I had to sign my life away to try lab-grown pork — here’s how it went

I wasn't sure what I was getting myself into when I signed a waiver saying I understood eating this dish could be 'dangerous'.

It’s not every day you’re asked to sign a waiver before grabbing a bite to eat, but that’s where I found myself at a charming Melbourne café on Tuesday night.

“I understand that the activities, in which I will participate, may be inherently dangerous and may cause serious or grievous injuries, including bodily injury, and/or death,” the second paragraph reads.

Oh good, I sarcastically said to myself, trying to calm my obvious nerves and concern. This is a new one. So what is this dish I’m willing to die for you ask? Lab-grown pork. Yep. Pork mince grown from a sample of cells taken from a pig’s ear and placed in a vat. Tasting the experimental food requires a waiver because it has yet to receive its regulatory approval.

Three images of Brianne Tolj trying a wonton.
Brianne tries a piece of lab-grown pork for the first time. Source: Yahoo

As a meat eater, I was intrigued when initially asked to taste the latest product from Melbourne-based company Magic Valley, but as I put that pen to paper to sign my name four times, my fear grew.

Would it really taste the same? Would I be gagging on camera? Would I make it out alive?

My verdict after trying lab-grown pork

However, as my very own cultivated pork dumpling was presented to me on a plate, my curiosity took over. The meat, neatly packed inside dough and sitting in a tablespoon of chilli sauce and spring onions, smelled like pork. It definitely looked like other dumplings.

As I scooped up the slippery hors d’oeuvre with my chopsticks and took a bite, I was pleasantly surprised. The flavour was spot on. The texture was slightly different, although hard to put my finger on, it seemed smoother. After my second bite it was all over, and I’m not going to lie, I wanted more.

A close-up image of a lab-grown pork wonton.
The lab-grown pork was served inside a wonton. Source: Supplied

I’ve always felt a bit guilty being a fan of meat, given what effect it has on our gas emissions and climate change, but in that brief moment I was hopeful that we could have a future where we can still enjoy the tastes we love and save the planet.

As sceptical as I was, I think cultivated meat could really have a future not only in Australia, but the world. We just have to give it a go.

Three things you probably didn't know about lab meat

  • Lab meat is also called cultivated, cellular or clean meat

  • Most products are mince because it's harder to create structured cuts like steak

  • Singapore is the only country in the world where lab meat has been approved

  • Italy has proposed a ban on all cultivated food

  • Lab meat is genetically identical to regular meat, but it doesn't harm animals

  • Growing the protein starts with cells and nutrients being added to a bioreactor

Is lab meat better for the environment?

Although analysis is ongoing, industry modelling suggests lab meat uses fewer resources.

  • 92 per cent fewer greenhouse gases

  • 95 per cent less land

  • 78 per cent less water

Are there any concerns I should have about lab meat?

Johannes le Coutre, a cultivated meat expert at University of NSW continues to investigate ethical and legal issues associated with the product.

In 2021, he told Yahoo News Australia it is essential that while production is profitable and commercial, it also remains open and transparent. “Food is something which basically belongs to everybody,” he said.

Where can I buy lab-grown pork now?

Cellular meat products are being developed by dozens of countries around the world, with offerings including cat food made from mice, medial grade human breast milk, and even mammoth meatballs.

Before each company can distribute its product in Australia, each product needs to be approved by federal regulators. Magic Valley hopes to gain approval by the second half of 2024.

Lab meat is genetically identical to farmed flesh, but animals don't need to be killed. Source: Getty
Lab meat is genetically identical to farmed flesh, but animals don't need to be killed. Source: Getty

The company's founder Paul Bevan told Yahoo News Australia it plans to initially distribute small amounts of cultivated meat to high-end restaurants, but by early 2025 it hopes to ramp up production and sell to retail outlets, including fast-food chains and supermarkets.

A kilo of pork is expected to cost around $14 a kilo, but that price is expected to drop substantially during 2025 as the company scales up production.

Could lab meat compete with traditional farming?

Mr Bevan believes cellular meat will be essential food in the coming decades, but he doesn't expect it to be competing with traditional farming in his lifetime.

"Traditional methods just aren't able to meet demand," he said. "So using food technology to be able to produce protein using a lot less land, water, land and energy... is really the only way that we're going to be able to feed the increase in population."

with Michael Dahlstrom

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