December 28, 2020

Singapore Approves Lab-Grown Meat for Sale

Singapore Approves Lab-Grown Meat for Sale

Chicken bites, produced by the United States company Eat Just, have passed a safety review by the Singapore Food Agency (SFA) and are now approved for sale by the regulatory agency for the first time. The cultured meat is produced in a 1,200-litre bioreactor and is combined with plant-based ingredients. The cells used to start the process came from a cell bank and did not require the slaughter of a chicken because cells can be taken from biopsies of live animals.

Singapore’s regulatory body assembled a panel of seven experts in food toxicology, bioinformatics, nutrition, epidemiology, public health policy, food science, and food technology to evaluate each stage of Eat Just’s manufacturing process and make sure the chicken is safe to eat. “It was found to be safe for consumption at the intended levels of use and was allowed to be sold in Singapore as an ingredient in Eat Just’s nuggets product,” the SFA said. The agency also said it has put in place a regulatory framework for “novel food” to ensure that cultured meat and other alternative protein products meet safety standards before they are sold in Singapore.

Eat Just is not the only company creating cultured meats. Memphis Meats, a California-based startup, announced in January it plans to build its first pilot production plant in the United States. "This way of making meat is far and away safer," Josh Tetrick, co-founder, and CEO of Eat Just told Cheddar. "It’s cleaner, and eventually, it’s going to be more cost-effective." The company has not said when the chicken bites will be available.

According to The Guardian, the growth medium for the Singapore production line includes fetal bovine serum, which is extracted from fetal blood, but this is largely removed before consumption. A plant-based serum would be used in the next production line, the company said but was not available when the Singapore approval process began two years ago. This would produce challenges, though. “If we want to serve the entire country of Singapore, and eventually bring it to elsewhere in the world, we need to move to 10,000-litre or 50,000-litre-plus bioreactors,” Tetrick said.

Sghaier Chriki and Jean-Francois Hocquette published a review of cultured meat in Frontiers in Nutrition, stating the difficulty of laboratory meat “to offer consumers a wide range of meats reflecting the diversity of animal muscles or cuts.” Additionally, “the sensory quality of meat differs across, and within a species, between breeds, genders, animal type, farming conditions, and mainly between muscles with a different anatomic location. So, many complex processes still need to be controlled to make in vitro meat more attractive to consumers as it is more or less the case for any other new food product.”

While only providing chicken bites, Eat Just has large hopes for the future. “I think the approval is one of the most significant milestones in the food industry in the last handful of decades. It’s an open door and it’s up to us and other companies to take that opportunity. My hope is these leads to a world in the next handful of years where the majority of meat doesn’t require killing a single animal or tearing down a single tree,” Tetrick said.