Can man-made meat save the planet? And how does it taste? 

We investigate the new world of “no-kill” meat that’s planet-friendly and kinder to animals. But what are the drawbacks?

The food hall at Selfridges is a treat I allow myself on rare trips into central London. There’s always something  interesting to see and a new stand caught my eye on a previous visit: Rudy’s Vegan Butcher. It sounds like a joke, but isn’t. It sold only fake meat made entirely from plant materials. And after browsing the juicy-looking “pork” ribs, meatballs, Merguez “sausages” and pastrami, I walked away with two enormous “dirty burgers” – almost six ounces (170g) a piece – and a pack of plant-based “bacon”. Both were a little more expensive than the real meat equivalent. 


A scientist inspects cultured meatCredit: Shutterstock

Since that first encounter with plant-based meat, the bacon product, from a French brand, La Vie, is being heavily promoted as a supermarket product – advertised even on bus shelters.

Vegan meat isn’t, you might say, the only new kid on the butcher’s block. There’s another, much newer and even more scientific “no-kill” protein-packed food being worked on by companies around the world and expected to be in British shops within three or four years.

In contrast, this actually is meat but is being developed in laboratories and will be manufactured for mass consumption in huge “bio-reactors”.

It’s called cultured, or clean, meat, and tonnes of it can be grown from a tiny sample of real animal tissue – as little as one cell – removed humanely under anaesthetic.

In a process described as tissue engineering, the original piece is fed nutrients and expands into edible quantities of meat with both muscle and fat in four to six weeks. It should be noted that although it involves no killing and hopefully no trauma to animals, cultured meat is not considered acceptable by vegans, nor by a lot of vegetarians.


“We call our audience the carni-conscious. Our consumer research tells us that a lot of people are following a flexitarian diet, where they eat some meat but are looking for alternatives.”

As Dr Russ Tucker, founder and chief technology officer of a leading British cultured meat startup, Oxford-based Ivy Farm Technologies, puts it: “This is not a simulation. It’s the real thing. It’s real meat with a different process.

“We make muscle and fat separately,” explains Dr Tucker, who likes to be known jokily as “The Hog Father”. “We can combine that into a mince. And from that, you can make sausages, meatballs, burgers, Bolognese, whatever you like.”

But why might I choose it above traditional meat? The answer, I think, lies in my attitude to eating meat. Love it as I do, it bothers me for three reasons I suspect are typical of many people’s concerns.

I’m uncomfortable about animal welfare and the slaughtering process; I’m troubled by the much-discussed health aspects of eating too much meat;  and I am worried about animal agriculture’s sizeable contribution to climate change, said to be 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions – which is not far short of the 17% produced by all methods of transport.

So-called “clean” meat like Dr Tucker’s could within a decade or two be a huge breakthrough for both assuaging the guilt of meat eaters and helping save the planet. 

Estimates of how much meat will in coming decades be cultured rather than from dead animals are as high as 60%, which should have a beneficial effect on carbon in the atmosphere. Companies pioneering cultured meat, mostly in the US, Netherlands, Israel and the UK, all aim to manufacture it as close as possible to energy and water zero.

There are also possible health benefits. It is likely that cultured meat will eliminate intestinal pathogens in animals such as E coli and salmonella. It should also be free of antibiotics.

Dr Tucker is from a family of butchers and says he has no wish to destroy livestock meat. However, he says this will be no small-scale experiment. 

“We hope by 2025 to be making 12,000 tonnes of meat, which would save 170,000 pigs. We’re focused on pork right now, but the process will work for beef and for chicken.”

Few people knew about cultured meat until a couple of years ago when its sale was permitted for the first time. Now startup companies all over the world are working on everything from human-built prawns to lab-grown steak, with tens of millions of pounds in venture capital invested. 

A restaurant in Singapore was the first anywhere to offer fake chicken pieces from an American-based company, GoodMeat, which grows chicken from a single original cell.

Singapore continues to be GoodMeat’s launch market. They are currently offering three kinds of “cultivated chicken” to shoppers, too. The company also had a food stand at last year’s COP27 climate change conference in Egypt.

“It tastes like chicken because it is,” is one of GoodMeat’s sales lines. Their chicken is “real meat made without tearing down a forest or taking a life”, they say.

Outside Singapore, the US has also accepted cultivated meat for human consumption. Nowhere else, it should be said, is yet close to allowing it to be sold and eaten.

The new “Frankenmeat” is also currently expensive. In the one butcher’s in Singapore, lab-grown chicken in kebab form costs the equivalent of £18 a kilogram (2lb 3oz).

Whether, when it can be produced more cheaply, cultured meat will be a “premium” product in the Tesco Finest / Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference range, or an economy product, is much debated in the growing industry.

For the moment, the fact that shops such as Rudy’s style themselves as butchers and create products that emulate meat suggests we are hardwired to regard meat as the ideal food; there’s no seeming demand for meat that looks like vegetables. Cultured and plant meat, some say, is the fake fur of food. 

But it is possible to see it going either way, depending on whether we end up seeing “real” meat as more desirable or less than plant or “Frankenmeat”.

One factor for the moment will be that recognisable cuts of cultured meat, with irregular shapes, visible fat and marbling will not be available for a very long time. For the foreseeable future, mince-type products and indeterminate small lumps will be the only clean meat on the menu.


It is likely that cultured meat will eliminate intestinal pathogens in animals such as E coli and salmonella. It should also be free of antibiotics.

The other big question that applies to both vegan butchery and cultured meat is who is it designed for? For vegans and vegetarians who want to enjoy forbidden foods? Or uneasy meat eaters like me? It could be argued there are hundreds of thousands of delicious foods to make with plant material only, so why make replica foods?

It’s notable that La Vie’s rather delicious fake bacon is even made to look like the real thing, fake fat and all. It had a decent sizzle in the pan and tasted bacon-like. It even got the dog excited, and he knows his meat. “Plant-based” suggests a wholesome simplicity, but the pretend bacon I sampled had a pretty complex formulation; with cannellini bean and soya its protein part, it has 15 ingredients including monosodium glutamate (MSG) and silicon dioxide.

Neil Stephens, a sociologist and associate professor in technology and society at Birmingham University, has been studying the cultured meat phenomenon for more than a decade and is sure the buyers will be meat eaters.

“It works when huge numbers of people stop eating livestock meat,” he says. “The logic is that, sometime in the future, you produce something that is so identical to meat, people will eat it without having to actively opt into the moral choice of thinking ‘I want to save animals.’ They will just think ‘This is a great piece of meat.’”

Dr Tucker, of Ivy Farm, explains: “We call our audience the carni-conscious. Our consumer research tells us that a lot of people are following a flexitarian diet, where they eat some meat but are looking for alternatives. We want to give people a product where they know exactly what’s going into it, where they can be confident from the health perspective, and also that it’s better for the environment.”

“At the same time,” Dr Tucker adds, “our philosophy is that we’re not trying to shut the farming industry or the butcher industry. We’re trying to provide an alternative to intensive farming and to low quality processed meat. We want people to have great quality meat, without gristly bits, to trust and enjoy. And to let good farming really flourish in parallel with us.”


Written by Jonathan Margolis