Lab-grown meat is quickly becoming big business. It’s a process which takes a single animal cell, feeds it a series of nutrients, which in turn causes it to multiply; the resulting cell mass can then be used to make a food protein product such as various cuts of meat, but also milk, egg, fish or even kangaroo.

Cultured meat, cultivated meat or clean meat, as it is also known, replicates the exact taste and consistency of traditional meat, without the need to slaughter or use animals.

In a sector so far dominated by Silicon Valley venture capitalists, the first company in the UK to have journeyed into this technological field is one based in Pont-iets near Llanelli.

CEO and co-founder of Cellular Agriculture Ltd, Illtud Llyr Dunsford, comes from a traditional farming family which can trace its agricultural heritage back several hundred years.

Llyr’s original career couldn’t have been further from where he has ended up.

Trained as a photographer, he then worked in the film industry for the Wales Screen Commission. His job was to attract major Hollywood productions to Wales and he helped bring two films from the Harry Potter franchise here, among many others.

However, the pull of the land was powerful enough to see him quit his job to start afresh.

“I’m happiest on the farm,” he explains. “So that’s where I returned in 2010. Historically, our family ran a mixed traditional farm. I then concentrated on diversifying into a specialist meat business.”

The turning point in Llyr’s life was winning a Nuffield Farming Scholarship five years later. Having visited several countries as part of the award, he attended the First Symposium for Cultured Meat at Maastricht University in the Netherlands.

That is where he met Professor Marianne Ellis who would later become his co-founder in Cellular Agriculture. She is the head of the Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of Bath.

Established in 2016, their business has this year been named in the FoodTech 500 list. Inspired by the Fortune 500, this is described as “the world’s first definitive list of the global entrepreneurial talent at the intersection between food, technology, and sustainability”.

Cellular Agriculture currently innovates and manufactures the technology that is required to support the growth of meat in a laboratory. “It’s the boring stuff which nobody sees but is vital to the entire process,” says Llyr.

Proponents of lab-grown meat argue that it produces significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions than meat from slaughtered animals, while requiring much less land and water, and producing less waste along the way.

“It did take me about six months to get my head around this technology,” admits Llyr. “But the reason I eventually moved from the traditional meat business into this sphere was that I was trying to make a product that was sustainable.

“I wanted to make a product that was of equal quality, of equal flavour, the same price but had a considerably less harmful impact upon the planet.

“Selling morals to people doesn’t work. Everybody says they want to save the planet if you ask them but when you actually look at what they choose to buy, it’s rarely the case.

“So you have to take the moral choice away from the consumer.”

In his 1931 essay ‘Fifty Years Hence’, Winston Churchill mused about the possibility of synthetic meat in the future, writing, “We shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing, by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium.”

The future that Churchill envisaged has already arrived in Singapore. At the end of last year, its government gave regulatory approval for the first lab-grown chicken meat to be sold. Within the last month it has started to be served in a restaurant called ‘1880’ and is also available to order directly to the doorstep via a bicycle delivery service.

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Last year, KFC in Russia teamed up with the company 3D Bioprinting Solutions to begin ‘printing’ chicken nuggets.

In a statement, KFC explained: “The project aims to create the world's first laboratory-produced chicken nuggets. They will be as close as possible in both taste and appearance to the original KFC product, while being more environmentally friendly to produce than ordinary meat.”

According to Llyr, it’s a matter of when, and not if, we see lab-grown meat being sold in Welsh shops, and there will be a variety of reasons for this shift.

“The live animal supply chain is difficult. With beef for example, you have to consider the gestation period, the maturing period and then you have the harvest, the slaughter and so forth. It’s complex and there’s a lot of waste involved.

“But the over-arching main issue that we are facing is that in the future, as a population upon this planet, we’re not going to have enough food to go around. And there’s a combination of reasons for that, one of which is climate change but the other is the way in which we farm.

“So if you have a meat product that you can culture within three weeks, that is transformative, because you have nothing within the system for all that time, your food waste reduces and you know the exact cost of everything. Plus if you can get it for the same cost, then why wouldn’t you change?”

The concept of lab-grown meat has been met with mixed reactions from traditional meat producers. Last year, Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC) issued a statement in the wake of the Channel 4 documentary Apocalypse Cow hosted by George Monbiot, in which the idea of cultured meat was explored.

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HCC chief executive, Gwyn Howells, said at the time: “I doubt that many people will share the presenter’s enthusiasm for switching to processed foods mass-produced from bacteria and stem cells in laboratories. The programme also failed to question the wildly optimistic claims that are made about the potential of this technology, its cost, how much energy it would consume, and how quickly and safely it could be developed.”

Recent research by the journal Foods found that 80 per cent of people in the UK and the USA were open to eating meat grown in a factory rather than raised in a field. It also discovered that younger people were the most open to the idea of eating cultivated meat.

Meanwhile, lab-grown meat has sparked an ethical debate within vegan and plant-based communities too. But as Llyr explains, firms currently developing this technology aren’t targeting those particular consumers.

“A lot of the early seed money into some of the companies to create proofs of concept for the industry was funded by the vegan community in the Bay Area of San Francisco.

“From a consumer perspective though, most vegans won’t consume this because it has an animal input; it has that first animal cell.

“So for that reason, this is not a technology for vegans. But it is a technology for vegetarians, pescatarians, meat reducers and standard meat consumers.

“We’re not trying to target the one per cent. For us the goal is non-meat reducers, because they make up 50 per cent to 75 per cent of consumers, depending on where you are globally.

“They’re the ones whose habits need to change, and not the people who already consider what they eat.”