Biotechnology’s impact on PHL’s food security

Singapore, a city-state in Southeast Asia, imports virtually all of its food requirements. Because it does not have large tracts of land where it can grow crops and other food items, it has relied on other countries to feed its population. The Singapore Food Agency noted that its local farms produced only a fraction of the city-state’s food requirements in 2018—13 percent of all vegetables, 9 percent of all the fish and 24 percent of all the eggs.

As countries all over the world continue to compete for shrinking resources, Singapore is embracing technological advances that would allow the small island nation to beef up its food supply. Bloomberg reported that Singapore is the only place in the world that permits the sale of cultivated protein, also known as lab-grown meat, cultured meat or cell-based meat. It is also leading a charge to allow, regulate and ultimately normalize the commercial sale of cultivated seafood (See, “Singapore wants to sell the world on cell-cultured seafood,” in the BusinessMirror, November 21, 2022).

Just like their Southeast Asian neighbors, such as the Filipinos, Singaporeans are partial to eating fish and other marine species like shellfish and crabs. Fish consumption has grown by leaps and bounds, but production has been declining not only because of climate change but because of illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing. Aquaculture has the potential to beef up fish supply but extreme weather events caused by climate change is threatening its viability.

Advances in biotechnology have paved the way for countries like Singapore to seek alternatives that would somehow reduce its reliance on imports. Other countries like the Philippines, where fish and other marine species are considered an integral part of their diet, should closely watch Singapore’s efforts to develop cultured meat and seafood. The Philippines, for one, is now importing some of its fish requirements to fill the gap in its domestic production.

Apart from the possibility that cultured meat could supplement the country’s food supply, the production of lab-grown food also presents opportunities for local businesses. Startups in search of investment ideas can consider cell-cultured food. Positioning the Philippines as a hub for lab-grown food items may attract foreign direct investments that the country needs (See, “More foreign biotech investments eyed,” in the BusinessMirror, November 21, 2022).

Biotech-enabled production, manufacturing, and service-type activities are included in the 2022 Strategic Investment Priority Plans of the Board of Investments. This means that biotech companies that would invest in the Philippines could avail themselves of fiscal perks and other incentives. Biotech-enabled activities related to food security and research and development could enjoy these incentives for at least five years.

Natural resources continue to dwindle and extreme weather events are increasingly becoming more frequent, making it more difficult to feed a growing population. And as land for crop cultivation shrinks to give way to non-farm activities, the search for alternatives will intensify in the coming years. Biotechnology is one of the tools that policymakers can tap to beef up food supply and increase the availability of raw materials that industries can use to manufacture other products.


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