World's first commercial cultured meat production facility opens here

A commercial facility that produces chicken products through cell culture instead of slaughter has begun operations in Singapore, The Straits Times has learnt.

The facility in Ayer Rajah Crescent by Esco Aster, a home-grown contract development and manufacturing organisation, was given approval and started production of cell-cultured chicken in July - making it the world's first commercial cultured meat production facility.

It could pave the way for more such protein alternatives to enter the Singapore market and boost food security for the Republic.

Last December, the Singapore Food Agency (SFA) was the first regulatory authority in the world to approve the sale of a cultured meat product - bite-sized chicken from Eat Just, a California start-up - after it was deemed safe for consumption. Eat Just's Good Meat cultivated chicken is available here via the foodpanda delivery platform from Madame Fan, a Cantonese restaurant at JW Marriott Singapore South Beach.

On July 28, Esco Aster was given SFA approval to produce cultured chicken for commercial use. A spokesman for SFA said: "This is the same cultured chicken which was previously approved by SFA in 2020."

ST understands that prior to this approval, Eat Just's cultured chicken bites could not be manufactured in Singapore.

Cultured meat refers to meat products made from growing animal cells in a bioreactor - similar to the vats used in brewing beer - instead of slaughtering actual chickens. This is considered a more sustainable meat production method, as large volumes can be produced involving less land and labour.

Esco Aster is a subsidiary of the Esco Lifesciences Group, which has supplied tools and technology such as bioreactors to firms in the alternative proteins industry.

It also focuses on offering manufacturing services in the areas of vaccine development and cell or gene therapy, among others.

This background helped Esco Aster design the manufacturing facility to the standards required by SFA for food production, its chief executive Lin Xiangliang told ST yesterday.

In Singapore, firms producing cultured meat products must conduct and submit safety assessments of their products for SFA's review before they are allowed for sale.

These assessments cover potential food safety risks, including toxicity and production method safety. Detailed information on materials used in the manufacturing processes and how these are controlled to prevent food safety risks must also be given, the SFA spokesman said. Firms that wish to manufacture these approved products here must obtain a separate SFA licence.

"SFA will also inspect and sample the product for testing, just as we do for other imported and locally manufactured food products," said the SFA spokesman.

The Eat Just cultured chicken bites are the only cultured meat product currently approved for sale in Singapore.

Alternative proteins are gaining traction globally amid growing consciousness about the massive carbon footprint of rearing livestock for food, which produces about 15 per cent of all global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation.

Ms Mirte Gosker, acting managing director of non-profit The Good Food Institute Asia Pacific - which champions alternatives to traditional meat products - said: "This move is the clearest sign yet that the Lion City is all in on scaling up alternative proteins and driving Asia's runaway lead in food technology."

In April, ST reported that more than 15 alternative protein start-ups - including those looking at cell-cultured and plant-based meats - have set up base here.

A recent Good Food Institute report also revealed that a record US$3.1 billion (S$4.1 billion) was invested in alternative proteins globally last year - three times the capital raised in 2019.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 16, 2021, with the headline 'World's first commercial cultured meat production facility opens here'. Subscribe