Singapore is currently the only country in the world where lab-grown meat is being sold to the public. The chicken, produced by California-based Eat Just, was approved for public sale in Singapore last December. Huber’s Butchery and Bistro, located in Singapore, is the only restaurant in the world with cultivated meat on its menu, and feedback from customers so far has been described as “phenomenal” according to the restaurant’s owner.

Cultivated meat is made by extracting cells from an animal and feeding them with nutrients such as proteins, sugars, and fats before being placed in a large steel bioreactor to grow. The resulting material is harvested from the bioreactor after four to six weeks and has vegetable protein added before being molded, cooked, and 3D printed to give it the required shape and texture. Unlike plant-based substitutes, cultivated meat is meat, and the taste and texture are almost indistinguishable from conventionally-produced meat.

However, despite the advantages of lab-grown meat, it remains expensive compared to conventional meat, with production capacity still very low. Eat Just will not say exactly how much it spends on producing its cultivated chicken, but the company’s production capacity only yields 2kg (4.4lb) or 3kg per week in Singapore, compared to the 4,000kg – 5,000kg of conventional chicken sold weekly at Huber’s alone. The high cost of production and limited availability remain the biggest barriers to the widespread use of cultivated meat.

The industry is urging patience since scaling up production and reducing costs is a significant challenge. Many scientists have doubts about the viability and sustainability of cultivated meat and its ability to reduce carbon emissions. While in theory, reducing the world’s reliance on land and livestock for meat production should result in fewer carbon emissions, the advanced technology required to create cultivated meat is so energy-intensive that it cancels out any benefits. In fact, the process produces between 4 and 25 times as much carbon dioxide as regular beef. Consequently, there are doubts about the industry’s green credentials.

Despite the challenges, investors have spent an estimated $2.8bn on developing cultivated meat, but this may not be enough if cultivated meat is to become anything more than a niche alternative for the well-off in developed countries. Governments will need to put “significant public money” into cultivated meat for it to rival conventionally slaughtered meat, according to Eat Just CEO Josh Tetrick. At present, no country outside Singapore has authorized the sale of cultivated meat, let alone committed serious investment.

The transition to cultivated meat could take several lifetimes, and success is far from guaranteed. But Tetrick believes that making meat in this way is necessary and highly uncertain. He says, “It’s not straightforward. It’s complicated. It’s not guaranteed, and it might not work out. But the other option for us is not to do anything, so we decided to take a bet and go for it.” The industry is at a crossroads where it must look in the mirror and present realistic forecasts to investors; otherwise, both private and public funding for Cultivated meat companies is likely to dry up.

Overall, the emergence of lab-grown meat represents a significant shift in the way we produce and consume food. While Singapore is currently the only country where cultivated meat is being sold to the public, there is growing interest and investment in this industry. Despite its potential benefits, there are still significant challenges to overcome, particularly in terms of cost, scalability, and sustainability. More research and development is necessary to improve the production process and bring down costs.

At the same time, regulatory frameworks must be established to ensure the safety and quality of cultivated meat products. Nonetheless, the possibilities for this innovative technology are significant, and it could play a crucial role in creating a more sustainable and ethical food system in the future.