China buys into lab-grown meat

Boost for industry as Israel signs $300m deal to supply cultured meat to the world’s most populous country

Israel and China, two flags waving against blue sky

China’s commitment to forging a greener future was confirmed this month with news that it has signed a $300 million deal with Israel to import lab-grown meat. While that investment won’t see the product appear on every dinner plate in the country – all 1.4 billion of them – it’s indicative of an awareness that, as far as the planet is concerned, business as usual is not going to cut it.

It’s a sign of the times if the world’s most populous country is looking to expand its intake of “clean” meat – which has never been part of an animal – and looks set to encourage other countries to seek to address their own addiction to meat, with all the associated costs to the environment.

The three Israeli companies providing the People’s Republic with its “clean” meat – SuperMeat, Future Meat Technologies and Meat the Future – will be helping the country meet its commitment to cutting meat consumption by 50 per cent, as recommended last year by the Chinese Nutrition Society. That recommendation saw stars such as Arnold Schwarzenegger and James Cameron, respectively the star and director of The Terminator, drafted in to make an advert encouraging people to try meat free eating.

While some still object to cells being taken from animals and used by scientists to grow clean meat in laboratories – and some just don’t like the idea of eating a “cultured” steak created by men and women in white coats – others see the lab-grown meat revolution as key to solving the environmental crisis linked to meat eating. As Li Junfeng, the director-general of China’s National Center on Climate Change Strategy and International Cooperation, observed: “Through this kind of lifestyle change, it is expected that the livestock industry will [be transformed] and carbon emissions will be reduced.”

The move by China was called a “colossal market opportunity” by Bruce Friedrich, head of the Good Food Institute (GFI), which promotes alternatives to meat. He added that the deal “could put [clean] meat onto the radar of Chinese officials who have the capacity to steer billions of dollars into this technology”. More importantly, if lab-grown meat takes off, it could mean a significant dent being put in the £10 billion worth of animal meat the country imports every year, with serious repercussions for the livestock industry.