Companies developing sustainable meat and dairy alternatives smashed records with a €2.6B ($3.1B) haul last year. Why has it been such a bumper harvest?
In spite of the financial chaos resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic over the last 12 months, a staggering €2.6B ($3.1B) in funding went to companies in the meat and dairy alternatives sector, according to the nonprofit the Good Food Institute (GFI). This tripled 2019’s total.
Developers of plant-based alternatives reaped the lion’s share with €1.8B ($2.1B); biotechs producing protein via fermentation took a neat €497M ($590M); and more than €303M ($360M) backed companies developing cultured meat.
In this prospective Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) study of cultivated meat (CM, also sometimes referred to as cell-based meat, clean meat, cultured meat and in-vitro meat) we provide insight into the environmental impact of this product when produced at commercial scales. This is the first LCA study to use primary data from multiple CM producers and companies in the upstream supply chain. Data collection efforts were carried out among over 15 companies active in CM development and the supply chain, supplemented with cross-checks by independent experts. While there are still uncertainties due to the early stage of technological development, we believe this study provides a robust inventory with as much primary data as is currently feasible.
Meanwhile, Memphis Meats, which Gates namechecked in the Technology Review interview, wants to avoid animals altogether whenever possible—including by harvesting cells from procedures like animal biopsies, where cells would be discarded. Memphis Meats makes ground beef, as well as lab-grown chicken and duck. So far, neither Memphis Meats nor Mosa is on any menus, with the economically depressed restaurant scene of 2020 putting a serious damper on development. Mosa believes it will have a menu-ready product by 2022.
In the Technology Review interview, Gates specifically cited Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat as examples of scalable technologies that could reach consumers more quickly. As for the “cellular” kind of lab grown meat? “I don’t know that that will ever be economical,” Gates admitted.
Today, we are on the cusp of another breakthrough in technology, this time in seafood and meat production, and we are being asked to select a name early in a technology’s lifespan. Indeed, no cultivated meat, poultry, or seafood products have been brought to market in the United States, yet an important debate is underway to determine appropriate nomenclature that is consistent with labeling laws in this country.
So it’s understandable that Brown of Impossible Foods, and others in the alternative meat industry, are bullish on the idea that their products are the future of meat. As more people become aware of the climatic, environmental, and ethical issues of livestock agriculture, further sales increases are likely. But despite a half-decade of growth that outpaced the meat industry, alternative meats still make up less than 1% of total meat sales in the United States, and an equally low, if not lower, percentage globally. Projections by the Farm Animal Investment Risk and Return Initiative that alternative proteins—including milk and egg alternatives—could exceed half of the entire protein market by 2060 seem at best wishful right now.
BIV currently runs four accelerator programmes per year in New York and Singapore. But with Bel on board, the US-based venture fund says it hopes to open an accelerator in Paris in 2021.For Bel, backing the New Protein Fund aligns with its commitment to ‘enabling a better balance between plant and animal proteins in food’. The group has already announced plans to roll out plant-based products within the range of its main brands, as well as under a new international brand.
Pet owners, at least in the West, are more likely than other people to be vegetarians or vegans. That puts many of them in a quandary when it comes to feeding fully paid-up carnivores such as cats and dogs. But technology may soon resolve this dilemma. The idea of growing meat for human consumption from scratch, in the form of cell cultures, is now becoming popular. Some see in this approach a way to produce guilt-free pet food, too. Among these visionaries are Shannon Falconer and Joshua Errett, the founders of Because Animals, a firm based in Philadelphia. They have taken the idea to what might be seen as its logical conclusion, for the starting point for their cultured cat food is that favourite feline prey, a mouse.
When chef Eddy Leung was tasked with cooking what was touted as the world’s first lab-grown fish fillets in his kitchen in southwestern Hong Kong, he pan-fried some and deep-fried others before finally deciding on breaded fish burgers with tartare sauce. “Before I cooked the fish it was quite firm, but after I cooked it the texture changed to being like real fish,” Leung said of the culinary experiment that took place in the gritty Wong Chuk Hang neighbourhood late last year.
Israeli start-up Redefine Meat has pulled off the ‘world’s largest’ blind taste test for its 3D printed meat alternative. The taste test targeted meat-eaters and the results are in. The company secured over a 90% acceptance rate.
But if you’re Chef Shimamura Masaharu of Japan, someone who writes that in high school he wondered whether to “to wear a cook’s lab coat or a scientist’s lab coat,” straddling the two worlds makes perfect sense.Which is why the chef/owner of Michelin-starred restaurant Unkaku has launched DiverseFarm, a joint venture with cell-ag technology company TissueByNet.