Please can you briefly introduce your organization?
Japan Association for Cellular Agriculture (JACA) is a non-profit policy think tank based in Japan, focusing on policy-making to promote regulatory framework building and international collaborations around cellular agriculture. JACA communicates with ministries, politicians, existing meat industry players, consumer organizations, overseas authorities, and various business operators who are interested in this area.
As of 7th February 2024, JACA has 54 membership companies, mainly domestic and international food and life science corporates, but also includes overseas cultivated food startups for example in the US, Singapore, Israel, France, Netherlands, and Germany, such as Mosa Meat from Cellular Agriculture Europe and UPSIDE Foods from AMPS Innovation in the US.
Are you working on raising awareness of cell-based products among mainstream consumers? If so, what is the general perception?
Direct engagement to raise consumer awareness in Japan is one of the areas that JACA needs to undertake to increase the coverage, by standalone activities or by collaborating with GFI, since JACA and the GFI signed an MoU last year to increase the general awareness of Cellular Agriculture in Japan.
Currently, JACA is more focused on stakeholders at the organizational level and only engages in accepting interviews from media (national TV, local TV, Nikkei – the largest business media in Japan, industry-specific media, and media for the members of consumer organizations). JACA is currently working on managing and localizing information about how to secure the safety of cultivated food, to be able to explain to the authorities and consumers. Once it’s done, we are ready to expand our risk communication activities.
Regarding consumer perception, there are several studies published in this area. Research which was conducted by Hiroshima University and introduced at the website of Agriculture & Livestock Industries Corporation, says that more than 45% of the research participants answered that they would like to (on a scale from slightly to strongly) try cultivated meat. 10.4% of the research participants answered that they can explain what cultivated meat is, and in total 62.8% of people at least have heard of the term “cultivated meat”（培養肉 in Japanese).
What are the environmental impacts of meat production and agriculture in Japan? Do you manage this kind of data?
I have never heard of such data specifically related to Japan. Instead, JACA more focus on the promotion of discussions about cellular agriculture under the context of National Food Security and building new opportunities for the domestic economy, including the traditional livestock industry, to expand in business through collaboration with new technology. I believe that this context makes the government much easier to work on regulatory discussions internally and promote communications with existing industries.
Can you tell us a little about your technical book about the latest trends in cellular agriculture regulatory and development statuses?
There are three co-supervisors of the book and two of them are from JACA, Akira Igata, a director, and myself as the president. We believe that this book will serve as a good benchmark, as there are almost no books in Japanese regarding cultivated food that cover the essentials with some degree of technical information.
After launching the book, I received messages from various companies saying that they were surprised by the variety of contributors to each article and the depth of information. I appreciate not only domestic but also international players who contributed to our chapters and interview columns during extremely busy days: BlueNalu, UMAMI Bioworks, Good Food Institute, Forsea Foods, UPSIDE Foods, and Wildtype. Since we almost have no players in Japan, information from those contributors was essential to make the book even more practical.
Regarding cultivated meat, which measures are the most important to advancing this tech in Japan? Laws, food safety, or acceptance?
This is a difficult question because those three are related to each other, however, I must say that the law around safety is the most important. Even though Japan has no law to ban or approve the sale of cultivated meat, MHLW still has to make clear the legal interpretation of cultivated food and its legal procedure to sell, manufacture, or import cultivated food. Without clarification from the authority, business companies cannot determine which food category is appropriate to report to the public health center to manufacture cultivated foods or to determine the proper procedures for importing cultivated foods per HS codes and the Act on Domestic Animal Infectious Diseases Control.
Can you tell us about the latest investment in the cell ag space from your side of the world and from your perspective? As well as other developments. Fats? Cotton?
I must say that one of the remarkable investments is Integriculture’s fundraising of JPY1.87 billion from the fund from the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries’ innovation creation promotion project for small and medium enterprises. The fund will be used to demonstrate the manufacturing system for cultivated food using the companies’ unique system called the “CulNet system“.
Another remarkable investment is also from the Japanese government. The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) has adopted a joint proposal for research and development on the social implementation of cultivated wagyu beef, submitted by Fujimori Kogyo Co., Ltd. (ZACROS), TOPPAN Holdings Inc., and Shimadzu Corporation, has been accepted by Japan’s New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO) and earmarked for implementation by the three companies under NEDO’s program for the development of innovative biomanufacturing technologies, according to the press release from TOPPAN Holdings. Research and development will be conducted nationwide in collaboration with Osaka University, the University of Tokyo, Tokyo Women’s Medical University, Tokyo University of Agriculture, and the Japan Association for Cellular Agriculture (JACA).
We understand you are working with stakeholders to create consensus on rules, labeling, and possible names. Can you give us examples?
- To share safety-related information with MHLW, JACA is conducting a project called PJ Safety.
- PJ Safety is to collect information from (1) publicly available data and (2) each developer company of the food about “how they understand the safety of cultivated food” and its quality management measures. JACA will then translate such safety-related insights into Japanese and review them under local regulations, together with large Japan-based corporations with accumulated experience in the food and medicine area. It is important to proceed with international discussion on the safety of cultivated food, but it’s also essential to localize it under the local regulation and it cannot be done without putting some resources to do so.
- JACA also tries to compile a list of data related to the safety of cultivated foods held by each company – organize what data each company has on each safety topic. It doesn’t mean that companies need to share JACA with their dossier. Instead, we would like to share with MHLW a list of “which company conducted what kind of analysis” so that MHLW can ask the specific company to share the specific data with the government to understand the risk of specific hazards of cultivated food, eventually increasing company-government direct information sharing opportunities.
- In determining the definition and name of cultivated food products, we do not simply translate the terms used overseas but will consider factors such as the manufacturing methods of cultivated foods and the acceptance of Japanese consumers, and explore a rational and understandable nomenclature of cultivated food in Japanese while aiming for unified usage by domestic stakeholders.
- We have designed proper consumer research to select consumer-friendly and transparent Japanese terms for cultivated food. The research will be conducted by the end of April 2023.
- We are examining the best way to provide clear labeling rules for consumers and aim to build a consensus on them through discussions with the Consumer Affairs Agency, consumer organizations, and conducting consumer research.
- The Food Labeling Committee is led by one of the largest law firms in Japan, Nishimura Asahi, and we have created a guideline to organize discussion points for food labeling as the basis to form the social consensus on labeling.
Do you think cultivated meat will have the same support if PM Kishida leaves office?
Of course, the change in the head of the cabinet office might affect the accelerating speed of discussions around cellular agriculture, but I assume it won’t be a “turn a one-eighty” type of change.
This is because there are already supports started at the Ministries, or say “more operational” level, just as the example that I gave you previously about the question for funding cases.
Even if PM Kishida leaves the Cabinet Office, the ruling party may still be the Liberal Democratic Party, Japan’s largest ruling party. For your information, the Liberal Democratic Party established an all-party parliamentary group with around 20 politicians in June 2022, to allow tasting, selling, and promoting cultivated food for food security concerns. This group is led by former secretary general of LDP, Akira Amari, former Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno, and an expert in the livestock and dairy industry, Ryosei Akazawa. Norihiro Nakayama, former Senior Vice-Minister of State Minister of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism, who is an expert on economic security issues and serves as the Secretary-General of the group.
When do you foresee cultivated meat arriving on menus and in retail in Japan?
JACA is working on policy recommendations to encourage the government to finalize policy on the safety of cultivated foods by the end of 2024 (the year of the Osaka Expo), so that discussions on issues such as food labeling, will be completed by the end of 2025 and the products can be tasted or sold from 2026. Essentially, we are working to achieve the sale of cultivated meat in Japan from 2026.
Further information can be found at https://www.jaca.jp/top-en