Lab-grown meat could soon become a reality in restaurants

Executives at the top of their game in cultivated meat companies have reason to believe that lab-grown meat is just months away from hitting plates.
Kavita Verma
Cultivated steak in petri dishes
Cultivated steak

Elena Dy/iStock  

Showing bold confidence, renowned chefs like Francis Mallmann and José Andrés have eagerly stepped up to feature lab-grown meat – a cutting-edge cuisine in some of the world's most exclusive restaurants!

Obstacles before reaching its final destination

Lab-grown meat is a small sample of cells taken from livestock used to create the meat in bioreactors. In these bioreactors, they are fed nutrients and allowed to develop until they resemble real meat in both appearance and flavor.

For lab-grown meat to reach diners, companies are required to attract more funding to increase its production. It will allow them to offer chicken breasts and beef steaks at more affordable prices. Moreover, they must overcome consumers' reluctance even to try lab-grown meat.

The product has only so far been approved for retail sale in one nation, Singapore. However, the U.S. is ready to follow. In November, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) declared a chicken breast produced by UPSIDE Foods in California suitable for human consumption.

UPSIDE watershed moment

According to UPSIDE executives speaking to Reuters, the company now plans to introduce its product to restaurants as early as 2023 and grocery stores by 2028.

In order to be approved for the retail sale of lab-grown meat, UPSIDE still needs to be inspected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service. Also, they are required to get a sign-off from the agency on its labels. 

During a recent visit to UPSIDE's cutting-edge facility in Emeryville, California, reporters from Reuters were dazzled by the lab coat-clad engineers and scientists working on touch screens while overseeing mixtures of nutrient-rich water. 

In what CEO Uma Valeti euphemistically calls "the slaughterless house," meat is examined for wholesomeness before being served as part of their menu.

During the visit, Reuters reporters were given a taste of UPSIDE's lab-grown meat. When cooked, it tasted exactly like regular chicken, but when it was raw, it was thinner and had a more consistent tan hue.

After four years of negotiating with the FDA, this breakthrough startup was approved last November.

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As Valeti stated: "It's a watershed moment for the industry."

Lab-grown meat could soon become a reality in restaurants
Lab grown meat

FDA approval was just the first hurdle

Even though other companies such as Mosa Meat, Believer Meats, and GOOD Meat are filing for FDA approval – getting the approval is not the only hurdle. The biggest obstacle the companies are facing is growing the supply chain to produce a large quantity of cultivated meat.

Despite recent advancements in lab-cultivated meat, the current output produced by UPSIDE's facility is quite limited – with only 400,000 pounds of cultivated meat per year being manufactured. 

This pales in comparison to conventional meat production, which totaled 106 billion pounds last year, as reported by North American Meat Institute. 

Consequently, Josh Tetrick from GOOD Meat amplifies that until they build large-scale infrastructure to have at their disposal, production will remain on a very small scale compared to more established food sources.

The cultivated meat industry is stepping up to the plate, having raised an impressive $2 billion in investments so far! Large players such as JBS SA and Tyson Foods Inc. have invested significantly in this expanding sector with hopes of diversifying their global food portfolios. 

However, it will need hundreds of millions more dollars for GOOD Meat, for example, for bioreactor development, if they are going to produce enough on a large-scale basis. 

Although regulatory approval is still pending in many countries, companies like Believer Meats and GOOD Meat are not waiting around – they're expanding their cultivated meat production in the U.S. to produce massive quantities annually.

While Israel and other nations take steps to create frameworks for such products, these businesses show no sign of slowing down anytime soon.

Companies looking for a way to entice consumers. 

Cultivated meat companies are looking to entice consumers with their sustainable, ethical products. 

A key selling point is that the process does not involve any animal slaughter – a major factor for those who avoid meat on moral grounds. Additionally, growing and harvesting in an enclosed vessel could drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions compared to traditional livestock farming methods.

Although many people are wary of cultivated meat, it has a major advantage – companies can argue that it's 'real' meat.

In a 2022 study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, Janet Tomiyama, a health psychologist at UCLA, found that 55% of vegetarians and 35% of carnivores would not try it as they may deem it 'unnatural.' 

In order for shoppers not to reject this product outright before trying them, clarity from these companies is critical.

On the other hand, GOOD Meat and UPSIDE Foods are planning to whet American palates by releasing their lab-grown meat at luxury restaurants. Consumers who can tolerate high prices can get a first impression of their meat. 

Despite some apprehension regarding how well-received cultured meat will be taste-wise, Argentinian celebrity chef Mallmann believes it can still have allure if presented properly while emphasizing flavors over scientific facts.

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