In world’s first, lab-grown chicken for Singaporeans

This bioreacto grown chicken just got the world (Photo: Eat Just)

This bioreacto grown chicken just got the world’s first approval for meat that didn’t require slaughtering and animal (Photo: Eat Just)

By Ivan Lim
Former AJA President, Contributor to AsiaN

SINGAPORE: A culinary surprise awaits Singapore chicken rice lovers. Their next meal of the healthier white-meat dish may come, not from a farm, but straight out of a laboratory.

On December 2, United States food technology start-up Eat Just received the greenlight from Singapore Food Agency (SFA) to offer its lab-grown chicken for local consumption, making the city-state the first in the world to do so.

The San Francisco-based firm’s chief executive officer, Mr Josh Tetrick, said Singapore was chosen for the launch of its cultured chicken because of ‘‘its technological innovations, from information to biologics.’’

He noted: “It is also committed to building a healthier, safer food system.”

Before releasing the novel chicken in the mass market, it will be used as an ingredient in its “chicken bites” or nuggets for restaurants.  The roll-out of the Made-in-Singapore chicken comes following in-house and independent safety and nutrition tests. Moreover, the SFA will also keep track of this and other cultured foods coming on stream, said its director-general for food administration, DrTan Lee Kim.

As for novelty, East Just chief Tetrick explains that its production method is different from feeding and growing muscle tissue inside live animals. “The meat we’re making is created in large cultivators or bio-reactors using chicken cells, and  a mixture of nutrients, to grow those cells into a piece of chicken.”

It is distinctively pure meat, said Ms. Elaine Siu from the Good Food Institute that promotes protein alternatives.

It is also safer; “the production doesn’t require antibiotics, doesn’t require slaughter, and doesn’t suffer from fecal E. coli, salmonella, or other contamination.”

While the cultured chicken is scientifically rated as fit for human consumption, it has yet to pass the tests of pricing, neophobias(fear of new food) and halal endorsement.

It is understood that the premium chicken nuggets destined for restaurants will be pricey.

As for taste, some Singaporeans say they are willing to give it a try while others are more guarded. “I am wary of this artificial meat because of the blood and serum ingredients that go into its making,” said a vegetarian friend of mine.

Some Muslims may want to see the cultured meat certified as halal – where the cell is taken from a chicken slaughtered according to Islamic rites – before they will touch it.

A Muslim man told me, however, that to him it is not different from ‘’taking a flu tablet made in a lab.”

Singapore’s venture into cultured food dovetails with the island-nation’s “30X30’’ plan to attain 30 per cent of local food production by 2030, up from 10 per cent currently.

The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic injected urgency to the self-sufficiency drive.  In February, when the colour-coded public health alert went up a notch from yellow to orange, there was a rush on supermarkets as citizens feared shortage arising from disruption of supply chains hit by lockdowns, globally.

“We had a momentary panic. And that sort of alluded to us the possibility of a global shortage,” said Ms Grace Fu, Minister for Sustainability & the Environment.

The Singapore Food Agency, tasked with ensuring food security, is pursuing a “three-food-baskets” strategy: diversify its sources of food supplies, expand food production by local firms in other countries, and boost the domestic food industry.

Singapore imports food from more than 170 countries and looks to diversifying its source of supply. At the height of the pandemic, merchants ventured to bring in eggs from Poland and South Korea instead of depending merely on traditional suppliers such as Malaysia.

Facing the prospect of global disruption of supplies and the impact of Climate Change on farming and fisheries, the Republic of 5.6 million people are turning to alternative food production. Following cultured chicken, Singaporeans will soon see plant-based eggs on their menu too.

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