An Update On Regulations For Cultivated Meat In Japan - Alt Protein Primer #8
Who are the key players involved in regulating cultivated meat? What are the barriers? And when can we expect the first products to hit store shelves in Japan? Find out in today's MarketShake!
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Happy Tuesday Market Shakers. Today we conclude our Alt Protein Primer by sharing the latest information about regulations for cellular agriculture in Japan.
Cellular agriculture is a promising solution to building a sustainable protein supply for the future. Japan seems to be on board with the idea and is already taking early action towards setting up regulations for cultivated meat.
We sat down with Megumi Avigail Yoshitomi (pictured above), PR Manager of the Japan Association for Cellular Agriculture (JACA) to discuss the promising outlook for cultivated meat in Japan and the latest developments in regulations.
Spoiler Alert: There are a lot of acronyms in today’s article. Here’s a handy key to come back to if you find yourself mixing up your MHLWs and your METIs.
JACA: The Japan Association for Cellular Agriculture
MAFF: The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries
MHLW: The Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare
METI: The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry
The world invests in cellular agriculture
Despite the futuristic image that growing animal meat and seafood in a lab has, the cellular agriculture industry is making very real progress, very fast. In 2021, investment in cultivated meat companies topped $1.3 billion globally, more than double the investments made in 2020. The number of companies working on cultivated meat and seafood also increased in 2021 by nearly 20% according to the GFI.
This activity has led to massive strides being made towards commercial-scale cellular agriculture production facilities. Good Meat’s Singapore facility, capable of producing “tens of thousands of pounds” of lab-grown meat annually, is slated to open in 2023. Japan’s IntegriCulture is pioneering technology to reduce the cost of cell culture media, an essential but expensive component used to grow animal cells.
In fact, in Japan, there’s a lot going on in the cell-ag space. NH Foods, one of Japan’s largest meat processors, is investing in developing cultivated meat and recently announced breakthroughs in bringing down production costs.
Other big players in Japan have been active in supporting startups in the space to speed up the development of cultivated meat and seafood. Mitsubishi is partnering with Israel’s Aleph Farms to bring cultivated beef to Asia. FOOD & LIFE COMPANIES, the largest sushi chain operator in Japan, partnered with BlueNalu for future sale in Japan.
The cultivated elephant in the room
The elephant in the room of all this activity is regulations. Cultivated animal proteins are new products made using new production processes. Regulations need to be established to ensure production processes and products are safe. This requires time for research and coordination between many stakeholders, from policymakers and NPOs to meat producers - both conventional and cultivated, and many other relevant experts.
So far, Singapore is the only country to have approved the sale of cultivated meat. The first product, cultivated chicken from Good Meat, went on sale in 2020. The rest of the world is still wrestling with regulations. Analysts pinpoint 2023 as the year when we’ll start to see products hit the market, most likely in the U.S. next.
So where is Japan at on their journey towards regulations for cultivated meat and fish? To begin, let’s review the current relevant regulations.
The current state of regulations for cultivated meat in Japan
Based on existing regulations, the sale of cultivated meat is technically possible. In Japan, the applicable piece of law for this is the Food Sanitation Law, Article 7.
The Food Sanitation Law, Article 7
This article regulates newly developed foods in Japan. It stipulates that new foods that have not been consumed by humans before can be sold. However, all new foods sold and marketed that have:
not generally been sold before; and
have not been proven to be harmless to humans
may be prohibited as a precautionary measure.
The approach Japan takes to newly developed foods, like cultivated meat, is known as a ”negative list approach”. This means that newly developed foods are, in principle, fine to be sold, until regulators say otherwise. This generates a list of prohibited products.
On the other hand, many countries, like Singapore and the U.S., adopt a “positive list” approach. Here, all newly developed foods are, in principle, prohibited from being sold, until they receive the required approval. In Singapore, for example, any food product that has not been commonly offered for at least the past 20 years must submit a safety assessment report to government authorities before it can be sold.
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In summary, Article 7 permits the sale of newly developed products (i.e. cultivated meat), but it also enables the government to prohibit them if they feel necessary.
This is the reason why cultivated food companies are not throwing caution to the wind and launching products as I write.
According to Megumi, Japanese companies are afraid that Article 7 will be used to prohibit the sale of their products.
In effect, Article 7 is telling food companies not to sell and market their products, without proper consultation with the government. In this case, consultation with the government means the government needs to understand and assess whether cultivated meat poses risks to health and how the industry should be regulated strategically.
So while cultivated food products can technically be sold in Japan, the government, industry and organisations like JACA are first discussing and establishing regulations.
Who is involved in the regulation of cultivated foods in Japan?
The main organization working on regulations for cellular agriculture in Japan is JACA.
The organization is a part of the Center For Rule-Making Strategies, Tama University. It connects representatives from government, industry and academia to discuss and drive the cellular agriculture industry in Japan forward.
We have over 80 organizations in JACA. This includes representatives from large Japanese food companies such as NH Foods and Nissin Foods, as well as trading companies such as Mitsubishi Corp. We also have over 20 cultivated food companies such as BlueNalu, Mosa Meat, Aleph Farms, and members from NPOs like the GFI.
The Japan Association for Cellular Agriculture is focused on making rules for cellular agriculture in Japan, particularly industrial guidelines and policy recommendations.
Megumi explains that industrial guidelines will include contents such as the definition for cultivated food, how such products relate to existing law, food safety assessments for cultivated meat, and more.
The policy drafts, which JACA is creating for politicians, mainly focus on the kinds of rules required to strategically promote the cellular agriculture industry in Japan.
Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) is hosting a public-private study group to promote FoodTech in Japan. The study group covers several sectors, including plant-based meat, and one them is cultivated foods.
JACA manages this working group for cellular agriculture so we can directly communicate with the government and policymakers.
What are the barriers?
Led by JACA, discussions around regulations for cellular agriculture are progressing in Japan. We asked Megumi to tell us more about the state of the discussion and what the current sticking points are.
These kinds of policy and regulatory discussions take time. We need to address and work together with different parts of the government. Cellular agriculture falls under the scope of MAFF, but also the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare (MHLW). They play a big role in establishing whether cultivated foods are safe and what kind of regulations and checks would be required to certify this.
As we saw earlier from the Food Safety Act, Article 7, the potential health risks from eating cultivated foods are the big sticking point for their regulation in Japan. So, JACA are focused on communicating with The Ministry of Health to help them understand cellular agriculture and the technology that powers it. In doing so, they aim to accelerate the ministry’s internal discussion for any rules needed for cultivated meat.
In parallel, JACA also has more work to do with MAFF, says Megumi.
The part of MAFF in charge of cellular agriculture is open to discussions with us regarding advancing the industry in Japan. But there are other divisions we need to engage, especially those relating to the meat industry.
A Meaty Problem
While it is not necessary to engage the meat industry to address safety concerns about cultivated food, the meat industry are key stakeholders in the discussion to advance cultivated meat in other areas, according to Megumi.
Ultimately we want to brand and label cultivated meat products as “meat” or “hamburgers”. In order to do this, we need to amend existing rules for labelling food. To make amendments we would need the support of the meat industry. At the moment, the industry views us as an enemy, however.
According to Megumi, the reason for this is the media’s focus on cultivated meat as a sustainable solution to the “unsustainable” meat industry. Based on this narrative, the meat industry in Japan sees cellular agriculture as a threat that will ultimately replace conventional producers in the future. Megumi assures me that JACA is focused on creating a win-win situation between the meat and the cell-ag industry in Japan.
JACA views the main consumers of cultivated meat as people who are concerned about the environmental impact of meat production and also animal welfare. There are a large segment of consumers who also want to consume regular meat. We envision a future where cellular agriculture and conventional meat producers co-exist.
We understand that the meat industry can leverage their brand assets in the cultivated meat and seafood industry. In the near future, high-quality cells extracted from high-quality branded animals will have high value in the cultivated food industry. This is an opportunity for the meat industry to leverage their existing brand. We need to convince them there is a business opportunity in this area.
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Megumi explains a lot of meat producers are still sceptical about cellular agriculture, especially smaller, family-owned producers. However, chunks of the meat industry in Japan, concerned about the sustainability of the meat industry, are already eager to work with JACA.
What’s the timeline?
With so many stakeholders involved, we asked Megumi what the timeline for regulations is looking like right now.
We had a timeline for the first cultivated food to be approved for sale in Japan by Spring 2023, based on some companies’ marketing timelines in 2021. Right now,
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