World Exclusive: Singapore Grants Food Processing License To Esco Aster For Cell-Based Cultivated Meat Manufacturing

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Singapore has yet again earned a ‘world first’ badge in the global cultivated protein industry, this time granting Esco Aster a license to manufacture cultured animal cells meat for commercial sale. The Singapore Food Agency (SFA) gave its approval to the manufacturer in July, positioning the city-state as a firm world and regional leader in sustainable protein supply chains. The cells must undergo SFA’s safety assessment reviews.

Announced today (September 15), Singapore contract development and manufacturing organisation (CDMO) Esco Aster has received approval from the SFA to manufacture cultured meat. The approval was granted on July 28 for the firm’s AsterMavors platform to cultivate meat in bioreactors, directly from animal cells after undergoing SFA safety assessment reviews. 

World’s first cell-based meat manufacturing approved

The go-ahead from the Singapore authorities marks yet again another first for the city-state, which famously became the world’s first and still the only country to have approved the commercial sale of cultured meat. In December 2020, San Francisco-based food tech Eat Just was allowed to sell its cell-based chicken on the market for the first time. 

Eat Just’s cultured chicken bites were approved by SFA for commercial sale in December 2020. (Image: Eat Just / Good Meat)

Esco Aster now becomes the world’s first company to gain commercial regulatory approval for a cultivated meat manufacturing platform. It has been manufacturing and distributing bioreactors commercially for the past decade to clients in various sectors including cell-based meat, bioprocessing, stem cell and life sciences companies.

SFA has now granted Esco Aster the license to operate a food establishment through contract manufacturing of cultivated animal cells. This means that companies will be able to use Esco Aster’s food-approved facility to manufacture their cell-based products for commercial market launch. 

Commenting on the news, Esco Aster CEO Xiangliang Lin said: “As a local Singapore-born company with deep roots here since 1978, Esco is proud to be the first CDMO company globally to be approved.” 

AsterMavors platform 

The SFA has given regulatory approval to Esco Aster’s AsterMavors platform for cell-based meat production. (Image: Esco Aster)

The AsterMavors platform is an end-to-end service that provides everything from cell line creation to the development of a cell bank and cell media ingredients. It also boasts in-process monitoring and quality control features, to ensure the final cell-based meat product is safe for human food consumption. 

Having now been given the regulatory go-ahead by the SFA, Esco Aster says that it will now be ramping up its facilities. It is now undergoing accreditation for ISO 22000 and FSSC 22000 as well, with the view to be able to export its cultivated animal cells globally. 

“We are further expanding our facilities to a target of 50,000L as well as scaling up final food product manufacturing especially for hybrid products,” said Lin. 

Hybrid products are alternative proteins that contain both cell-based and plant-based ingredients, with startups such as New Age Meats and Higher Steaks, for example, incorporating both to make its sausages and pork belly prototypes. 

By offering its platform to other food techs and startups, Esco Aster says that companies can get their cell-based products to market faster, without having to invest in pilot plants. The move can also help the city attract foreign talent—further propelling Singapore as a global leader in the cultivated protein space. 

Singapore: a global cell-based protein hub 

Singapore is making a name for itself as a global leader in the alternative protein industry. (Image: Pexels)

GFI Asia Pacific (GFI APAC), the region’s nonprofit dedicated to supporting the alternative protein ecosystem, says the news solidifies Singapore’s leadership in the industry and its reputation as a friendly hub for players innovating sustainable protein solutions. 

Mirte Gosker, Acting Managing Director of The Good Food Institute Asia Pacific, adds that this milestone is the latest sign that the cultivated meat sector is maturing.

“Rapidly scaling up cultivated meat from the proof-of-concept phase to industrial production requires buy-in from existing food and biotech industry leaders. Esco Aster’s green-lit facility brings humanity closer to a brighter future where we can continue to enjoy the foods we love, while also mitigating the risks of increased climate disruption and threats of viral outbreaks. After taking its first baby steps, this regulatory milestone proves that the cultivated meat industry is standing up and ready to run.”

Since approving Eat Just’s cultured chicken last year, the SFA has made a number of moves to support the cell-based industry, in line with its ‘30 by 30’ vision to boost food security, including the construction of the FRESH platform to accelerate food safety research and expedite regulations.

Shiok Meats’ cell-based crab and other crustacean meats debuted at a tasting event. (Image: Shiok Meats)

It has also called more food techs to apply early for approval, prompting foreign players like Hong Kong’s Avant Meats to set up a facility in the city, joining homegrown talent Shiok Meats, which recently debuted the world’s first cell-based crab meat.

With investment activity flowing into the cultivated space topping $360 million in 2020, a six-fold increase from the year before and an indication of the rapid growth of the sector, it is only likely that the SFA’s latest move will attract more foreign talent to Singapore. 

Aside from Singapore, Qatar has also put its foot forward to become a leading player in the cell-based protein world. Just last month, Eat Just announced it will build the MENA region’s first cell-based meat facility in the Qatar Free Zones Authority (QFZA)-regulated Umm Alhoul Free Zone with both the QFZA and the Ministry of Public Health “indicating intention” to approve the sale and export license for its cultured chicken. 


Lead image courtesy of Esco Aster.

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