There is global growing demand for sustainable meat alternatives as consumers and environmentalists campaign for animal welfare, climate protection and cleaner protein with lower microbiological content.
Lab-grown chicken will soon be available in restaurants in Singapore after the country became the first to green-light meat created without slaughtering any animals.
US start-up Eat Just said on Wednesday that its meat had been approved for sale in the city-state as an ingredient in chicken nuggets.
The news marks a "breakthrough for the global food industry", said the company, as firms increasingly try to find less environmentally harmful ways of producing meat.
"I'm sure that our regulatory approval for cultured meat will be the first of many in Singapore and in countries around the globe," said Josh Tetrick, co-founder and CEO of Eat Just.
Serious environmental threat
Consumption of regular meat is an environmental threat as cattle produce methane, a potent greenhouse gas, while logging forests to make way for animals destroys natural barriers against climate change.
There were concerns that lab-grown varieties would be too expensive, but a spokesman for Eat Just said the company had made "considerable progress" in lowering the cost.
"Right from the start, we will be at price parity for premium chicken at a high-end restaurant," he told AFP.
Demand for alternatives to regular meat is surging due to concerns about health, animal welfare and the environment. Plant-based substitutes, popularised by the likes of Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods and Quorn, increasingly feature on supermarket shelves and restaurant menus.
But so-called clean or cultured meat, which is grown from animal muscle cells in a lab, is still at a nascent stage given high production costs.
He did not reveal the price of the nuggets but said they would be launched soon at a Singapore restaurant before other products, including chicken breasts with lab-grown meat, are rolled out.
Eat Just hopes to bring down the cost to below that of conventional chicken in the coming years, the spokesman added.
Soaring meat consumption
Eat Just said it will manufacture the product in Singapore, where it also plans to start making a mung bean-based egg substitute it has been selling commercially in the United States.
The company conducted more than 20 production runs in 1,200-litre bioreactors to make the chicken alternative, and checks on safety and quality showed that its "cultured" product, the term for meat grown in labs from animal cells, met food standards.
Meat consumption is projected to increase more than 70 percent by 2050, and lab-grown alternatives have a role to play in ensuring a secure food supply, Eat Just said.
"Working in partnership with the broader agriculture sector and forward-thinking policymakers, companies like ours can help meet the increased demand for animal protein as our population climbs to 9.7 billion by 2050," said company CEO Tetrick.
The Singapore Food Agency, the city-state's regulator, confirmed it had approved the sale of Eat Just's lab-grown chicken in nuggets after concluding it was safe for consumption.
The high-tech city-state has become a hub for the development of sustainable foods, with start-ups producing goods ranging from lab-grown "seafood" to dumplings made with tropical fruit instead of pork.
William Chen, a Singapore-based scientist and member of an expert panel that advises the regulator, said food security was a key concern in the city-state's drive for developing meat alternatives.
Singapore "has virtually no agriculture, we import more than 90 percent of our food from overseas," said Chen, director of Nanyang Technological University's food, science and technology programme.
"Finding ways to enhance food availability locally would be one very sustainable, viable option."