Health ministry to check safety of cultured meat

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry

A team of experts will be created this fiscal year to study the safety of cultured meat, as part of efforts to decide what regulations may be necessary.

Cultured meat is made by cultivating living cells of livestock to produce meat whose texture is similar to that of real meat. It is expected to serve as a source of protein to help cope with the food crisis stemming from population growth that will boost global demand for meat in the future.

The team will be established by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry. It will investigate whether there are risks in the cultivation process that could adversely affect human health, as a step toward the eventual industrialization of the meat.

Meat cells are multiplied through cultivation and combined in a clean lab. To achieve mass production, it is necessary to drastically reduce the cost, which is said to be ¥150,000 for one slice of ham. This differs from meat substitutes that use plant-based ingredients such as soybeans.

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Cultured meat is studied in a lab.

Japan’s Food Sanitation Law stipulates methods for producing, processing and selling meat distributed in Japan. The ministry has not viewed cultured meat as meat under the law, and there are no clear rules that makers must follow.

The expert team will collect information and release a report on matters such as the possibility of contamination with toxic substances during cultivation and the effects on health in such a case. The ministry will discuss ways to ensure safety at the expert panel, based on its report and on the regulations on lab-grown meat overseas.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Agriculture announced in 2019 an agreement to jointly supervise cultured meat, and are developing a regulatory framework. In 2020, Singapore allowed the sale of cultured chicken developed by a U.S. company.

In Japan, Nissin Foods Holdings Co. and a team at the University of Tokyo are developing cultured meat derived from cattle. They succeeded in producing Japan’s first edible cultured meat this year.

The team aims to produce a 2-centimeter-thick, 100-gram piece of cultured meat by 2025 before mass-producing it. The Cellular Agriculture Institute of the Commons, a group of companies and universities, is also preparing proposals on quality control standards.