Singapore made global headlines in December 2020 by becoming the first country in the world to allow the sale of cultured meat, which refers to meat developed from animal cell culture.
The Singapore Food Agency (SFA), the national authority charged with ensuring food safety and security, gave the green light for Eat Just, Inc.’s cultured chicken to be sold in Singapore as an ingredient in its nuggets product. Discussions on developing novel food regulations started in 2018 among SFA’s predecessor, the Agri-Food &Veterinary Authority, scientists and food businesses.
Here’s a look at Singapore’s approach to regulating novel foods such as alternative protein products that do not have a history of being consumed as food.
April 2019: Singapore forms the SFA as a new statutory board under the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources to oversee food safety and security.
In 2019, SFA introduced the novel food regulatory framework, which requires companies to seek pre-market allowance for novel food. Companies are required to conduct and submit safety assessments of the protein to cover potential food safety risks, including toxicity, allergenicity, safety of its production method, and dietary exposure arising from consumption.
Companies must also provide detailed information on the materials used in their manufacturing processes and how these processes are controlled to prevent food safety risks.
This followed public consultations on the proposed regulatory framework for novel food and food ingredients in 2018.
March 2020: SFA formed a Novel Food Safety Expert Working Group to provide scientific advice and ensure that safety assessments are rigorously reviewed.
The expert working group is chaired by the Head of the Centre for Regulatory Excellence, Professor John Lim, and comprises experts in food toxicology, bioinformatics, nutrition, epidemiology, public health policy, food science and food technology.
A guidance document was provided to help industry members better understand SFA’s requirements regarding safety assessments, as well as the application process of novel foods.
The SFA will establish an international expert working group to provide scientific advice on food safety.
On 23 March, 2020, SFA signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Food Standards Australia New Zealand, together with Enterprise Singapore. The parties will collaborate on food safety programs and standards in areas of mutual interest, including risk assessment of novel foods and food additives, as well as the identification of emerging food issues.
Labelling of alternative protein products:
Companies selling pre-packaged alternative protein products in Singapore will be required to label the product packaging with qualifying terms such as “mock”, “cultured” or “plant-based” so that consumers may make informed decisions when deciding whether to consume these products.
Misrepresenting cultured meat as conventionally produced meat to consumers is not allowed, and those who mislead customers on the true nature of the food sold may be convicted under the Sale of Food Act.
Reason for promoting the development of novel foods:
Singapore sees novel foods such as alternative proteins as complementing traditional meat producers, with the promise of producing large quantities of proteins with smaller amounts of resources in a climate-resilient and sustainable manner.
This is also part of Singapore’s national strategy to produce 30% of its nutritional needs by 2030. Besides developing a regulatory framework for novel foods, Singapore also launched research and development grant calls to foster knowledge creation for future foods.