Singapore is one-bite ahead of the rest of the world for cultured meat approval

Sustainable Leaders | Singapore


By Hana Azuma, Freelance Writer

Published July 15, 2021

Food is a right and necessity for all living organisms. However, with the projected exponential population growth of humans and a somewhat ‘unpredictable’ changing climate, our world is facing food insecurity.


New, innovative strategies are needed to increase food production, whilst hindering the further exacerbation of climate change. Food production must increase by at least 70% in order to meet the global food demand in 2050—which is when the global population is projected to hit nine billion people. However, with the current climate crisis, the depletion of environmental resources and biodiversity loss, achieving such a task is no easy feat.


Humans are consuming too much meat for the environment to handle. | The Kingfisher

One of the major concerns frequently discussed today is our substantial consumption of meat; according to an FAO Report (2019), around 80 billion livestock are slaughtered every year to meet the demand for meat products.


Livestock is a primary contributor of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, the major drivers of climate change, due to their ruminant guts and their nitrous oxide-filled manure. Today, approximately 14.5% of the entire anthropogenic GHG emissions is caused by livestock, of which 65% is from cattle (FAO 2019).


As the year goes by, global meat demand continues to surge, as previously lower income countries become richer and more urbanized. The expansion of these markets will further implicate an increase in land-use change, freshwater usage, GHG emissions and biodiversity loss.


To hinder this, wealthier countries, who have the luxury of choice in their diets, have strongly encouraged their citizens to shift towards plant-based diets—the abstinence from all animal products. The aim is to relieve pressure on livestock production, both meat and dairy, by decreasing demand.


‘80 billion livestock are slaughtered every year to meet the demand for meat products.’


So, should we all go plant-based? In theory, this would be a ‘quick fix’ solution to decreasing the impact of GHG emissions on the global environment immensely and decelerating global warming.


Although, this is unrealistic and not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution. In many regions of the world meat is a crucial part of the culture, religion, and income. For instance, livestock contributes about 19%, 13% and 8% GDP in Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda, respectively.


One must also keep in mind that it is the diets of urbanized areas which contribute the most to climate change, as their demands are supplied via factory and battery farms. These high density, intensive agricultural practices have little regard for animal wellbeing and the environment, prioritizing maximizing their profits instead. It is not the subsistence, smallholder farmers of rural and indigenous communities, who contribute to GHG emissions.


‘It is the diets of urbanized areas which contribute the most to climate change.’


Cultured meat would drastically decrease the amount of livestock held in inhuman factory and battery farm conditions. | Farm Watch / Flickr

Eat Just, Inc. : A lab-based approach to meeting the meat demand


We may not be far from a future where meat is consumed without slaughtering any live animals nor our finite resources unsustainably exploited. For the first time in the world, the Singapore Food Agency approved lab-grown chicken (also known as in vitro, artificial meat) produced by Californian start-up Eat Just, branded as GOOD Meat.


The founder and CEO of Eat Just, Josh Tetrick, started his company with the aim to ‘take live animals out of the equation of the food system’. Their featured product ‘Just Egg’ launched in 2018, which has been lab-grown to mimic chicken eggs. The company has been able to sell an equivalent of more than 100 million chicken eggs to firms such as Walmart and Alibaba.


This cultured chicken is not plant-based, as its contents are technically still made from animals. Eat Just’s poultry meat and egg products are cultured from a single stem cell—a non-specialised cell which can be programmed to grow into any part of the body—obtained from a cell bank, through a biopsy or the root of a feather.


The cell is then fed with all the essential nutrients and hormones, as a chicken normally would. Depending on the manufacturer’s choice, stem cells can then either transform into muscle cells or fat cells.


‘For the first time in the world, the Singapore Food Agency approved lab-grown chicken.’


With this technique, one could grow the desired part of chicken, whilst eliminating the need to produce, keep and slaughter live chicken in battery farms. It takes around two weeks to obtain full grown meat and the process is relatively easy compared to its regulatory approval to be allowed onto the market.


So, where can you have your bite of the lab-grown chicken? Currently, only one restaurant in Singapore, 1880 is serving GOOD Meat chicken nuggets for about $17. However, there is expected to be a wider adoption of cultured chicken in the city over the coming months to years. Furthermore, it is possible to purchase such chicken on the GOOD Meat website.


This breakthrough of approving lab-based meat has not only shaken the world of animal agriculture, but is revolutionizing it. Although poultry production represents only the minority of the total livestock GHG emission (8%), if cultured beef and pork meat are also approved, it would significantly contribute to the climate crisis mitigation, whilst meeting the global meat demand.


‘The approval of lab-based meat will revolutionize the world of animal agriculture.’


Scientists can mimic the growth conditions in the lab in order to grow chicken meat and eggs from a single stem cell. Only a few chickens, or livestock in general, would be needed as a stem cell bank — a tiny proportion of the livestock we rear today. | Nighthawk Shoots / Unsplash

What are the other benefits? Wider adoption of cultured meat means that some animal welfare issues can be overcome, and biodiversity can be maintained by sparing the land used for feed crops and livestock rearing. Moreover, cultured meat could substitute plant-based meat products which often fail to satisfy consumers on their texture, consistency and taste.


But, how would the world respond to this novel method of producing meat? Oftentimes, humans tend to dislike ‘unnatural’ products, which may influence the acceptance of lab-grown meat.


Furthermore, despite some of the ethical issues of livestock farming being tackled, certain cellular agriculture still requires a much smaller extent of animal rearing to extract muscle cell samples—regardless of the little to no pain caused. As a result, some may still choose to be vegetarian or vegan.


Is cultured meat safe?


Advocates of cultured meat argue that it is safer than the current meat sold in supermarkets, as it is grown under a controlled environment without any external contacts. Thus, in vitro meat has extremely low or no risk of bacterial contamination such as E.coli, Salmonella or Campylobacter, compared to conventional, highly dense livestock during slaughter. This technology would also decrease the pressure on antibiotic-resistance development.


On the other hand, there is a lot of uncertainty in potential consequences of cultured meat due to its recent development. Some may argue that human metabolism could severely be affected if cultured meat containing deregulated cell lines are consumed. But, it is perhaps not so much of a concern, as this would be relatively easy to spot and removed from production.


In terms of the environment, the carbon footprint from cultured meat may not be as better than conventional livestock farming over the long term as initially thought. A study reported that despite methane from live animals being one of the most potent GHGs, it does not accumulate in the atmosphere like CO2 does.


Therefore, if one replaces livestock entirely with cultured meat, CO2 from the production would gradually accumulate and remain, warming the temperature. Thus, the advantage of in vitro meat over conventional animal agriculture is not always clear.


In vitro meat has extremely low or no risk of bacterial contamination.’


Other limiting factors are cost and scale of its production. Currently, it costs $4 to produce 110 grams of cultured chicken, compared to the $1.14 per Kg in conventional chicken farms. However, CEO from Future Meat Technologies, Rom Kshuk predicts that the price would be cut back under $2 over the next year or so.


Eat Just CEO Tetrick is also confident that cultured chicken production cost and scale would significantly improve over time. But, it would take several years or more for this high-priced product to become accessible to all.


We must also consider the consequences of cellular agriculture on conventional farmers, religion and culture. If livestock agriculture is eliminated, a loss of agricultural jobs and livelihood is inevitable—with those in poorer countries having a difficult time to find alternative work.


Another interesting question is whether lab-grown meat would be considered as Kosher (Jewish dietary law) or Halal (Islamic dietary law)? Some argue that regardless of the source of meat cells used, the original identity would be lost.


Singapore food markets offering Asian food, a cuisine heavy in meat dishes, serving cultured meat could soon be the norm! | Lily Banse / Unsplash

So where is the world heading?


The approval of sustainable lab-grown chicken by Singapore has undeniably become a turning point of our broken food systems, and a big step towards achieving food security. However, it is believed that it will take several years for the US and Europe to approve cellular agriculture for market sale, due to strict regulatory legislations and public attitudes.


But Tetrick is confident, ‘You have to take leaps of faith every day, right? We’re acting as if the U.S. will eventually approve it. We’re acting as if Europe will eventually approve it.’


Featured Image: Annie Spratt | Unsplash

Chriki S. and Hocquette J.F. (2020) The myth of cultured meat: A review. Frontiers in Nutrition. Volume 7, article 9.

Gilchrist K. (2021) ‘This multibillion-dollar company is selling lab-grown chicken in a world first. CNBC: Make it. Available at: https://www.cnbc.com/2021/03/01/eat-just-good-meat-sells-lab-grown-cultured-chicken-in-world-first.html [Accessed 9 July 2021]

Lynch J. and Pierrehumbert R. (2019) Climate impacts of cultured meat and beef cattle. Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems. Volume 3, article 5.

McDougal T. (2017) ‘The cost of producing poultry meat across the globe.’ Poultry World. Available at: https://www.poultryworld.net/Meat/Articles/2017/8/The-cost-of-producing-poultrymeat-across-the-globe-176702E/ [Accessed 9 July 2021]

Nyariki D. and Amwata D. (2019) The value of pastoralism in Kenya: Application of total economic value approach. Pastoralism. Volume 9, article 9.

Singapore Food Agency (2020) ‘Safety of Alternative Protein.’ Singapore Food Agency. Available at: https://www.sfa.gov.sg/food-information/risk-at-a-glance/safety-of-alternative-protein [Accessed 9 July 2021]



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