SINGAPORE - Meat lovers here will have more options in their diet when Asia's largest cultivated chicken facility is built in Bedok early next year.
California food technology firm Eat Just's Good Meat division broke ground on its upcoming 30,000 sq ft facility - about half the size of a football field - in food industry hub Bedok Food City on Friday (June 10).
Singapore was the first country to approve the sale of cell-based meat in December 2020, with the product coming from Good Meat.
Cell-cultured chicken is meat from chicken cells grown in a bioreactor - similar to the vats used in brewing beer - thus doing away with having to slaughter actual chickens.
Once operational in the first quarter of next year, the $61 million Bedok plant will house a 6,000-litre bioreactor - the largest one in the cultivated meat industry to date - which will produce tens of thousands of kilograms of the novel chicken each year.
The vessel is two storeys high, and about three times the size of a typical industrial bioreactor.
About 50 researchers, scientists and engineers will work in the facility, which will be the largest Good Meat plant until its second United States facility is built later.
Research and development in such novel foods and alternative proteins have been gaining traction in Singapore in recent years as the Republic boosts its food security and produces food sustainably.
With Singapore currently importing more than 90 per cent of its food, the country is looking to shore up against global food supply shocks by producing 30 per cent of its food locally by 2030.
Minister for Sustainability and the Environment Grace Fu, who was at the ground-breaking event, said: "With technological advancements and growing consumer demand for sustainable foods, alternative proteins have the potential to supplement Singapore's agricultural productivity and contribute meaningfully to our 30 by 30 goal."
Good Meat’s bioreactor can produce between 4,500kg and 45,000kg of cell-cultured chicken meat every year, said Eat Just chief executive Josh Tetrick.
This is a fraction of the 214,400 tonnes of chicken Singapore imported last year.
The announcement of the new facility comes more than a week into Malaysia's chicken export ban, which has left suppliers and sellers here with lower stocks of fresh meat. They have turned to chilled, frozen and processed poultry.
Ms Fu said: "Our importers were able to respond quickly by tapping their vast network of suppliers from alternative sources, such as from suppliers in Thailand and Australia."
Large volumes of plant-based or cell-cultured foods can be produced with less land, labour and greenhouse gas emissions. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, the global livestock sector accounts for 14.5 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions.
Good Meat believes the energy and carbon costs from cultivated meat production will be significantly lower than animal agriculture.
Last July, the world's first commercial cultured meat production facility started operations here when Esco Aster, a local contract development and manufacturing organisation, was given approval to produce the novel food.
An Eat Just spokesman said Esco Aster is a strategic partner of Good Meat and there will be opportunities to strengthen their partnership when the Bedok facility is up and running.
After its approval for sale in 2020, the cell-based chicken bites were first served in a members' club in Robertson Quay, known as 1880, early last year.
Since then, the novel meat has been inching closer to customers here, and in different variations.
Every Thursday, delivery platform foodpanda delivers to customers various dishes cooked with Good Meat chicken from Cantonese restaurant Madame Fan. The dishes, which include dumplings and breaded chicken bites atop rice or salad, are sold at around $23.
For a few days between February and March this year, the chicken slices were sold with curry rice for $4 at a hawker stall - Loo's Hainanese Curry Rice - in Tiong Bahru. During the run, Good Meat subsidised the cost of its chicken bites.
And for three days last month, the meat was given a more textured makeover when it appeared as chicken satay in zi char eatery Keng Eng Kee Seafood in Bukit Merah.
With the new facility next year, Good Meat will gradually expand to more restaurants, hawkers and supermarkets.
The larger production capacity will allow the price of the chicken to fall significantly, but Mr Tetrick did not provide a figure.
He added that cell-based chicken could one day be cheaper than ordinary chicken if three components are met.
First, production must be scaled up with massive bioreactors, each with a capacity of more than 200,000 litres. Second, the cost of the nutrients for the cells must drop from dollars a litre to cents a litre. Finally, cell density – which refers to how much meat can be produced in a period of time – must increase.
His company aims to progress on those three areas before the end of 2030. Good Meat will also launch chicken breast soon, on top of the nuggets and satay.
The alternative chicken is not the only novel food from Eat Just that is available in Singapore. The firm is also building the nation's largest plant-protein factory in Pioneer, which will produce vegan eggs using mainly mung beans.
Mr Tetrick said: "We view Singapore as vital in our plans to build this new approach to making meat. We'll launch new products here, distribute to other countries in Asia and learn from customers here."
Good Meat will expand its cell-cultured line to beef, which is currently in early R&D stages. It is planning to launch ground beef in Singapore first.
Future operations here will include a plant that will make tens of millions of kilograms of meat annually from multiple 250,000-litre bioreactors.