Alternative protein company Eat Just has secured the world’s first regulatory approval for cell-based meat. The company, known for its plant-based egg made of mung beans, announced on Wednesday (2 December) that its cultured chicken pieces have been approved for sale in Singapore, paving the way for a small-scale commercial launch.
No date has been set for the commercial launch. The company said details will be announced at a later date.
Over “many months”, scientists, product developers and regulatory experts from Eat Just have been documenting the characteristics and production of its cultured chicken, the company said in a statement. Its team had to document information such as the purity and stability of the chicken cells, and show that the manufacturing process meets food safety standards.
“Eat Just has demonstrated a consistent manufacturing process of their cultured chicken by running over 20 production runs in 1,200-litre bioreactors. No antibiotics are used in this proprietary process,” the company said.
Eat Just added that its chicken is high-protein and has diverse amino acids, minerals and a high amount of mono-unsaturated fat.
Eat Just has demonstrated a consistent manufacturing process of their cultured chicken by running over 20 production runs in 1,200-litre bioreactors. No antibiotics are used in this proprietary process.
Cell-based meat has excited investors and environmentalists as it is a way of producing meat without slaughtering animals, while potentially incurring a smaller carbon footprint. The cultured meat is grown in facilities, and does not require extensive tracts of land for the farming of animals, or to grow crops such as soy to feed the animals.
About 15 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions arises from livestock farming. But experts have cautioned that the exact climate impact of cell-based meat will depend on factors such as how the energy needed to manufacture the meat is derived.
The Singapore Food Agency, which gave regulatory approval, said it established a novel food regulatory framework in November 2019 to assess cultured meat and other alternative protein products that do not have a history of being consumed by humans as food.
Eat Just submitted a safety assessment for its cultured chicken to be used in its nuggets, an agency spokesperson told Eco-Business. Together with its novel food safety expert working group, the agency reviewed the data submitted and found the food to be safe for consumption.
The expert working group, set up in March 2020, is headed by Professor John Lim, executive director of Duke-NUS Medical School’s Centre of Regulatory Excellence. Its seven other members are experts in food toxicology, nutrition, public health policy and other fields.
Eat Just said it has formed strategic partnerships with manufacturers in Singapore to produce chicken cells and formulate the finished product ahead of its “historic sale to a restaurant and, ultimately, initial availability to consumers”.
While plant-based protein companies such as Beyond Meat, OmniMeat and Impossible Foods have seen their plant-derived products taking off commercially in a growing number of countries, meat cultivated from the cells of animals is not yet available on a commercial scale.
Backed by hundreds of millions of dollars in investor funding, start-ups worldwide are competing to get their cell-based seafood, chicken, foie gras and other products to the market first. Singapore-based Shiok Meats, for instance, plans to launch its minced shrimp in 2022 and recently unveiled the world’s first cell-based lobster meat at a private tasting event in Singapore.
The cost of production is a challenge for cell-based meat companies. Impossible Foods founder Pat Brown has even said cell-based meat will never be economically competitive.
Eat Just chief executive Josh Tetrick told media outlet The Straits Times that, for a start, his company’s chicken bites would likely cost as much as “premium chicken” at a restaurant. But he said prices would fall as production scales up, and that costs were already a-third of what they were a year ago.
Eat Just is working on regulatory approval for cultured meats in other countries including the United States. The company said it is actively engaged with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regarding its process to produce meat. The FDA and US Department of Agriculture are currently building a framework and process for regulatory approval of cultured meat in the US, Eat Just said.