In a summer that included the first cell ag food product in the market to the first cell-based salmon tasting, this August marked a strong end of summer 2019 for cellular agriculture. Cellular agriculture (cell ag) is the field of producing animal products, like meat or dairy products, from cell cultures directly instead of raising animals for the same products. Compared to conventional livestock agriculture, cell ag provides a more sustainable way to produce animal products to meet the growing demand for animal products.
As the field continues to develop, there are many obstacles for the field to overcome before companies can bring their products to market. This month, the field made steps to address some of those obstacles. From new investments and startups to the first cell-based meat regulatory coalition, this article takes a look at what happened this month in cellular agriculture.
Motif FoodWorks announced that the company raised another $27.5 million in a Series A extension funding round. Formerly known as Motif Ingredients, the company was founded as a spinoff from Ginkgo Bioworks, a synthetic biology company that designs microbes to produce various molecules. The extension round was led by General Atlantic and also featured CPT Capital. In February, Motif launched with a massive $90 million Series A round of funding. This is the largest Series A round ever for a foodtech startup.
Motif FoodWorks plans to use Ginkgo Bioworks’ microbe platform to produce animal proteins to improve the flavor and texture of plant-based products. Motif may even use their animal proteins to enhance the taste of cell-based meats and other cell ag products. According to the company, Motif has many different protein products in the pipeline. How many of them will be direct competitors to cell ag companies like Clara Foods and Perfect Days? Could we see Motif use their platform to create their own animal-free dairy ice cream too?
Cell-based kangaroo meat, anyone? New cell-based meat startup Vow Foods introduced themselves in a very Australian way: creating a sample of kangaroo cell-based meat. Without requiring animals. Founded by George Peppou and Time Noakesmith, Vow Foods aims to make a sustainable source of meat using cellular agriculture.
Vow Foods is the first Australian startup to focus on producing cell-based meat. In July, another Australian cell ag startup Heuros spoke at the New Harvest 2019 conference about their work in developing an affordable cell culture media to produce cell-based meats.
Several cell-based meat companies announced that they have formed a coalition to advocate for the future of food with cellular agriculture. The Alliance for Meat, Poultry and Seafood Innovation (AMPS Innovation) was founded by 5 cell-based meat startups: BlueNalu, Finless Foods, Just, Fork & Goode, and Memphis Meats. According to their press release, the coalition’s goal is to educate consumers and stakeholders about their new industry and advocate for a clear path to market for their products.
It’s positive to see cell-based meat startups working to take an active role in the field’s regulatory discussions. Last August, Memphis Meat and the North American Meat Institute sent a joint letter to the White House to propose a regulatory pathway forward for cell-cultured meat. The letter became the basis of the basic framework that the USDA and FDA announced earlier this year. AMPS Innovation plans to continue to engage policymakers at the USDA, FDA, and Congress to advocate for the future of food.
Cell-based chicken nuggets by Just
Government regulation has been a major obstacle for cellular agriculture, especially cell-based meat, and it’s positive to see several startups form a coalition to address the regulatory hurdles ahead for the entire field.
How will cellular agriculture look like at scale? Scaling production from lab to market has been one of the hurdles for the field, and cell-based fish company BlueNalu recently shared their plan on how they plan to commercial their cell-based seafood production through a 5 phase plan. Starting at R&D and small pilot scale testing, BlueNalu expects to produce about 18 million pounds of cell-grown seafood annually in their large scale commercial manufacturing facilities in its Phase 5.
This is the first time that a cell ag company has shared plans and facility design images highlighting how their large-scale production would look. BlueNalu shared that their first seafood product will be cell-based mahi mahi fish.
Avant Meats is a cell-based seafood startup based in Hong Kong. Founded by Carrie Chan and Mario Chin, Avant Meats shared that they will release their cell-based fish maw prototype in the next few months. Fish maw is the dried swim bladder of large fish, a popular dish in China and Southeast Asian cuisine. According to Chan, fish maw is a simpler fish product to produce via cellular agriculture that has higher margins to be viable early on.
If Avant Meats showcase their prototype before the end of 2019, it would be the third cell-based seafood showcase this year. In June, Wild Type showcased their cell-based salmon in the United States, and Shiok Meats showcased their cell-based shrimp dumplings in March.
Plant-based chicken, anyone? Beyond Meats trialed their new plant-based fried chicken at one KFC location in Atlanta, Georgia. And within hours, the location was sold out. It will be interesting to see if KFC will organize a larger trial of the new plant-based product.
The successful (although small) trial at KFC continues Beyond Meat’s incredible summer. In May, Beyond Meat raised $241 million from their initial public offering, becoming one of the most success IPOs since 2008.
Impossible Foods announced that their plant-based Impossible Burger patties will soon be available in the grocery aisle in the United States. Currently only available in the restaurants, Impossible Foods announced that the FDA approved of their (not so) secret ingredient soy leghemoglobin as a color additive. The approval was important to ensure that Impossible Foods could sell their product in stores and for customers to take their plant-based burgers home and cook for themselves.
As more startups enter the field and advance, it will be important for coalitions like AMPS Innovation to highlight the many benefits of cell-based meats and cellular agriculture to various stakeholders and policymakers to help advance the field.
For example, a recent New York Times article revealed an unsuccessful investigation into the source of an outbreak of antibiotic-resistant salmonella in pork due to the lack of data and transparency around antibiotic usage on livestock farms. Considering the public health impact (and the looming global antibiotic resistance health crisis), it will be critical for AMPS Innovation to highlight the the benefits of increased food traceability as well as the major reduction in antibiotic usage by producing meat via cellular agriculture.
Beyond signifying that the field is ready to work and cooperate with regulators and policymakers, the formation of AMPS Innovation suggests that cell-based meat products may be close to coming to market (otherwise, why establish a coalition to work with regulators now?). It’s interesting to note in the AMPS Innovation press release that Memphis Meats is also working on developing cell-based seafood. Memphis Meats was the first cellular agriculture company to make the cell-cultured meatball and poultry (both chicken and duck). What products will we see first on the market?