Singapore has given a US start-up the green light to sell lab-grown chicken meat, in what the firm says is the world’s first regulatory approval for so-called “clean meat” that does not come from slaughtered animals.
- The regulatory approval is part of Singapore’s plans to produce more of its own food
- Lab-grown or cultured meat is grown from animal muscle cells in a lab
- Globally more than two dozen firms are testing lab-grown fish, beef, seafood and chicken
The meat, to be sold as nuggets, will be priced at premium chicken prices when it first launches in a restaurant in Singapore “in the very near term”, Eat Just co-founder and chief executive Josh Tetrick said.
Demand for alternatives to regular meat is surging due to concerns about health, animal welfare and the environment.
Plant-based substitutes, popularised by the likes of Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods and Quorn, increasingly feature on supermarket shelves and restaurant menus.
But so-called clean or cultured meat, which is grown from animal muscle cells in a lab, is still at an early stage given high production costs.
Singapore currently only produces about 10 per cent of its food but has set out ambitious plans to raise that over the next decade by supporting high-tech farming and new means of food production.
Mr Tetrick said his San Francisco-based firm was also talking to US regulators but that Singapore was a “good bit” ahead of the US.
“I would imagine what will happen is the US, Western Europe and others will see what Singapore has been able to do, the rigours of the framework that they put together, and I would imagine that they will try to use it as a template to put their own framework together,” he said.
The company had once costed the nuggets at $US50 each but says it can now sell them at a price similar to ordinary premium chicken.
The Singapore Food Agency said it had reviewed data relating to process, manufacturing control and safety testing before granting approval.
Eat Just said it would manufacture the product in Singapore, where it also plans to start making a mung bean-based egg substitute it has been selling commercially in the US.
Founded in 2011, Eat Just counts Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-shing and Singapore state investor Temasek among its backers. It has raised more than $US300 million ($422 million) since its inception, Mr Tetrick said, and is valued at roughly $US1.2 billion.
It is targeting profitability at an operating income level before the end of 2021 and hopes to go public soon after, he added.
Globally more than two dozen firms are testing lab-grown fish, beef and chicken, hoping to break into an unproven segment of the alternative meat market, which Barclays estimates could be worth $US140 billion by 2029.
Competitors have also attracted some eye-catching investors.
US-based Memphis Meats raised funds this year in a deal led by Japan’s SoftBank Group and Temasek, and also counts Bill Gates and Richard Branson among its backers.
Singapore’s Shiok Meats, which aims to become the first company to sell lab-grown shrimp, is backed by Henry Soesanto of Philippines’ Monde Nissin Corp, which also owns Quorn.