Lab “meat” goes on sale in one restaurant in Singapore: $50 a piece “chicken” nuggets – and it’s only a matter of time until it lands on our plates. Do you find that scenario credible? I don’t.
No sooner had headlines hailing them as the landmark product that “could open the door to a future when all meat is produced without the killing of livestock” appeared than the jokes followed. Coq au Vat. Foul. Petri petri chicken. I’m sorry to burst the bubble of bluff and puff floated by speculative enterprises in search of investors, but lab ‘meat’ is a horribly difficult proposition to sell.
You can understand the initial appeal in Singapore. A state that imports 90% of the food it eats will clutch at techno-straws to improve its food security until market reality sets in. But throughout the UK, Europe, North and South America – most of the world in fact – livestock rearing is part of national life.
And to whom exactly is this crazily expensive lab attempt at meat meant to appeal? The stem cells used to start the Singapore process came from chicken feather, and involved biopsies of live animals. The nutrient broth in the bioreactor where this material grew included foetal bovine serum, extracted from foetal blood. Why would vegans, or vegetarians, ever give such products the time of day? The ‘yuck’ factor is massive.
As for omnivores, why on earth would we desert traditionally reared meat for this fool’s gold? You only have to step into a proper butcher’s shop in the lead-up to Christmas to see just how greatly people prize good meat and how embedded meat-eating is in our culture. While most of these customers might not have chapter and verse on it, they understand that meat is more than a pile of uniform cells. There’s bone, muscle, cartilage, gelatine, lean and fat, offal, different cuts, different breeds, different feed, different ages, different production methods. Real meat is more than anonymous proteinaceous matter at the centre of an ultra-processed product.
These Singapore nuggets are a publicity stunt that seeks to take advantage of a tiny chink in an otherwise hostile regulatory landscape. Gaining acceptance for a gut-churning product is a daunting mission.