Proteins from sources other than animals have received a healthy dose of attention for both pet food and human food in recent years, attracting not only consumer interest but also heavy investment. Cue the latest announcement: Mark Cuban, entrepreneur and “Shark Tank” judge, recently helped Wild Earth, which since 2019 has offered dog treats and foods derived from cultured koji, a fungus, secure US$23 million in additional funding to develop pet foods with other cell-based proteins. (Cuban was also an initial investor in the company in 2019.)
Some people who adopted a vegetarian or vegan diet for health, ethical, and/or environmental reasons discover that clean meat from animals humanely raised on pasture is a superior, back-to-nature alternative. Not only is this type of meat more nutritious and in keeping with the type of meat our ancestors ate, but allowing animals to graze and naturally fertilize grass can actually renew soil health and allow us to grow more nutritious food. This alone is a compelling reason to consider eating ethically raised meat. But improved health is probably the number one reason why some vegetarians are deciding to beef up their diets.
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.
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.
Insects have a lot of advantages as a food source. First off, they’re nutritious. They are a great source of protein and other nutrients. Insect farming could also be drastically more efficient than raising livestock. Raising bugs requires a fraction of the space, water, food and energy that pigs or cows do. Advocates argue that the aversion to consuming bugs is largely cultural, since about 2 billion people worldwide eat them regularly. Offering insects in more appealing forms, such as bars or powders, could be a way to overcome the “ick factor.”
Last year, Missouri became the first of the 50 US states to officially define meat as a food product coming from animals. Similar bills are being examined across the country.In France, lawmakers in the Chamber of Deputies adopted an amendment that was later rejected and taken up in the Senate targeting products with a “significant” plant-based component that use the words “steak,” “bacon” or “sausage.”In Germany, where the terms “Fleischersatz” (meat substitute) and “Fleischimitat” (meat imitation) are widespread, the agriculture ministry published in late 2018 recommendations that packaging clearly indicate “vegetarian” or “vegan” when applicable, as well as what substitutes are used.
As the promising alternative to traditional meat and plant-based meat substitutes, in-vitro meat first burst onto the scene in 2013, when researcher Mark Post held a tasting session in London. Six years later, the technology is maturing, and it might make the leap from scientific novelty to mass production as soon as 2021.