Update (16 December 2020):

In the wake of receiving regulatory approval to sell their cultivated meat product in Singapore, Eat Just has made the first commercial sale to 1880, their restaurant partner in the country. 1880 will sell Eat Just’s cultivated chicken bites to consumers for the very first time via a series of launch dinners before adding the product to their menu in early 2021.

Read GFI’s response to this historic development here.

Original blog, shared on 2 December 2020:

The Singapore Food Agency (SFA), the lead agency for food-related matters in Singapore, has approved the sale of a cultivated meat product in the city-state.

Cultivated chicken bites and chicken breast [Photo credit: Eat Just, Inc.]

Eat Just, Inc., which last month also revealed plans to jointly open their largest plant protein isolate production facility in Singapore, appears to be the first company to have secured such cultivated meat approval. According to SFA, Eat Just’s cultivated chicken was recently allowed to be sold in Singapore as an ingredient in the company’s chicken bites. Other products reportedly in the pipeline include Shiok Meats cultivated shrimp and Ants Innovate’s cultivated meat.

The First-Mover Advantage

SFA is quick to emphasize that food safety remains its principal focus, and it will ensure that “food products entering Singapore are safe for consumption, novel or otherwise.” Still, experts believe that having such a prominent regulator move efficiently to greenlight products containing cultivated meat (also known as cultured or cell-based meat) could have ripple effects throughout the region.

“This could be a new milestone in cultured meat history.”
– Dr. Ding Shijie

Dr. Ding Shijie, an Associate Professor at Nanjing Agricultural University and one of the core members of the team that produced China’s first cultivated pork meat in 2019, told The Good Food Institute Asia Pacific (GFI APAC) that he anticipates regulatory approval from Singapore will accelerate funding and development of cultivated meat, not only in China but across Asia. Dr. Shijie also believes that regulatory decisions from Singapore could serve as examples for the Chinese government and others to follow as they develop their own cultivated meat regulations.

Sam Lawrence, Director of Policy and Government Relations for Food Frontier, a GFI APAC strategic partner and alternative protein think tank based in Australia, is similarly optimistic about Singapore’s influence on the broader Asia Pacific region. “Regulators in Australia take cues from similar markets around the world, so any framework released by the SFA is likely to be closely examined.”

To many observers, the fact that this domino effect is starting in Singapore is no surprise. Elizabeth Derbes, Associate Director of Regulatory Affairs for The Good Food Institute (GFI), says that SFA “has long been in the vanguard of global regulators in its study of the cultivated meat industry and its careful consideration of the best approach for regulating cultivated meat, poultry, and seafood products. GFI is confident that SFA’s safety standards for these groundbreaking foods have been carefully calibrated to ensure consumer safety.”

Southeast Asia’s Epicenter of Innovation

Singapore’s embrace of alternative proteins isn’t limited to cultivated meat; the city-state is also moving swiftly to support non-animal proteins produced from plants, algae, and fungi (such as Quorn’s mycoprotein).

Alternative protein is a fast-growing global market opportunity. A study by Barclays found that the market for alternative meat could swell to US$140 billion over the next decade—an amount equivalent to roughly 10 percent of the world’s global animal meat sales. Singapore’s government agencies have also sought to build a talent pipeline of next-generation novel food innovators through industry partnerships. For example, the nation’s Economic Development Board (EDB) has partnered with food-processing giant Wilmar International on a multi-disciplinary postgraduate training program at its Global Innovation Centre in Singapore.

Elaine Siu, Managing Director of The Good Food Institute Asia Pacific, at Shiok Meats’ 2019 press conference debuting cultivated shrimp dumplings in Singapore, alongside Shiok co-founders Ka Yi Ling and Sandhya Sriram, John Cheng, Director of Innovate 360, and Henry Soesanto, CEO of Monde Nissin

A Modern-Day Space Race for Food

Singapore currently imports over 90 percent of its food, but through investment in local production and innovation, the country is aiming to meet its “30 by 30” goal of producing 30 percent of its nutritional needs locally by 2030. To hit that mark, the government has worked hard to incentivize start-ups and business leaders to make Singapore their home base. The EDB says that there is growing interest in Singapore as “a trusted base for global companies to anchor related activities, in order to capture opportunities in the region.”

Fengru Lin, co-founder and CEO of Singapore-based biotech company TurtleTree Labs, which is involved in some novel food studies, expressed optimism that the Singapore Food Story R&D Programme “will help shape public awareness of novel foods in Singapore and inform all the players in this ecosystem of ways to grow an entire alt-protein industry.”

Lin is not the only one who wants to be a part of Singapore’s future as a food technology hub. We recently reported on plans by food-industry giants Bühler and Givaudan to open a joint Protein Innovation Center in Singapore, to support the expansion of plant-based product development in Asia.

In light of SFA’s latest announcements, Elaine Siu, Managing Director of The Good Food Institute Asia Pacific, believes the stakes are clear: “The race to divorce meat production from industrial animal agriculture is underway and nations that follow Singapore’s lead will be able to reap the benefits as the entire world shifts to this new and better way of making meat.”