Japan takes a step towards regulation for cultured meat

16 June, 2023

Cultured meat has gained global attention as a potential solution to address future food shortages and foster a more sustainable future. In 2013, an important milestone was achieved when the first tasting of a cultured meat hamburger took place in London. Singapore became the pioneering nation to approve the sale of cultured chicken in 2020, while the United States completed its first pre-market consultation for cultured chicken in 2022. Notably, Japan's Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare (MHLW) initiated discussions on the topic during an official meeting in March 2023, taking the country a step closer towards regulation of the production and sale of cultured meat.


Research and development of cultured meat in Japan

Japan has been actively engaged in research and development efforts surrounding cultured meat. A notable achievement was made when Nissin Foods Holdings Co Ltd and the University of Tokyo developed a 3D shaped beef steak from cell culture, marking a ground-breaking accomplishment globally. In March 2022, researchers had the opportunity to taste the cultured meat, with one expressing their surprise, stating “It was chewy without being uncomfortably chewy as a food. It was surprising that even though the meat contained no taste derived from the fat or iron content of the meat, it was still light and tasty.” However, for these successful research efforts to be commercialised in Japan, the approval of cultured meat is required.

Defining “plant-based”, “substitute”, and “cultured” meat

The usage of terms such as “plant-based”, “substitute”, and “cultured” meat requires careful consideration within the Japanese context. In Japanese regulations, “plant-based” and “substitute” meat are identical, both referring to plant-based or plant-derived food products. However, the term “cultured” meat is currently not defined within Japanese regulations, meaning its use is not approved. As of June 2023, “cultured” meat is not included in the term “substitute” meat according to existing definitions.

Future regulatory development for cultured meat in Japan

As of June 2023, the sale of cultured meat in Japan remains prohibited. In June 2022, Diet Members Caucus for the Promotion of Sustainable Society through Cellular Agriculture was established, with the goal of drafting regulations pertaining to the placing on the market of cultured meat in Japan. In a recent development, the Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare (MHLW) discussed cultured meat during the meeting of the Pharmaceutical Affairs and Food Sanitation Council, although this session was not open to the public. During this meeting, representatives from food business operators (FBOs) shared insights into the current status of cultured meat research and development. MHLW continues to gather information from FBOs regarding cultured meat, but it is currently unclear when further regulatory developments will occur. Therefore, it is essential to closely monitor the progress and outputs generated by these two groups.

As the field of cultured meat advances worldwide, regulations will continue to evolve. Our geographically-focused experts can provide detailed insight into specific regions of interest. Contact us at [email protected] to discuss how we can assist you.

Leatherhead Food Research members will find the latest updates on cultured meat regulations in Global Legal Highlights, published weekly.

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