New Changes in Japan’s Approach to Cultivated Meat Regulation and Safety, PM Kishida to Play Key Role

The Japanese government is making changes and transferring powers to different organizations to shift toward a more flexible approach to the novel food sector, including cultivated meat, announces the Japan Association for Cellular Agriculture (JACA).

As explained by the organization, the responsibilities for novel foods are carried by two separate bodies: the Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare (MHLW), which focuses on risk management and food hygiene, and the Food Safety Commission (FSC), which handles risk assessment. 

While no specific laws exist to approve or ban the sale of cultivated meat in Japan, the MHLW currently holds authority over cultivated meat, providing legal clarity regarding the sale, manufacturing, and import procedures. However, when issuing official statements to the public regarding the safety of cultivated food, the MHLW depends on the research conducted by the FSC.

A food safety division under the PM

Nonetheless, to gain authority in the food safety process, the MHLW will transfer its food hygiene standards division to the Consumer Affairs Agency (CAA) while it will continue to oversee the monitoring and management of food safety. Starting in April 2024, companies must communicate with two governmental agencies, the FSC and the Consumer Affairs Agency (CAA), regarding food safety.

Although communicating with two separate governmental agencies may seem daunting for businesses, the administration transfer presents an opportunity. With the CAA falling under the purview of the Cabinet Office, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida will become the ultimate authority responsible for the new food safety division, says JACA.

In February 2023, Kishida announced his intention to develop Japan’s cultivated meat industry and stated that he would foster food tech businesses by promoting the sector, implementing safety assurance measures, and developing labeling rules.

According to JACA, with this increased top-level attention, there are hopes of more significant support for discussions on food safety that align with the promotion of this early-stage technology. 

In addition to these changes in food regulations, the Japanese government recently provided $27.7 million in funding to support two alternative protein startups, Umami United and IntegriCulture, to boost the country’s economy and ensure food security.

Novel meat in Japan

On its part, JACA, which aims to form policy recommendations about cultivated food, hosted the first-ever promotional event for the industry in Tokyo last May, bringing together more than 150 stakeholders, government officials, and industry associations to build a consensus on necessary measures for food safety requirements for cultivated foods.

Various cultivated meat companies and organizations showcased their cell-based products at the event, including the Consortium for Future Innovation by Cultured Meat (3D printed beef), Diverse Farm (chicken), Tokyo Women’s Medical University-Waseda (chicken), University Joint Institution for Advanced Biomedical Science (beef), and IntegriCulture, (cultivated meat and foie without fetal bovine serum ).

“Since MHLW may not be familiar with accelerating the discussion about food safety in terms of industrial promotion of early-stage technology, I hope that the change in the top decision-makers will allow them for a slightly more flexible response than before for the novel food sector,” said Megumi Avigail Yoshitomi, President of JACA, on the organization’s blog.