Lab-grown meat: high carbon, high cost and unlikely to scale

HAVING investigated the viability of lab-grown meat, Nick Marsh, the BBC’s Asia Business Correspondent, seems to have come to some simple conclusions. Lab-grown “meat” is vastly expensive, over-hyped, unlikely to scale – and is probably more carbon intensive than standard beef.

Regulation and scale
So far, Singapore is the only country in the world to have approved the sale of lab-grown meat, having given California-based Eat Just’s “chicken” the go-ahead in December 2020. Despite this, Marsh found just one restaurant in the country, Huber’s, selling lab-grown “chicken”. The pasta dish is available once a week.

What’s startling is the gulf between the ever-increasing volume of media inches consumed by the hype around lab-produced meat, and the mountain that companies and investors still have to climb to scale production.

Although nearly $3 billion has so far been spent in lab-meat development, there is extremely little to show for the investment. In Singapore, Eat Just manages to produce 2-3kgs of lab-“chicken” per week – but Huber’s alone sells 4,000 to 5,000kg of conventional chicken every single week.

The “chicken” pasta dish at Huber’s is also greatly discounted, but Eat Just wouldn’t tell the BBC by how much.

Lab-meat is high carbon protein
In theory, reducing the world’s reliance on “real” chicken should reduce carbon emissions because the carbon cost of feed production is high, but at the moment the advanced technology needed to create cultivated meat is so energy intensive that it more than cancels out any benefits.

As 8.9ha reported last week, a study by the University of California, Davis calculated that lab-meat production produces between 4 and 25 times as much carbon dioxide as regular beef.

Realistic forecasts needed, rather than PR hype
The BBC further reports that according to Ricardo San Martin from UC Berkeley, both private and public funding for cultivated meat companies will dry up if they do not “look in the mirror” soon and present realistic forecasts to investors. “Unless there is a clear path to success at some point in the future, investors and governments will not want to spend money on something that is not scientifically proven”.

Read the full BBC article

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