Production facility for cultivated fish cells set to open in Singapore by 2022

The joint research laboratory for cultivated fish bioprocessing will be located in Biopolis in Buona Vista, Singapore's biomedical hub.
The joint research laboratory for cultivated fish bioprocessing will be located in Biopolis in Buona Vista, Singapore's biomedical hub.PHOTOS: AVANT, ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Fish fillets and even fish maw made from cell culture instead of slaughter could soon appear on dinner tables here, with Chinese firm Avant set to open a pilot production facility for cultivated fish cells in Singapore by next year.

This facility, announced by the firm on Monday (Sept 20), will come alongside a research laboratory by Avant and the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star)'s Bioprocessing Technology Institute, which focuses on how to scale up the production of food-grade cultivated fish.

The joint research laboratory for cultivated fish bioprocessing will be located in Biopolis in Buona Vista, Singapore's biomedical hub.

Avant and A*Star said in a statement that research at the laboratory will look into developing solutions that will allow the production of cultivated fish cells to be scaled up.

This includes, for instance, identifying key factors that affect the growth of cultivated fish cells, as well as processes to improve this.

Avant, which develops technologies for fish cell cultivation, has already managed to make products such as fish fillet, marine peptides and fish maw via cell culture.

It will combine its expertise in the area with the A*Star institute's aptitudes in bioprocess research and development, including animal cell bioprocessing.

Ms Carrie Chan, co-founder and chief executive of Avant, said: "The collaboration will accelerate breakthroughs in methods to optimise cell cultivation process for meat production. It will achieve process efficiency and cost reduction initially for fish cells."

She added that insights gained into research in this area can also be potentially applied to cultivating other cell types as well.

Multiple research groups in Singapore are looking into cultivating different animal cells for use in food, including chicken, pork and seafood, amid surging global interest in alternative proteins and how they can help reduce the massive carbon footprint of rearing livestock for food.

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, the livestock sector produces about 15 per cent of all global greenhouse gas emissions.

But to date, only one such cell cultured product - cultured chicken bites by Californian start-up Eat Just - has been given regulatory approval to be sold in Singapore. Such products have not yet been approved by any other regulatory authority in the world.

Cultured meat refers to meat products that are made from growing animal cells in a bioreactor - similar to the vats used in brewing beer - instead of slaughtering the animals. Cells are taken from the animal through methods such as a biopsy.

Such a meat production method is considered to be more sustainable as large volumes can be produced involving less land and labour.

Being able to produce cultivated meat within a building, instead of requiring acres of land for rearing livestock, could also boost food security for land-scarce Singapore.

Moreover, as the entire process of cultivating meat takes place in a controlled environment, there is less need for antibiotics to be used in the production of such meat.

The latest announcement by Avant and A*Star comes on the heels of the opening of the world's first commercial facility producing cultivated chicken in Singapore.

The facility in Ayer Rajah Crescent by Esco Aster, a home-grown contract development and manufacturing organisation, was given approval and started production of the Eat Just cultivated chicken in July, The Straits Times reported last week.

In Singapore, firms producing cultured meat products must conduct and submit safety assessments of their products for review by the Singapore Food Agency (SFA) before they are allowed for sale.

These assessments cover potential food safety risks, including toxicity and production method safety. Detailed information on the materials used in the manufacturing processes and how these are controlled to prevent food safety risks must also be provided, a SFA spokesman told The Straits Times earlier.

Firms that wish to manufacture these approved products in Singapore must obtain a separate SFA licence.

Dr Koh Boon Tong, executive director of A*Star's Bioprocessing Technology Institute, said the Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of the biomedical industry having to stay adaptable and innovative.

He added: "Cultivated seafood and meat is an excellent example of how the biomanufacturing sector can pivot to meet emerging needs. BTI is pleased to partner and collaborate with Avant to achieve this."