Singapore positions itself as alternative protein pioneer

25 Apr 2023

Singapore is positioning itself as an innovative ecosystem for alternative proteins, with the Singapore Food Agency (SFA) approving cell-cultured chicken, protein made from carbon via precision fermentation, and several insects species in recent years.

In the evolving world of cultivated meat, Singapore continues to blaze a trail for others to follow with recent alt-protein approvals that further pushes mainstream approval and consumer acceptance of the innovation.

Singapore positions itself as alternative protein pioneer
© AdobeStock/monticellllo

Just last week, the SFA provisionally approved crickets, silkworms, and grasshoppers for human consumption as part of plans to develop snacks and protein bars made from these insects.

This follows its approval of Finnish startup Solar Foods’ protein that is made from air. The ingredient is made from a blend of microbes, gases, and nutrients to form the nutrition-packed powder.

In 2020, the city state also approved Eat Just’s cell-based chicken. With these approvals, the country has emerged as a global protein hub for startups looking to develop animal-free options to conventional meat products.

“In recent years, Singapore has invested the necessary resources to make the city-state a welcoming ecosystem for food innovation and multilateral collaboration,” said Good Food Institute (GFI) APAC managing director Mirte Gosker.

“The Lion City is trading its traditional reliance on food imports for a new role as the place where the alternative protein sector’s biggest decisions are forged, announced, and exported to the world.”

Singapore is heavily reliant on food imports

Singapore’s emergence as a food-tech hub is in response to the country’s reliance on imports for more than 90% of its food, which leaves it exposed to shortages and price inflation.

In anticipation of future meat demand, its government has invested in alternative proteins and shaped a favourable regulatory environment that streamlines an otherwise complex and laborious process.

In 2019, the SFA published guidance on specific information requirements to be submitted for approval of cultivated meat and fermentation-enabled products.

© AdobeStock/Ralf© AdobeStock/Ralf

The publication has been updated three times, most recently in April 2022, to increase clarity on product tastings and sensory evaluations.

Overcoming the challenges of alt-meat adoption

As with all pioneering actions, Singapore will be the first among the region’s countries to encounter regulatory and commercial hurdles that at the very least will slow progress in alt-protein’s adoption.

Michal Klar, alternative protein investor, pointed out that Eat Just’s regulatory approval was product and process-specific and not a blanket approval for all cell-based products in Singapore.

It is not yet clear to if or when this approval will form the basis for a more comprehensive regulatory framework, he added.

Other factors include the location itself. Singapore is a very expensive destination to set up operations although its diverse consumer base and cuisine culture lends itself to experimentation of new foods.

“We believe the industry is still in its infancy,” Klar said. “The fundamentals driving the transformation remain strong – more sustainable protein production is key to addressing climate change and biodiversity loss.

“As the saying goes, people tend to overestimate how much can be done in one year, but underestimate how much it is possible to accomplish in 10 years.”

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