Published in The Straits Times, Singapore, on 15 September 2021
SINGAPORE – A commercial facility that produces chicken products through cell culture instead of slaughter has already began operations 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 cell-cultured chicken in July – a world first. It could pave the way for more such protein alternatives to enter the Singapore market and boost food security for the Republic.
In December 2020, 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, the 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 added: “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 that are made from growing animal cells in a bioreactor – similar to the vats used in brewing beer – instead of slaughtering actual chickens. This is considered to be 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 Lifescience Group, which has supplied tools and technology such as bioreactors to firms in the alternative proteins industry.
The company 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 on Wednesday (Sept 15).
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 the materials used in the manufacturing processes and how these are controlled to prevent food safety risks must also be provided, the SFA spokesman added. Firms that wish to manufacture these approved products in Singapore must obtain a separate SFA licence. “If companies wish to manufacture any already approved alternative protein products in Singapore, as with any other food, they must obtain an SFA licence and are subject to checks by SFA of the premises, systems, and products,” said the SFA spokesman. “SFA will also inspect and sample the product for testing, just as we do for other imported and locally manufactured food products.” The Eat Just cultured chicken bites are the only cultured meat product currently approved for sale in Singapore.
When approached for comment, a spokesman for Eat Just declined to give details about the Esco Aster production facility, saying the firm does not comment on details of its partnerships. But he added: “We have multiple production partners for Good Meat and look forward to growing our business in Singapore, which will be a manufacturing hub for the company.” Eat Just’s Good Meat cultivated chicken is being assessed by regulatory authorities in other jurisdictions, such as in the United States and in the Middle East, a spokesman for Eat Just said, adding that the firm plans to set up a cultivated meat facility in the Middle East and Northern Africa region.
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.
But as this is an emerging field, with Singapore the only country which has approved the sale of such products here, many cultured meat products are made in smaller facilities and laboratories at a smaller scale.
A commercial plant in Singapore, however, could enable production of such alternative proteins to be scaled up more rapidly once they are approved for sale here, and bring costs down.
Said Mr Lin: “The licence for manufacturing will allow alternative protein companies to produce small batches of approved cell-cultured food products for commercial market launch in Singapore.”
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. “Other nations would be wise to follow Singapore’s example by investing in this smarter way of making meat before they get left behind.”
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 in Singapore.
A recent Good Food Institute report also revealed that a record US$3.1 billion (S$4.1 billion) was invested into alternative proteins globally last year – three times the capital raised in 2019.