MARCH 2022 — Sustainable plant-based “meat” is often seen as the leading substitute to meat consumption — but an RP alumnus believes that an alternative exists in cultivating meat through existing cell culture technology.
A recent study published under Nature Food, an online journal focused on research and news involving food, has shown that the production of meat through rearing animals causes twice as much greenhouse gas emissions as the production of plant-based foods. With the effects of climate change looming over our heads, it is no wonder that plant-based meat analogues have surged in popularity, with agrifood innovators like Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat emerging in the field.
GOOD Meat – Sustainable and Real Meat
Like these companies, Eat Just, Inc.’s first major product was also plant-based — the vegan egg alternative, JUST Egg. However, when they decided to expand to poultry, their vision was a little more unique.
Instead of creating a substitute for the product itself, they decided to target the production process. Leveraging biopharmaceutical cell culture techniques to cultivate muscles, connective tissues, and fats, they created GOOD Meat — real chicken meat developed in labs. As the first company globally to secure regulatory approval to sell cultivated meat in Singapore, GOOD Meat offers a sustainable alternative to meat-lovers.
That idea resonated with Aaron Yeo, an RP Alumnus currently employed at Eat Just, Inc. as its Director of Operations for GOOD Meat.
From Economic Development to Agrifood Pioneer
While working for the Economic Development Board in 2018, he was posted to Silicon Valley to look into promising healthcare and agrifood industries. There, he discovered the cultivated meat industry, and grew to believe that it could benefit Singapore and change the world. As he puts it, “When the opportunity to join GOOD Meat came up, the rest, as they say, is history.”
Start-ups in agrifood tech like them aim to disrupt the global food and agriculture industry through the use of innovative technologies. Such innovations in agrifood carry a multitude of potential benefits to mankind as a whole. Aside from preventing climate change, Aaron remarks that meat-alternatives like cultivated meat do not carry any risk of zoonotic diseases. From a human-health perspective, cultivated meat does not pose the same risks of microbial infection that conventional meat does, and it does not require antibiotics. Advances in technology could even lead to cheaper, healthier options with the same flavour, texture, and taste.
Mr Yeo Li Pheow, Principal/CEO, RP and Aaron at the JW Marriott Hotel Singapore, where GOOD Meat hosts its immersive dining experiences
That is something that is clearly on the roadmap for Singapore, too, with some $60 million being set aside earlier this year to fund growth in technology development and use for local farmers and food producers. Similarly, the Agriculture Research and Innovation (AGRI) Centre at RP also works hand-in-hand with industry partners to foster innovation and growth in agrifood technology through research and development.
Prepared for the Future at RP
Aaron finds it amazing how things have come full circle. In 2004, while pursuing his Diploma in Biomedical Science, he was given the opportunity to spend a semester learning and culturing cells at RP. Little did he know then that today, he would be building what could possibly be the largest cultivated meat facility in Singapore.
As he puts it, “I have much to learn and I am nowhere near a subject matter expert, but the fundamentals I picked up during my time at RP went a long way to helping me appreciate the intricacies and complexities of the industry.”
That gave him an appreciation for other technology platforms like microbial fermentation and plant-based high moisture meat analogues as well.
In fact, Aaron believes that it may not be realistic to envision a world where meat consumption is fully eliminated. Having multiple options on the plate, or a “portfolio of change”, may be what leads to real sustainable change.
“A complete dietary replacement to me is therefore not the immediate solution, rather it’s augmenting traditional animal agriculture with new means of meat production or substitutes that will hopefully meet the substantial amount of meat demand as global population grows,” he remarked.
GOOD Meat has big plans here ― one milestone particularly exciting to Aaron is to eventually get the production cost of cultivated chicken below that of or equivalent to commodity-farmed chicken. If that can be achieved, the company will have a viable pathway for other meats including beef, pork, and duck.
An ambitious milestone, but who knows? In 10 years, this could be our reality.