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Singapore becomes first country to approve sale of lab-grown chicken nuggets  

SINGAPORE: 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 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.

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, 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.

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.

 The dark side of meat grown in labs

Despite all the popular media frenzy that’s circulated about prospects to produce ‘lab-grown’ conscience-free meat, there’s a darker side to culturing muscle cells in a laboratory for food production.

Advocates for lab-grown meat say that beyond helping fight climate change, it will also improve animal welfare and shake up our food production system. But there is a problem with cellular agriculture—another name for lab-grown meat. In keyways, lab-grown meat is built on the same foundational logics of our current industrial food system.

As a result, it’s firmly on the road to replicating many of the challenges that it claims it will address, and in the process risks making a food future that is worse, rather than better, for eaters.

Prominent Australian animal scientists say multiplying animal cells to create a form of meat protein in a lab requires the use of a medium based on foetal blood plasma.

Foetal blood is produced by slaughtering a pregnant cow, removing its unborn calf from its uterus, and harvesting the blood from it. While a synthetic alternative to foetal blood does exist, it is apparently prohibitively expensive to produce, the meat scientist said.

Those who push for it claims it will help solve the climate change problem by reducing livestock carbon footprint and improve the animal condition. The fact is that the “fake meat” still has to come from livestock. In addition, climate change may actually be a hoax and has no direct reason to push for laboratory-grown meats.

The cost of lab meat is too high. Current estimates range from $363 to $2,400 cost per pound of lab-grown meat. Thus, it’s unrealistic to have it sold commercially.