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Southeast Asian countries are at the vanguard of the lab-grown meat revolution.

When it comes to the march of technology, every country eventually wants to position itself among the vanguard. That’s true whether it comes to silicon microchips or the future of agriculture. When it involves keeping food in people’s mouth, it takes on added urgency, as is the case with South East Asian countries becoming early adopters of lab-grown meat. It has implications that stretch well beyond science.

According to a report in Channel News Asia, Malaysia is poised to join the global push towards lab-grown meat, a move that could significantly contribute to the urgent fight against climate change. Malaysian firm, Cell AgriTech, plans to complete the country’s first cultivated meat production facility in Penang by the end of 2024.

The firm will grow live animal cells in bioreactors to produce meat products for consumers. Compared to traditional farming, producing meat in a lab requires less land and can be done closer to consumers, reducing the carbon footprint from land clearing and logistics needed to deliver the product.

A 2013 report by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) found that 14.5% of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions can be attributed to livestock farming, with a majority of these emissions coming from feed production and gas released during animal digestion.

Cell AgriTech’s founder, Jason Ng, notes that cells would only need to be extracted from a single animal, unlike traditional farming, where large numbers of animals are needed. Furthermore, because cells can be taken from different parts of an animal, there is less waste produced.

Cell AgriTech has already cultivated grouper and Japanese eel meat and aims to produce these at scale for export by 2025. However, Malaysia currently does not allow the sale of cultivated meat, but Mr Ng said his company is working with the health ministry to regulate his products for safety.

While producing lab-grown meat is generally considered to be more environmentally friendly than traditional farming methods, it is not entirely without environmental impact. Cultivated meat production generates waste materials such as growth media, bioreactors, and other equipment, which require proper disposal.

However, Dr Tan Thuan Chew, an expert in alternative proteins at Universiti Sains Malaysia, noted that cultivated meat has the potential to “significantly reduce” greenhouse gas emissions from traditional meat production, and address issues like animal welfare and food security.

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Malaysia might need to invest in new infrastructure to support the production and distribution of cultivated meat, including specialized facilities for growing meat cells.

“In addition, cultivated meat is currently produced on a small scale, and scaling up production to meet consumer demand could be challenging,” Dr Tan said.

The technology used to create cultivated meat may also need to be refined to improve efficiency and reduce costs.

To make lab-grown meat commercially viable and sustainable, Dr Tan suggested that Malaysian authorities could develop policies and regulations to promote sustainable livestock farming practices and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the meat industry.

This could include using existing policies such as the National Agro-Food Policy 2021-2030 and the National Policy on Climate Change, and overseas frameworks like Singapore’s policy on cultivated meat. Consumers can also be educated about the environmental impact of meat production and encouraged to reduce their meat consumption or switch to more sustainable alternatives.

Cell AgriTech’s founder, Jason Ng, believes that cultivated meat can be made affordable and accessible to the Malaysian public, despite the high costs of production. He hopes to reduce the price of his lab-grown seafood from US$60/kg to less than US$30/kg before 2025 and eventually price all his products at US$10/kg.

Because lab-grown meat is produced in a sterile environment, the products do not require antibiotics or growth hormones, making them healthier and safer to consume.

WORDS: Scientific Inquirer Staff.



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