Question Your World: Did the US Approve Sales of Lab-Grown Meat?

Posted: July 26, 2023

For the last decade or so we’ve been hearing about meat-substitutes, especially the controversial topic of lab-grown meat. Some folks are super excited while others are very apprehensive. One thing’s for sure: the research behind this meaty topic is not slowing down. In fact, as of 2023, our planet now has two countries that have legally approved the sale of lab-grown meat. Is the US one of them?

The answer: yes! Singapore approved the sale of lab-grown meat in 2020, and this year the United States can now sell lab-grown chicken meat. 

Lab-grown meat basically works like this: scientists take a cell sample from a living creature’s cells or from a fertilized chicken egg. Those cells are then cultured in a nutrient broth and grown in bulk. The resulting muscle mush is molded into shapes or extruded into “ground meat” products.

The process itself is quite expensive at this point, but like a lot of other technology, it could get better, faster and cheaper as time goes on. In the decade since the introduction of the first lab-grown beef patty that cost a whopping $330,000, the price has dropped precipitously. Even with the dramatic price drop, this process is still more expensive and provides less yield than a regular burger or chicken nugget. 

Current production amounts for cultivated meat are small, about 50,000 pounds per facility. Although the few facilities currently in existence have a goal to expand to about 400,000 pounds of cultivated chicken annually, this is minuscule considering that in the US alone, 50 billion pounds of chicken is produced per year! 

So, why are scientists going up against such a huge challenge? There are many reasons!

  • Worldwide, the demand for meat is increasing, up 58% over the last 20 years!
  • The human population is also increasing. More humans = more hungry consumers! 
  • Depending on how it is managed, growing livestock is energy-intensive and has an impact on climate and the environment. Scientists and entrepreneurs are intrigued by the challenge of finding sustainable meat alternatives for consumers.
  • For those concerned about animal welfare, eating cultivated meat could be an option.
  • And lastly, perhaps providing protein for upcoming space missions may be a feasible application. After all, we’re not going to be taking cows to the ISS, Moon or Mars!

This industry is still in its infancy and there are many questions left to answer. Currently, the process uses a significant amount of energy and can produce only on a small scale. Questions also remain on maintaining sterile environments for culturing and establishing industry standards. As energy technology increases in efficiency and access, the power required to run these facilities could drastically change and make this process far cheaper. 

Regardless, for the time being, the producers of this lab-grown meat are planning on unveiling this culinary creation at a few select restaurants for preliminary trial experiences. All this and more will be meticulously worked on by teams of researchers because when it comes to lab-grown meat, there’s a lot at steak!