than growing muscle tissue inside live animals, cultivated meat producers take a few animal cells and use a mixture of nutrients to grow those cells into a piece of meat,” she said.

“As a result, we get pure meat, the production of which doesn’t require antibiotics, doesn’t require slaughter, and doesn’t suffer from fecal E. coli, salmonella or other contamination.”

Also, factory farms are not so natural, Ms Siu noted, adding: “Almost all conventional meat is the product of both artificial insemination and massive doses of growth-promoting drugs.”

The need for alternative proteins is mounting in the face of challenges such as feeding a growing global population and climate change. Alternative protein is considered more sustainable as large volumes can be produced with relatively small amounts of land and labour. But more studies need to be done before the pros and cons of cultured meat can be assessed.

A paper published in scientific journal Frontiers In Nutrition in February noted that in terms of environmental impact, there has been no consensus about cultivated meat compared with conventional meat.

The paper also said the loss of the livestock sector would have implications on related industries, such as wool, fibre and leather, and impact rural populations that depend on livestock for income.

Audrey Tan

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