SFA recently made international headlines by issuing the world’s first regulatory approval of cell-based meat in Singapore to Eat Just for the use of its cell-based (or cultured) chicken as an ingredient in nuggets.
“SFA and the Novel Food Safety Expert Working Group reviewed the data Eat Just provided, which included information on the process, manufacturing control and safety testing of the cultured chicken - This was found to be safe for consumption at the intended levels of use, and so was allowed to be sold in Singapore as an ingredient in Eat Just’s nuggets product,” SFA told FoodNavigator-Asia in an email statement.
“SFA has put in place a novel food regulatory framework to ensure that cultured meat and other alternative protein products which do not have a history of being consumed by humans as food (i.e. novel food), meet our food safety standards before they are sold in Singapore.”
The agency has also advised other cell-based meat firms looking to follow in Eat Just’s footsteps to start their regulatory application process as early as possible.
“SFA encourages food innovators to engage regulators early in their development process to facilitate the regulatory approval process,” it said.
“Companies developing cell-based meat or cultured meat can continue to approach SFA to discuss the safety assessment of their products, and several cultured meat companies have already done so.”
When asked whether it is necessary for applicants to have a physical production facility in Singapore to apply or maximise chances for approval such as Eat Just’s recent announcement of its first manufacturing site to be located here, SFA did not mention this as a necessary condition but stressed instead that food safety is the number one consideration.
“Food safety is SFA’s principal consideration, hence the approval is contingent on the company’s food product being safe for consumption,” stressed the agency.
“[When making assessments we must] ensure that food products in Singapore are safe for consumption, novel or otherwise [so] food safety must be a principal consideration when companies develop food products.”
Within just a few weeks of its approval on December 2, Eat Just moved rapidly to the commercial sales stage for its cultured meat product dubbed GOOD Meat Cultured Chicken, commencing sales in Singapore restaurant 1880 on December 19. This featured three cultured chicken dishes based on flavours from China, Brazil and the United States.
According to the firm, the first diners were young consumers aged 14 to 18 who had ‘shown, through their consistent actions, a commitment to building a better planet’.
Novel food regulatory framework and Expert Working Group
Under the novel food regulatory framework established by SFA, companies producing novel food products such as cell-based meat are required to conduct and submit safety assessments of their products for SFA’s review before they are allowed for sale.
“SFA has released a document on the food safety information that would be required for novel food safety assessment [including] potential food safety risks, such as toxicity, allergenicity, safety of its production method, and dietary exposure arising from consumption,” said the agency.
“Companies must also provide detailed information on the materials used in their manufacturing processes and how these manufacturing processes are controlled to prevent food safety risks.”
The food safety information document can be found here, and SFA also stressed that information will be updated and revised periodically as novel food is a ‘rapidly evolving area’.
In addition, the agency has also established a Novel Food Safety Expert Working Group to provide scientific advice, which comprises several well-known names in Singapore.
“The expert working group is chaired by the Head of the Centre for Regulatory Excellence, and comprises experts in food toxicology, bioinformatics, nutrition, epidemiology, public health policy, food science and food technology,” said SFA.
Eat Just’s cultured chicken was the first novel food product to be assessed under SFA’s novel food regulatory framework, though no doubt it will not be the last.