How we feed ourselves is going to be a big challenge in the future. We aren’t producing enough food for the world’s current population. If we don’t change the way we grow our food, we will be heading towards starvation. Fortunately, I think technology will play a big role in getting different sources of food to different parts of the world.
Traditionally, the meat that we eat comes from farms. Farmers spend years rearing animals and growing food for them on valuable land. It’s resource-intense and environmentally damaging.
Seafood is no different. Most of the shrimp we eat is actually grown in wastewater. The shrimp are fed loads of antibiotics and hormones to make them bigger, and cleaned with bleach to make their colour appealing. It’s animal cruelty, it’s a problem for human health and, of course, it’s not good for the environment. The global shrimp market is currently valued at US$40 billion, so it is a huge industry for us to disrupt.
22.3kg: Global seafood consumption (per head) as estimated by the European Commission in 2018.
In August 2018, Dr Ka Yi Ling and I started Shiok Meats in order to use stem cell technology to sustainably produce shrimp, lobster and crab meat.
Any piece of seafood or meat you eat is made up of cells. We take those cells and grow them in an environment which mimics the animal’s body. We maintain the same temperature, nutrients and so on, so the cells assume that they are still inside the animal and grow as they would normally. Theoretically, it should have the same nutritional value, protein and fats as traditionally grown meat.
We call it clean meat, cultivated meat or cell-based meat. There are a handful of global companies producing cell-based pork, chicken, salmon and tuna, but we are the only company in the world producing crustacean meat.
The good news is that the market for sustainable meat products is booming. Consumers are more willing to accept different types of food, and I think Asia is more willing to try novelty food products, whether plant-based, cell-based or insect-based. But ultimately, the price has to be right and it has to taste good.
We plan to start selling Shiok Meats to restaurants in Asia by 2021 and in supermarkets within the next five to seven years. I think that in the next five to 10 years, meat that comes from slaughtered animals will be so highly priced that people will opt out of it and go for sustainable food options that are more economical instead.
“Consumers are more willing to accept different types of food, and I think Asia is more willing to try novelty food products”
Lobsters, for example, cannot be farmed easily. They take a long time to grow, and the more you fish, the more you deplete their numbers, so lobsters are getting more expensive. Using our technology, we want to make lobster available to everyone at a price they can afford. I envision in 10 years nobody will eat shrimp that is grown in dirty water.
Illustrations by Stuart Patience