Chinese company serves up lab-grown pork

Cultured meat, or meat grown from animal muscle cells in a lab, could significantly reduce the environmental impact of farming animals, say its proponents, while also avoiding welfare issues and disease. | Getty Images

SHANGHAI, China (Reuters) — Chinese startup CellX unveiled a selection of lab-grown pork dishes Sept. 10 and said it was aiming to produce the meat at competitive prices for the world’s top meat-eating nation by 2025.

Investors were invited to taste one of the prototypes produced in its Shanghai lab from cells harvested from China’s native black pig.

“The taste is on the bland side … but overall it’s not bad,” said Li Peiyang, a guest who tested the minced pork blended with plant protein.

Cultured meat, or meat grown from animal muscle cells in a lab, could significantly reduce the environmental impact of farming animals, say its proponents, while also avoiding welfare issues and disease.

China in particular, which consumed 86 million tonnes of meat in 2020 or about 30 percent of global demand, is in urgent need of a cleaner meat supply to meet its carbon goals, says CellX.

Meat grown in the lab could also offer a more stable food supply to a market that has faced shortages and volatility following the outbreak of African swine fever in 2018.

But production costs in the nascent industry are still far higher than conventional protein, and analysts say consumers could balk at eating artificially grown meat.

In China, however, “there are lots of people wanting to try it,” said CellX founder Yang Ziliang.

Yang declined to comment on current production costs but said the company, founded just last year, was aiming to be cost competitive with animal meat by 2025.

A recent McKinsey report estimated cultivated meat could reach cost parity with conventional meat by 2030 as the industry increases scale and fine-tunes research and development.

Lab-grown chicken was sold to consumers for the first time in Singapore last year, but there are no regulations permitting its sale in China.

CellX, which raised US$4.3 million earlier this year and is seeking fresh funding, is also eyeing the global market.

“Our vision is to change the way meat is produced. This isn’t just a China issue, it’s a global issue, so for us to achieve our vision, we need to be a global company,” said Yang.

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