Sector News

Harmonizing cell-based labels: Alt-protein pioneers come to consensus on “cultivated” terminology

November 6, 2022
Food & Drink

More than 30 Asia-Pacific stakeholders in the novel foods space have come to an agreement on using “cultivated” as the standard descriptor for novel cell-based products. Working toward regulatory standardization and building public trust, they will use the common term “cultivated” as the English language descriptor to identify meat and other food products grown directly from animal cells.

The consortium comprises cellular agriculture groups in China, Japan and Australia; multinational corporations Cargill and Thai Union; as well as start-ups Good Meat and Shiok Meats.

Cell-based nomenclature
This move to agree on a common, scientifically accurate term is deemed vital for the long-term success of the cultivated foods industry.

More than 30 stakeholders inked an Memorandum of Understanding agreeing on the “cultivated” terminology, which was then publicly revealed during Singapore International Agri-Food Week recently.

Signatories include leading start-ups GOOD Meat, Shiok Meats, Esco Aster, Umami Meats, TurtleTree and Avant, as well as regional coalition groups such as China’s Cellular Agriculture Alliance, Cellular Agriculture Australia, the Japan Association for Cellular Agriculture, and Korean Society for Cellular Agriculture.

Other big names include the Future Ready Food Safety Hub (FRESH) – an entity jointly launched by the Singapore Food Agency, A*STAR, and Nanyang Technological University – and major multinational companies Cargill and Thai Union.

“Any time new foods are introduced to mainstream consumers, there will be a steep learning curve,” comments Dr. Shigeki Sugii, founder of Singapore-based start-up ImpacFat, a specialist in cultivated juicy fish fat that is rich in omega 3.

“That’s why it’s so exciting that our sector has unified early behind the familiar and scientifically accurate term ‘cultivated,’ which reassures consumers that meat, seafood, fats and other products made from animal cells are safely and thoughtfully grown and harvested, in a process similar to growing plants in a greenhouse,” he details.

“For start-ups like mine, having a common term to describe our field allows us to spend less time on basic consumer education and more on scaling up a future-proof food system in Asia.”

Standardizing a novel food product
A wide range of terms has previously been used to describe alternative meat, dairy and seafood products grown directly from animal cells, including “cultured,” “lab-grown” and “cell-based” protein.

New research from the Good Food Institute (GFI) evidences that consumers across Japan, Thailand, Singapore and South Korea are growingly receptive to the novel food type, particularly in seafood format.

As cultivated meat, seafood and other products move into the broader consumer market in the coming years, it is important that shoppers know exactly what they’re buying and how it was made, so that they can make clear and informed decisions.

“Having a standard, go-to phrase to describe products cultivated from animal cells also reduces the burden on new start-ups and businesses to explain their production process to investors and regulators,” states Ryan Huling, senior communications manager at Good Food Institute APAC.

The next step will be to assess how the newly selected English term translates into various Asian languages. The MOU establishes a regional precedent that can be replicated in other regulatory markets around the globe to benefit startups and consumers outside Asia.

Garden city food-tech hub
The location of this latest announcement was no coincidence. In recent years, Singapore has invested the necessary resources to make the city-state a welcoming ecosystem for food innovation and multilateral collaboration.

Singapore’s bold ambitions in food innovation stem from its goal to source 30% of its nutritional needs locally by 2030, while creating new jobs and business opportunities in the emerging food-tech sector.

For some entrepreneurs, the “garden city” has played key roles as a test bed for novel foods and a proactive player in accelerating the cultivated meat category on the global stage. It has become a food-tech hub with a vibe akin to the early days of Silicon Valley, when local start-ups were rapidly buying up office space that put them at the center of the action.

Singapore is the world’s first cultivated meat consumer market, offering fertile innovation grounds for products such as catch-free sashimi and shrimp. In February, Good Meat partnered with select vendors to serve its cultivated chicken to a limited number of diners. The first pop-up took place at Loo’s Hainanese Curry Rice in Tiong Bahru, where the family-run stall featured cultivated chicken in its acclaimed curry rice dish.

Last week, a breakthrough microbial protein-rich powder “made from thin air” using CO2 and electricity – containing all the essential amino acids – received approval to be used across various food applications in Singapore. This greenlight is now paving the way for further approvals worldwide, according to Pasi Vainikka, the scientist behind Solein, who spoke with FoodIngredientsFirst about the regulatory “breakthrough.”

According to AgFunder analysis, last year was “record-breaking” for the Asian agri-food start-ups. During the period, Asia-Pacific funding of this sector reached US$15.2 billion, a 67% jump from the US$9.1 billion raised in 2020. Almost half went to China.

Next to Singapore, the National Innovation Agency in Thailand is pushing for Bangkok to become a food-tech hub of its own. The agency has invested in food start-ups in the area as a part of its “Space-F” project and is looking at scaling “deep tech” as a primary way to drive forward its industry.

However this year, AgFunder reports that the funding for Asia’s agri-food players has “drastically declined” as companies here continue to battle global inflationary headwinds.

By Benjamin Ferrer


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