To get a better sense of the implications of Singapore’s approval, I talked to founders and market experts from the key markets in Asia Pacific.
There seems to be a consensus that this decision will help to accelerate regulatory pathways for other startups & countries.
Elaine Siu, Managing Director of The Good Food Institute Asia Pacific, the organisation working to support the transition to sustainable protein, said
“The race to divorce meat production from industrial animal agriculture is underway and nations that follow Singapore’s lead will be able to reap the benefits.”
Founder and CEO of Eat Just, Josh Tetrick, is also recognising
the trailblazing character of this decision:
“I’m sure that our regulatory approval […] will be the first of many in Singapore and in countries around the globe.”
Let’s dive deeper into selected markets in Asia Pacific:
Singapore Food Agency’s recent decision is product/process-specific and it is NOT a blanket approval for all cell-based products in Singapore (even Eat Just needs to re-apply for any variations).
It is not yet clear to if/when this approval will form the basis for a more comprehensive regulatory framework.
Local startups are in touch with SFA and hoping the decision will help to accelerate their respective approvals.
Sandhya Sriram, founder and CEO of a best-funded cell-based startup in APAC, Shiok Meats
“[SFA] is diligent and very supportive of cell-based meats. We already are and will be working closely with them. We are aiming for approval [for our cell-based seafood products] sometime in 2022.”
“We are planning to get approval for our first [meat] products within the next 2-3 years. Upon more companies applying for approval, SFA may come up with a more detailed guideline, so that new products will need much less than 2 years that it took for [Eat Just product]”.
Mihir Pershad, founder of Umami Meats
(serum-free media) said:
“We find it valuable to be in an ecosystem with such a transparent and forward-thinking regulatory body. It reduces the regulatory risk of bringing a new product to market. Our goal is to submit our data package to SFA in late 2021 and to receive first approval in early 2023 (or late 2022 if timeline gets faster).”
Asked if and how the approval process might be different for serum-free media (which is a component used in the production process, but not directly consumed by the end consumer) Mihir said:
“We are currently working as though our product will need to receive a novel foods approval to be included in cultured meat products. Our upcoming conversations with SFA should help to shed some light on this particular line of reasoning. ”
“We continue to engage the regulators to place our products on a clearer path to market. We are part of a consumer study commissioned by SFA for alternative proteins, through the Future REady Food Safety Hub (FRESH) Platform.”
FRESH platform that Fengru mentioned above is a good example of a collaborative and proactive approach Singapore is taking here. Minister of Environment said in this speech from 2019
, that the platform “would not only allow first-in-market food products to be safely launched in Singapore, it could also help promote Singapore-developed food standards internationally.”
Australia (and NZ)
According to the founder of Cellular Agriculture Australia
, Bianca Lê, Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) is directly responsible for regulating cell-based meat for both Australia and NZ: “It has stated that cultivated meat would be captured within the existing framework of the Food Standards Code and will require pre-market approval.”
Bianca thinks “SFA’s decision will create a domino effect” as “FSNAZ are keeping a close eye on how other regulatory bodies will regulate cell-based products”.
Sam Lawrence, Director of Policy and Government Relations at alt protein think tank Food Frontier
“A real-world competitive example will spur the agency to ensure A/NZ is equally competitive as the world moves towards commercial production and eventually international trade in cellular agriculture products.”
As for the timeline, Lawrence said that “the application process for approval of new products varies and can reasonably be expected to take 12-18 months”.
George Peppou, co-founder and CEO of Australian cell-based meat startup Vow
told me they “maintain a dialogue with FSANZ”, which is “actively looking at cultured meat and how to approach regulation, consulting with companies like us”.
Would Vow consider launching in Singapore first if that helps them to accelerate market entry? Co-founder Tim Noakesmith is clearly open to the idea:
“Vow was born a global company. The fastest moving and most progressive regulators will form a big part of selecting our first markets. We are huge fans of Singapore’s progressive stance on cultured meat, and the wonderful food culture representing so many global cuisines. We would be delighted to launch in Singapore.”
Regulatory environment for cell-based seems much less clear in Hong Kong.
Local startup Avant Meats
so far “has not received a signal from HK departments for any new or change to existing regulatory provisions for cell-based meat”, according to co-founder and CEO, Carrie Chan.
Carrie refers to an example of Impossible Foods (Hong Kong has been the first international market for the American company’s plant-based meat that includes novel GM ingredients):
“For Impossible, there is case whereby the product is approved and has track record of safety in other major jurisdictions. It is taken into consideration to decide whether the product can be sold in HK.”
I heard a similar sentiment from my other sources: HK is relying almost entirely on imported food and their food safety processes are build around “green-lighting” import of the products that have been approved by regulatory bodies in key global markets (e.g. FDA).
However “this practice may or may not apply to cell-based meat”, said Carrie.
Is she thinking about launching Avant products in Singapore first? “Yes, we consider seriously the plan to apply to SFA and product launch upon approval”.
At the time of writing, I have not been able to confirm if China’s regulatory agencies started to work on a cell-based meat approval framework.
There have been reports
on “calls for a national strategy for development of cell-based meat sector” during “high level plenary meeting”. In 2019 cell-based meat briefly made headlines
in China when a team at Nanjing Agricultural University produced 5 gram of pork from muscle stem cells.
Dr. Ding Shijie, who has been a core member of that team and is now CTO of cell-based meat startup Nanjing Zhouzi Future Food Technology Co
recently told GFI APAC
that “he believes that regulatory decisions from Singapore could serve as examples for the Chinese government and others to follow”.
It is not yet clear which institutions will be involved in regulating the space. Carrie Chan from Avant Meats:
“As the matter is still under development, we cannot say for sure the exact departments. We have the impression that it will not be one department [like SFA in SG] or even two as in the case of the US. We heard the possibility of more parties involved. That may still change as the process is streamlined.”
My source (preferred not to be named) made this interesting observation:
“China may seem late to the game at the moment, but the way the system works there, they have the ability cut through the red tape and get the regulations done in a very short time if it becomes a national priority.”
And with the competitive global market and growing food sovereignty concerns, I would not be personally surprised if that will be the case.
Arguably the most interesting regulatory situation in the region at the moment. As GFI’s Naoto Yamaguchi writes in the blog post
“Currently, it is possible to sell [cell-based meat] in Japan, depending on the interpretation of existing laws.”
Yuki Hanyu, the founder & CEO of Japan’s pioneer cell-based startup Integriculture
“Cell-based meat is not considered ‘novel food’ in Japan. In other words, there is no regulatory barrier in marketing cell-based meat for now, as long as the cell-based meat is produced according to the preexisting regulations.”
What’s the catch?
Elaine Siu from GFI explains
that to be compliant with existing regulations, the products would have to meet two criteria:
- No externally sourced growth factors as they are currently not approved as food or food additives in Japan
- No immortalised cells
That effectively eliminates most of the startups from selling in the market. Integriculture however could potentially qualify
as their proprietary CulNet System works with in vivo
growth factors and does not use immortalised cells.
Yuki points out to another potential issue:
“If there are any consumer concerns, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare (MHLW) may assume ‘novelty’ in cell-based meat and start introducing new regulations.”
Integriculture is planning to launch cell-cultured cosmetics in Japan in April-May 2021, and cell-cultured foie gras in December 2021 as “demonstration products for our CulNet System technology”, according to Hanyu.
Asked about Singapore, Yuki said he is not planning to launch consumer products there. Integriculture’s core business model is “Bioreactor as a Service” and according to Hanyu “it makes more sense to assist Singaporean users of the CulNet System to get regulatory approval locally”. Earlier this year the company announced
a partnership with SG-based startup Shiok Meats.
According to Varun Deshpande, Managing Director of GFI India
, cell-based meat is expected to be regulated by The Food Safety & Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), an autonomous body under the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare.
It is still early days for cell-based meat in India. Varun’s team is working to connect Indian regulators with their counterparts in Singapore and elsewhere to accelerate the pathway to approval. He told me:
“Singapore has demonstrated visionary leadership with SFA’s rigorous, evidence-based regulatory process. We are in active conversation with the FSSAI. Interactions among regulators to share data and insights can help move this along, so enabling government-to-government consultations is a key piece of our strategy in the country.”