Singapore gears up to push nation’s food-tech startups


The Singapore government is set to allocate over $100 million to food research programs such as urban agriculture, cultured meat and microbial protein production under the Research, Innovation and Enterprise 2020 Plan.

Industry players say that widespread government support makes Singapore an ideal market for alternative protein companies.

To boost national self-sufficiency, more local start-ups are creating edible products from natural ingredients and cell culture technology.

Some examples include lab-grown milk from TurtleTree Labs, Shiok Meats’ cultured shrimp and Life3 Biotech’s plant-based proteins. Such ventures could benefit the city-state, as they can reduce the island-nation’s import bill as well as its carbon footprint, while relying on internal R&D and information technology.

Singapore, a tiny country that imports 90% of its food due to land scarcity, is vulnerable to food shortages and price volatility. The situation was exacerbated when Covid-19 first struck in March and people rushed to stockpile items from the supermarket which led to island-wide shortages.

However, the nation’s food supply had always been vulnerable to extreme weather patterns and its neighbours including Malaysia and Thailand face a similar predicament.

“Asia is unable to feed itself, relying on imports flowing through long supply chains from the Americas, Europe and Africa,” audit firm PwC, Rabobank, and Singaporean sovereign wealth fund Temasek warned in a report released late last year.

The coronavirus crisis has highlighted Singapore’s food security concerns — an issue made worse by climate change — and the city-state is looking to ramp up its local food production.

As the outbreak wreaked havoc on global agricultural supply chains, Singapore also faced the additional risk of disruptions to its food supplies, like many other countries. Delivery times for shipments of vegetables and other perishable goods from farms to supermarkets are now longer as new hygiene rules slow down logistics.

In the longer term, labor crunches could also hit planting and harvesting in neighboring countries such as Malaysia and Thailand, which are among Singapore’s top food sources.

The cost of making lab-grown food compared to traditional farming is the biggest hurdle for biotech companies, said Leong Lai Peng, a senior lecturer in food science and technology at the National University of Singapore.

“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,” she said.


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