Singapore eyes lab-grown food to ease supply concerns

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In Singapore, development of plant-based and cell-cultured food is accelerating as the COVID-19 pandemic draws into sharp relief both the impact of climate change and the small nation’s overreliance on food imports. Currently, approximately 90% of Singapore’s food has to be imported. The country aims to cut this to less than 30% by 2030.

Local startups working to address the issue include TurtleTree Labs, which is developing milk grown in a lab and Shiok Meats, which uses cell culture to produce shellfish.

“Singaporean consumers are open and interested to learn more about cell-based seafood and want to try it,” Shiok Meats CEO and co-founder Sandhya Sriram tells CNBC. The company, which extracts cells from crabs, lobsters, and shrimps to culture minced replacements, has raised $7 million to date and is planning to inaugurate its first manufacturing plant by 2022.

Cost will be a hurdle for consumer acceptance. “What is the most expensive food in the market or what food is the consumer willing to empty their pocket for? That will probably be the most practical thing to make in the lab,” Leong Lai Peng, a senior lecturer in food science and technology at the National University of Singapore.

Singapore’s government has earmarked over $100 million to food research in urban agriculture, cultured meat, and microbial protein technologies. The Singapore Food Agency and the Agency for Science, Technology and Research has also announced a grant for start-ups in the sector.