Singapore (AFP)

Artificial chicken meat will soon be available in restaurants in Singapore after a green light from local authorities, "a world first" according to the American start-up behind the project.

Eat Just, who is working on this laboratory meat project grown from animal cells, has announced that its pieces of chicken have been cleared for sale by the South Asian city-state's food safety agency. Is.

This is "a breakthrough for the global food industry," she said in a statement received Wednesday, as a global competition is engaged between many companies and start-ups to produce animal proteins. with less impact on the environment than that of intensive farming.

"I am confident that the regulatory approval for our cultured meat will be the first in a series in Singapore and other countries around the world," said Josh Tetrick, co-founder and CEO of Eat Just.

"Eat Just submitted a request for verification," the Singaporean food safety agency confirmed on Wednesday.

Its product "has been declared safe for consumption in the quantities intended and has been authorized for sale in Singapore as an ingredient in Eat Just nuggets."

Eat Just states that it has produced more than 20 batches of artificial chicken meat in 1,200 liter bioreactors before submitting its production to quality and safety tests.

Global meat consumption is expected to increase by 70% by 2050, and artificial meat may soon meet some of the demand, according to the start-up.

Intensive farming for meat consumption is a source of methane, a gas that promotes the greenhouse effect.

In some countries like Brazil this sector also contributes to the destruction of forests, natural barriers to global warming.

The demand for alternatives to meat is growing, but the products currently available are plant-based.

Dozens of start-ups are working on artificial meat projects around the world, but production has so far remained experimental.

- Expensive -

If laboratory meat has long been considered far too expensive to be able to compete with breeding, Eat Just claims to have made "considerable progress" to reduce costs.

"From the start we will have a price similar to high-end chicken from a fancy restaurant," a spokesperson told AFP.

According to analysts from IDTechEx, a British economic research firm, in 2019 Eat Just had reported production costs of "50 dollars per nugget".

"Even if the price is now certainly lower, this laboratory chicken will undoubtedly be a very high-end product for the first few years," they say.

Eat Just hopes to achieve a lower price than conventional chicken over the next few years.

Singapore is encouraging the growth of start-ups developing new agricultural and food technologies, ranging from the creation of laboratory-grown "seafood" to dumplings in which tropical fruits replace pork.

William Chen, a Singapore-based scientist and member of an expert commission advising the regulatory authority, points out that food safety is one of the main reasons behind efforts to develop alternatives to meat in the city- State.

Singapore "has virtually no agriculture, we import over 90% of our food," says Mr. Chen of Nanyang Technological University.

Eventually, through innovation, Singapore hopes to be able to produce at least 30% of its nutritional needs on its own, indicates in a press release the Good Food Institute Asia Pacific, an American organization which encourages the development of synthetic industrial proteins.

More broadly, Ding Shijie, professor at Nanjing Agricultural University in China, believes that Singapore's decision will "accelerate funding for synthetic meat, not only in China but throughout Asia."

"The question remains whether rapid marketing is really the best thing to do for the laboratory meat industry," however, underline the experts at IDTechEx, recalling consumers' mistrust of this type of product.

"The slightest food security problem would be catastrophic for this nascent industry," they warn.

© 2020 AFP