Mitsubishi Is Bringing Lab-Grown Meat to Japan

Mitsubishi is bringing lab-grown meat to Japan thanks to a partnership with Israel’s Aleph Farms. 

The two aim to tailor Aleph Farm’s lab-grown beef “to the tastes and nuances of Japanese consumers and regulatory bodies,” Aleph CEO Didier Toubia told Bloomberg. Aleph Farms will use Mitsubishi’s biotechnology expertise and manufacturing capabilities to scale up production and distribution.

Aleph Farms will then sell its lab-grown steak to consumers across Asia. Japan, where the demand for meat is on the rise, will be a top priority. According to a Mitsubishi spokesperson, the company is interested in the potential of the lab-grown meat market. Forecasts compiled by Blue Horizon Corp. predict the lab-grown meat market will reach $140 billion by 2030.

“The cooperation demonstrates Aleph Farms’ strategy of working together with the food and meat industries to ensure a successful integration of cultivated meat within the ecosystem while maximizing the positive impact we make,” Toubia said in a statement sent to LIVEKINDLY. “We are excited to bring cultivated meat  production closer to the Japanese market.” 

Israel’s Aleph Farms may not need regulatory approval to sell lab-grown meat in Japan. | Aleph Farms

What Is Lab-Grown Meat?

Lab-grown meat, also known as cultured meat, cultivated meat, or cell-based meat, is meat made from animal cells. Producing meat through cellular agriculture eliminates multiple steps from the meat-making process, from raising the animal to sending it to slaughter. 

As a result, it also uses far less resources than conventional meat. Cultured meat producers that want to grow beef, like Aleph Farms, will isolate the cell of a cow without slaughtering the animal. Scientists will then provide the optimal environment for the cell to grow and form tissue and eventually, a steak no different from the traditional version. 

Lab-Grown Meat in Japan

So far, Singapore is the only country that has approved the sale of lab-grown meat.

But, it is currently possible to sell cultured meat in Japan without regulatory approval, Yuki Hanyu, founder of the Shojinmeat Project, tells LIVEKINDLY. The nonprofit, community-led initiative aims to demystify lab-grown meat in Japan.

“Currently in Japan, cell-based meat does not require approval, as no ‘novelty’ is assumed,” says Hanyu.

Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare has regulatory barriers for marketing anything considered a “novel food.” This excludes cellular agriculture as long as it’s made according to existing regulations. Hanyu adds that this is “not bad news for the cell-ag industry.”

It’s also potentially good news for Japan’s plans to produce more domestic food.

Gaining Government Support

Like Singapore, the island nation aims to become more self-sufficient, says Hanyu. Lab-grown meat could be a solution.

“The government is generally supportive of new industry and anything that increases Japan’s food self-sufficiency rate,” Hanyu explains.

Bringing lab-grown meat to Japan has a collaborative effort between government, nonprofit, academic, and industry, he adds.

For example, Aleph Farms and Mitsubishi are both part of the Cellular Agriculture Study Group under the Japanese Center for Rule-Making Strategy. The consortium is centered around the definition and construction of cellular agriculture foods.

In late 2018, California-based food technology company Eat Just announced that it is working with Japanese meat producers to create a slaughter-free version of Wagyu beef. DiverseFarm, a cultured meat startup co-founded by a Michelin-starred chef, aims to bring lab-grown duck meat to the fine dining world. Tokyo-based cell culture startup IntegriCulture, which Hanyu founded in 2015, plans to bring cultured foie gras to market this year.