Singapore first in world to approve lab-grown meat for sale

Californian start-up Eat Just's cultured chicken bites will be manufactured here

The Singapore Food Agency is allowing Eat Just's cultured chicken to be sold here after an evaluation process which looked at factors such as the product's manufacturing process and toxicity of ingredients, as well as whether the final product meets
The Singapore Food Agency is allowing Eat Just's cultured chicken to be sold here after an evaluation process which looked at factors such as the product's manufacturing process and toxicity of ingredients, as well as whether the final product meets the standards in food regulation.PHOTO: COURTESY OF EAT JUST

Menus here could soon feature chicken grown in facilities such as bioreactors instead of farms, as the authorities have deemed one such product safe for consumption.

Regulatory approvals are in place for a particular cultured chicken, making it the first time in the world that cultured meat products will go on sale. These products are made by culturing animal cells instead of by slaughter and are not yet available for sale and consumption anywhere else.

The cultured chicken bites will be manufactured in Singapore by Californian start-up Eat Just, said its chief executive Josh Tetrick.

"This paves the way for the product to be served in a restaurant setting soon." He did not give a timeline for when it might be available. He said that for a start, the chicken bites would probably cost as much as "premium chicken... at a restaurant". But prices would fall as production is scaled up, he added, noting that costs were already a third of what they were a year ago.

"To achieve our mission, we'll need to be below the cost of conventional chicken, which we expect to happen in the years ahead."

He said the chicken bites have the potential to be halal-certified.

The Singapore Food Agency (SFA) said yesterday it is allowing Eat Just's cultured chicken to be sold here after its evaluations have determined it to be safe.

Dr Tan Lee Kim, SFA director-general for food administration, said food safety was a principal consideration in production. "SFA will review the safety assessments of these alternative protein products scientifically and consult experts to safeguard food safety and public health. We will also monitor such new products when they enter the market," she said.

The evaluation process includes considering factors such as the product's manufacturing process and toxicity of ingredients, as well as whether the final product meets the standards in food regulation.

The SFA in November last year published on its website a document detailing information that would be required for the safety assessment of such novel foods. These include cultured meat products, such as Eat Just's chicken bites, as well as certain types of insect, algae and fungi-based proteins.

The term novel foods refers to products that do not have a history of safe use - which is defined by the SFA as that of substances consumed by a significant human population as part of their diet for at least 20 years without reported adverse health effects.

Eat Just's product is the first to pass the evaluation process under the new regulatory framework.

Internal auditor Heng Xian Zheng, 30, said price will be a key factor in his decision to try the chicken bites. "I don't see why there'll be a mental barrier to try the cultured chicken, especially if it tastes the same. Plus, plenty of our food like flavourings and colouring is synthetically produced."

Mr Daniel Govindan, 32, who works in a bank, said price will factor into his willingness to try cultured meat. He also said he is hesitant about the new technology. "Some people might have an aversion to eating something grown in an artificial environment. More education and outreach efforts would have to be done to get people to change their minds."

While cultured meat is touted as having a lower carbon footprint than conventional meat, a scientific paper published in February said more studies are needed to determine its environmental impact.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 03, 2020, with the headline 'Singapore first in world to approve lab-grown meat for sale'. Subscribe