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Lab-grown fish makes a debut in Hong Kong

A Hong Kong food tech start-up has developed lab-grown fish fillets, capitalising on the growing demand for seafood that doesn’t jeopardise ocean biodiversity.

The fillets were cooked by a chef who told reporters that they looked and smelled like normal fish, but had the consistency of crab cakes. He noted that before he cooked the fish it was quite firm, but after cooking, the texture changed to being like real fish.

The fish, provided by food tech start-up, represents a crucial step towards meeting the increasing demand for seafood and meat that doesn’t undermine global climate goals. The company says that growing fish biomass in the lab is faster than conventional aquaculture. While it can take some fish species one or two years to reach slaughter weight, the start-up’s offering took two months to produce.

The company produced 10 fillets from a sample of grouper cells that proliferated in a bioreactor. The start-up’s chief scientific officer stated that cull culture technology can produce a variety of animal proteins. Depending on the availability of bioreactors, cell-based seafood can be produced anywhere.

According to the managing director of the non-profit Good Food Institute (GFI) Asia Pacific, “…cultivated meat gives consumers the animal protein they want without having to deplete oceans or chop down the rainforest to get it.”

If the technology is widely adopted, input costs and greenhouse gas emissions stemming from meat production could shrink dramatically. A 2011 study from Oxford University found that cell-based meat and seafood could reduce agriculture and aquaculture’s land use by 99 per cent and decrease its water use by 96 per cent.

Though these developments are set to disrupt the $1 trillion global meat industry, lab-grown meat and seafood will likely serve a niche market if they reach commercialisation. Energy costs mean that the technology is difficult to scale. Any cell-based products on the market will likely serve consumers who are willing to pay a premium.

According to a global market research firm, the global cultured meat market is estimated to be valued at US$214 million in 2025 and is projected to reach US$593 million by 2032, recording a CAGR of 15.7% from 2025 to 2032 in the normal scenario. The growth of this market is attributed to the start-ups that are entering the market, owing to the increasing number of investors.

Various other factors that are expected to drive the global cultured meat industry include innovations in cellular agriculture and the rising inclination toward animal welfare and environmental sustainability. Rising consumption of meat coupled with increasing demand for nutritional meat is expected to support the market growth during the forecast period. This growing trend of protein consumption is expected to present several opportunities for various meat processors and food companies to invest in alternative meat protein such as cultured meat to fulfil consumer demand.

The poultry segment is expected to dominate the global cultured meat market, based on the source, during the forecast period. This is attributed to the growing popularity of poultry products in various quick-service restaurants (QSRs) has encouraged manufacturers to develop innovative alternative products to meet future demand from meat consumers. The cultured chicken products are expected to have a lower price as compared to other sources and gain wide popularity around the globe.

Additionally, the rise in demand for animal protein increases the demand for poultry products. This is further expected to accelerate the market growth of cultured meat worldwide. Moreover, the rising demand for chicken meat, owing to the rapidly growing urban population in developing countries, is expected to support the cultured meat market globally. The trend of dining out and high R&D investment by companies are some of the key factors that are expected to boost the poultry segment as well as other segments of the global market space in North America.

Cell-based meat is meat that is grown from a tissue biopsy of cells taken from an animal. This technology enables the production and consumption of meat and fish without the need for any animals to be slaughtered. Cultured meat is also considered to be an environmentally friendly alternative to factory farming, which is a major producer of greenhouse gas emissions and nutrient pollution.

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