Food Independence for Singapore

Recently the Singapore Government announced a new strategy, “30 by 30” to raise Singapore’s food self-production level from current 10 percent to 30 percent of total needs by 2030.

Singapore is highly dependent on food import. Singapore, according to the AVA (Agricultural and Veterinary Authority), imports foods from 170 countries, ensuring a problem with one country would not affect food supplies to Singapore.  However, the exporting countries may also experience forces external to the countries, such as climate change, COVID-19, and other factors that are beyond the control of both Singapore and exporting countries.

The biggest problem is probably to produce protein. Singapore has no space to rear cows, pigs or broiler chickens. Even though Singapore is surrounded by sea, there is a limited area that are suitable for fish farming, either due to water quality or to prevent intrusion to sea lanes. Fresh-water fish farming in reservoirs may be possible, but it requires careful control as the water in reservoir are eventually used for drinking .

Rather than limited by those constraints, Singapore should look to technology and also the future trend.

Recently Tip Top Curry Puff introduced ‘Impossible Rendang Puff‘ with meat-substitute from Impossible Food. It is an interesting mix, a traditional pastry mixed with latest meat-substitute. 

Impossible Meat, together with Beyond Meat, have been the forerunner in meat-substitute industry.  The ‘meat’ is based on plant (which would appeal vegans) and do not require rearing animals which may appeal environment-conscious consumers who are worried about environment impact of rearing animals for food.

However, rather than producing meat-substitute, Singapore should consider producing protein using technologies such as Precision Fermentation (PF) and Cultured Meat (CM).  These technologies promise abundant production of protein with low cost. 

Precision Fermentation (PF) is a process that enables the programming of micro-organism to produce almost any complex organic molecule. It is converting the source ingredients using microorganism such as yeast or bacteria to produce complex molecule such as protein. The ‘meat’ is technically not a meat because the protein does not come from animals.

The ‘meat’ from the Cultured Meat (CM) process, on the other hand, can be argued is a meat. Using tissue engineering, the technology multiples the source tissues to become the meat that we know of.  The ‘source tissues’ can be taken by scratching the skin from any parts of the animal.  There is no need to slaughter the animals; only some cells are needed.

Both technologies promised to produce protein with high quantity and (if we reached the critical mass) lower cost as compared protein from animals. Nutrition, flavor, texture and other properties of the ‘meat’ can also be controlled or even tailored differently according to different requirements or consumer preferences. 

Cultured Meat and Precision Fermentation does not require any large land to produce the meat. The issue surrounding rearing animals, (especially cows), such as water consumption, food consumption and green house impacts are practically eliminated. The ‘meat’ would be produced in the factory instead.

It may be difficult to convince the consumers in the initial phase.  People are used to meat from animals.  It will take some time for consumers to get used to idea of having ‘meat’ from non-animal sources. Flavours, nutrition and especially safety would be in their mind. It does not help that both technologies are producing meat in factory, from ingredients that sound alien and using processes that looks similar to producing genetically-modified food.

Having ‘Singapore’ brand probably helps to promote the acceptance.  While the technology is new and promising to make Singapore more independent for its protein consumption, Singapore should not be compromising on quality and safety.  Only if the consumers see that the Government does not compromise (and transparent) on safety and quality of food produced by those technologies, they will embrace such food.

Singapore may need to embrace such technologies early if it wants to secure its food supplies.  With world’s growing population (and affluence), there is an ever increasing needs for protein.  However, there is a limited available land in the world that can be used farming – without affecting the environment.  Over fishing is threatening global fish production. Global warming will also threaten the food production.

The government should prioritize research and development (R&D) on the technologies.  The technologies, while progressing fast, are still relatively new.  The R&D will allow Singapore to improve the technologies, better the quality of the meat and reduce the cost.

These technologies may come with some high costs due to patents, so it is important for Singapore to have its own R&D to hold some patents. It can use its patented technologies, sell it to other companies (with clauses to safeguard Singapore interest).

Singapore could also be the hub for such technologies, not only limited to R&D but also production.  If it is done correctly, and with acceptance from consumers, Singapore may be in the good position to export the ‘meat’ to the world. 

Many years back Singapore government identified the need to be independent with its water supplies; now it has array of water sources to guarantee its water supplies. Now, it is time for Singapore to secure its food supplies by embracing new technologies.