Roll up! Roll up! Who will be first to sample ‘cultivated’ meat? Neither I, nor anyone else I know, would volunteer as a lab rat for this speculative project.
You’d think the dismal sales performance of ‘plant-based meat’ would dampen investors’ appetite for meat fakery of all types. Beyond Meat’s sales have plummeted yet again and Mintel research shows consumers are abandoning plant-based meat. It tastes horrible, can’t compare nutritionally with real meat, and sells at a mysteriously expensive price point for such a patently ultra-processed concoction.
Now the UK has received its first application to sell cultivated meat – also known as ‘cultured’, ‘lab’ or ‘cellular’ – from an Israeli startup with the inappropriately bucolic name Aleph Farms. It describes itself as “a cellular agriculture company active in the food technology space”.
The track record of this particular company with its “new take on steak” stretches back all the way to 2017. Not my idea of tried and tested.
Still, Leonardo DiCaprio lends his endorsement: “With their one-of-a-kind cultivated steaks, they [Aleph] demonstrate how creativity and ingenuity can help solve some of humanity’s greatest challenges.”
Showbiz glamour can’t buy consent. Worldwide, only two cellular ‘chicken’ products have been authorised for sale, in Singapore and the US. The European food safety Authority will require a full safety evaluation for such products, but the lack of public information on production methods limits regulators’ ability to carry out any such assessment.
Might Aleph Farms see post-Brexit Britain as a more hopeful foot-in-the-door to the European market?
Before this lab meat can be sold in the UK, Aleph Farms’ products must be approved by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) following an assessment process that could take up to 18 months.
I have little faith in the FSA to make sound judgements about the food we eat, and I would not be surprised if Aleph Farms views it as a potential regulatory pushover compared to other jurisdictions.
But I do have faith in British people. While we might initially embrace fleeting food fashions more willingly than many other nationalities, at the end of the day our food instincts are sound.
Cell meat is a very hard sell.