SINGAPORE: Consumers in Singapore can soon get a taste of lab-grown or cultured chicken after food technology start-up Eat Just received the go-ahead to sell the product here.
Announcing this on Wednesday (Dec 2), Eat Just said its cultured chicken has been given “first-in-the-world regulatory approval” by Singapore authorities. It will be used as an ingredient in its “chicken bites” or nuggets which the company plans to launch at a later date.
This would likely be the first time globally that a cultured meat product is sold commercially, said the Singapore Food Agency (SFA), which made public on Wednesday guidelines to ensure the safety of food inventions.
READ: Singapore introduces safety rules for new food inventions as demand for meat substitutes grows
Cultured or cell-based meat is meat developed in laboratories using animal cells.
San Francisco-based Eat Just, which is known for its plant-based egg substitutes, said no antibiotics were used in its product.
It added that safety tests found that its cultured chicken had "extremely low and significantly cleaner microbiological content" than traditional chicken.
"The analysis also demonstrated that cultured chicken contains a high protein content, diversified amino acid composition, high relative content in healthy monounsaturated fats and is a rich source of minerals," it said.
In a media release, the company said it took "many months" for its team of scientists, product developers and regulation experts to record the cultured chicken’s production process – information which is required under SFA rules.
"The company documented the purity, identity and stability of chicken cells during the manufacturing process, as well as a detailed description of the manufacturing process which demonstrated that harvested cultured chicken met quality controls and a rigorous food safety monitoring system", said Eat Just.
MADE IN SINGAPORE
The cultured chicken was manufactured at the Food Innovation and Resource Centre, a food research facility co-run by Singapore Polytechnic and Enterprise Singapore.
"Singapore has long been a leader in innovation of all kinds, from information technology to biologics to now leading the world in building a healthier, safer food system," said Josh Tetrick, co-founder and CEO of Eat Just as he explained why Singapore was chosen as the first location to launch its chicken product.
"I'm sure that our regulatory approval for cultured meat will be the first of many in Singapore and in countries around the globe."
Mr Tetrick said his company is looking to offer the product at a restaurant first before distributing it to the mass market, adding that it will be priced similar to what consumers pay for "premium chicken" at restaurants.
Costs of the cell-based chicken cannot be revealed for intellectual property reasons, he said. But he expects its chicken to be below the prices of its conventional counterpart "in the years ahead".
Other ingredients used in the chicken nuggets include breadcrumbs and mung bean protein, which is also used in their plant-based eggs.
The company said it plans to introduce other cultured chicken products in future.
Eat Just, which was founded in 2011, announced in October a partnership with private equity firm Proterra Investment Partners Asia to build a US$120 million plant-protein factory in Singapore – the company’s first in Asia.
The egg-substitute maker, which counts business tycoon Li Ka-Shing and venture capital firms Khosla Ventures among its investors, is attempting to raise at least US$200 million that may give it a US$2 billion valuation, in what could be its last fundraising round before going public, Bloomberg reported in October.
Meat substitutes have become more popular in the past few years, fuelled by growing concerns about the environmental impact of animal farming and the sustainability of meat production as global population rises.
A 2019 report by Barclays predicted that the global alternative meat market, currently valued at US$14 billion - or 1 per cent of the US$1.4 trillion meat industry - could be worth 10 times more at about US$140 billion by 2029.
Local protein replacement start-ups have also recently gained ground.
On Sunday, Float Foods said it would introduce an egg substitute made of legumes in the first quarter of 2022. And last month, Shiok Meats unveiled its lab-grown lobster meat. The cultured meat producer said it aims to launch its products by 2022.