The demand for food is increasing. In particular, protein consumption is mounting due to a growing global population and rising middle class.
This consumption is adding pressure to the environment. Traditional meat production methods are often land- and water- intensive, and they generate high levels of emissions. The world needs innovative ways to supply protein, and the future could lie in novel food such as alternative proteins.
Alternative proteins are potential game-changers in sustainable food production
Alternative proteins are generally proteins derived from sources other than animals. These include proteins from plants (e.g. soy, wheat, pea and rice), algae (e.g. spirulina), fungi, and cultured meat (by growing animal cells). Alternative proteins are potential game-changers, with the promise of producing large quantities of such proteins with relatively small amounts of land and labour in a climate-resilient and sustainable manner.
While traditional meat producers continue to optimise existing resources for environmental sustainability, alternative protein can complement these sources and, together, tackle climate change challenges to feed the growing global population.
Steps to ensure novel food is safe for consumption
The production of novel food, such as cultured meat and other alternative proteins, is a new and nascent industry. “Novel food has great potential to solve the global food challenge, but we also want to ensure that these food products are safe for consumption,” said Mr Lim Kok Thai, CEO of SFA, in a keynote address at the Asia-Pacific Agri-Food Innovation Week on 21 November 2019.
As early as in 2018, SFA (then Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore) initiated a series of public consultations on a Regulatory Framework for Novel Food and Novel Food Ingredients in Singapore.
In November 2019, SFA also organised a Regulators’ Forum on Novel Food as a platform for local and overseas regulators and industry players to discuss challenges and possible solutions in the safety assessment of novel food.
Following these initiatives and taking reference from the comments received, SFA implemented a new regulatory framework to require companies to seek its approval and undergo a scientific pre-market assessment before placing novel foods in the market. This framework facilitates the sale of alternative proteins in Singapore, while ensuring their safety.
To date, JUST Eggs or JUST Scramble, as well as the Impossible Burger, have been evaluated and found to be safe for consumption.
Interested industry members can refer to a guidance document to help them better understand SFA’s requirements regarding safety assessments, as well as application process of novel foods. They are encouraged to consult SFA early in their product development process to understand the information that would be required to be submitted in order to substantiate the safety of their novel food. Companies, such as local start-up Shiok Meats, who is looking to produce cell-cultured shrimp, will be able to benefit from this framework.
To support its assessment of novel food, SFA will also establish international expert working group to provide scientific advice on food safety.
Enabling innovation in local food ecosystem
Beyond regulations, the government is also committed to growing a vibrant and forward-looking agri-tech and food ecosystem. Novel or future foods, like alternative proteins, will be a key area of focus our R&D efforts.
With the $144 million funding earmarked under the government’s ‘Research, Innovation and Enterprise 2020 (RIE2020)’ plan for food research, grant calls were launched in the areas of: (i) Sustainable Urban Food Production, and (ii) Future Foods: Advanced Biotech-based Protein Production.
The grant call for ‘Sustainable Urban Food Production’, launched by SFA, targets research areas such as the genetic improvement of key tropical aquaculture species and vegetable varieties with traits adapted for indoor farming. It also covers solutions for improved disease and health management. This grant call closed with 85 proposals received.
For the grant call for ‘Future Foods: Alternative Protein’ launched by A*STAR, local researchers and industry players were invited to submit research proposals to address fundamental challenges in alternative proteins. This grant call closed with over 50 proposals received.
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