All sizzle, no steak: How Singapore became the center of the plant-based meat industry | Environment

Last week, Singapore became the first country to approve the commercial sale of a protein grown “from scratch”, according to its marketing slogan. Sole, a yellow powder resembling grated parmesan cheese, is the product of microbes fueled with gases – carbon dioxide, hydrogen and oxygen – and nutrients. According to its developer, Finnish company Solar Foods, it will be used in products such as plant-based meats, breads and spreads.

Singapore has become a global hotspot for alternative protein industry, with startups flocking to the island to develop and launch animal-free alternatives to traditional meat products.

Major global food industry players converged on the city-state last week for the Asia-Pacific Agribusiness Innovation Summitwhere several dozen startups and think tanks have agreed to now refer to lab-grown meat — also known as cell farming — as “cultured meat.”

Mirte Gosker, chief executive of the Good Food Institute (GFI) Asia-Pacific think tank, says Singapore is “undoubtedly the leading alternative protein hub in Asia – and arguably the world”. According to the institute, there are now at least 36 alternative protein companies based in the city, which have collectively raised more than $213 million in funding.

Along with Israel, the Singapore government has been “the most active and active in supporting alternative proteins” globally, GFI found, and it has invested significantly in seed and infrastructure funds.

Singapore is the first country to approve the commercial sale of cultured meat, in the form of chicken nuggets and chicken breast produced by Good Meat, a subsidiary of the American firm Eat Just. During the COP27 summit which begins on Sunday in Egypt, the Singapore pavilion will distribute samples of cultured meat.

How Singapore Became a Food Tech Hub

Singapore’s rise in the alternative protein sector is partly due to geography. The island covers just over 700 km² – and less than 1% of this area is agricultural land.

Professor William Chen, director of the food science and technology program at Nanyang Technological University, says Singapore depends on imports for more than 90% of its food, making it vulnerable to shortages and price inflation. .

“In peacetime, we import food from more than 170 countries,” Chen said.

The government has been considering food security since 2014, he says, particularly in light of the “looming crisis” of climate change.

The government has set itself a “30 by 30” strategy – a target of local and sustainable production of 30% of its nutritional needs by 2030.

The strategy focuses on increasing fruit, vegetable and egg production, but the government has also invested in alternative proteins in anticipation of future demand. Food demand is expected to rise globally at least 59% between 2005 and 2050, when the UN predicts that the world’s population will reach 9.7 billion.

Professor Michelle Colgrave, who leads the Future Protein Mission at CSIRO, the Australian government’s science agency, says growing urbanization and affluence in parts of Asia and Africa will lead to growing demand for protein, and in particular proteins of animal origin.

“At the same time, to fill an impending food gap, we need these complementary sources of protein…from plants to cells,” she says.

Gosker says Singapore is the only country where “all three pillars of alternative proteins” – plant-based, fermentation-activated and cultured – are sold commercially.

Plant-based products, the most widely available, have yet to reach price parity with conventional meat, Gosker says. They include proteins from wheat, soy, peas and legumes, as well as algae, such as spirulina.

Susie O’Neill, head of industry engagement at think tank Food Frontier, says there are at least 17 international manufacturers selling plant-based protein products in Singapore, including Beyond meat and Impossible. Asia-based startups include TINDLE and OmniFoods.

In precision fermentation, single-celled organisms such as yeasts are used to produce a specific protein using a carbon source – such as sugars or, in the case of solein, gases – and nitrogen as key ingredients. . The technique is used by companies such as perfect day TO DO cow free dairy protein.

O’Neill points out that a similar process has been used for decades to generate products such as non-animal rennet for cheese. “Also, insulin is produced this way, as well as certain vitamins such as B12,” she says.

A Solar Foods specialist prepares a cutlet made from water, air and electricity in Helsinki, Finland. Photograph: Reuters

Few farmers object

Cultured meat, which has been touted as an environmentally sustainable alternative to conventional animal meat, has yet to reach the mainstream. O’Neill estimates there are 11 cellular agriculture companies working in Singapore, including Shiok meatwhich develops farmed shrimp, crab and lobster, and Good Meat, famous for its chicken nuggets.

“It is estimated that 1,000 customers were able to purchase [cultivated chicken] through a series of restaurant pop-ups and small-scale shopping, but large-scale sales are still a long way off,” says Gosker. Despite substantial price cuts — the first lab-grown burger cost $300,000 to produce in 2013 — critical research suggests that cultured meat will never be able to compete with conventional meat on price.

Chen, who was on the regulatory board that approved lab-grown chicken nuggets, says there is less resistance to new food sources in Singapore than in countries with large livestock industries, where the work of farmers and other actors in the meat supply chain could be at risk.

“If you develop plant-based or cultured meat [in places like the US or Brazil], you are bound to face resistance,” he says. “In Singapore, we don’t have that problem.”

Another advantage is that Singapore was already a technology hub.

“In the transition from biomedical technology to food technology development, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel,” Chen says. “Culture meat is another form of tissue engineering. Precision fermentation is another organic industry.

Critics of alternative proteins have said their development could jeopardize the livelihoods of millions of food producers, and that the investment diverts resources of the “desperately needed regionalization of food production and processing”. Some have said that the sector reinforces a “center of the plate” approach to protein in diets, rather than “supporting transformational changes in the way we eat”.

Chen does not see alternative proteins as a threat to traditional meat producers. New proteins are unlikely to replace existing foods, but rather should provide “new options, so that we are better prepared for future food crises,” he says.

“It’s complementary.”

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