Following the promising start to the year, February continued to show that 2019 will be a strong year for cellular agriculture (cell ag). Compared to conventional animal agriculture, cellular agriculture provides a more sustainable and environmentally-friendly way to meet the growing demand for animal products. And this month, the field continued to show that. With new investments (including the largest in a foodtech startup) and new research papers, this article takes a look at what happened this February in cellular agriculture.
Following a slowdown in investments at the end of 2018, February marked a strong series of investments in the field.
Perfect Day Foods raised $34.75 million to complete their Series B funding. Based in Berkeley, California, Perfect Day is a startup that uses cellular agriculture to produce animal-free dairy proteins. By designing yeast to produce the same dairy proteins found in milk from a cow, Perfect Day can make the same milk. Without needing the cow. Perfect Day’s Series B was led by Temasek Holdings, Horizon Ventures, and ADM Capital. This is one of the largest announced investment rounds in a cell ag food startup. The Series B funding marks a great start to 2019 for Perfect Day following their perfect end to 2018.
Along with Perfect Day, a company called Culture Biosciences raised $5.5 million to help companies test their cell-grown products. Funded by Verily (formerly Google’s Life Science), the Wired describes Culture Biosciences “as a virtual fermentation lab, a place where companies can send flash-frozen vials of yeast and bacteria to be raised and tested.” Unlike other companies that only offer services for large testing sizes, Cultured Biosciences offers small fermentation tank sizes to fit a startup's testing needs.
While Culture Biosciences does not focus on making a product via cellular agriculture, their fermentation testing services will allow other companies to test their products before scaling production. Cultured Bioscience’s customers already include Geltor, a startup using cell ag to grow collagen, and Modern Meadow, a cell ag company that has raised over $50 million to produce bioleather from cells.
Ginkgo Bioworks, a biotech company that designs microbes to produce various molecules, recently revealed its spinoff company, Motif Ingredients. To start, Motif Ingredients announced that they raised a massive $90 million in their Series A round of funding. This is the largest Series A round ever for a foodtech startup. Motif Ingredient plans to use Ginkgo Bioworks’ microbe platform to produce animal proteins to complement the flavour and texture of plant-based products. Motif Ingredients may even use their animal proteins to enhance the taste of cell-based meats and other cell ag products. All without requiring animals. Motif Ingredient’s Series A financing included investments from Breakthrough Energy Ventures, Louis Dreyfus Company, Fonterra, and Viking Global Investors.
Wild Earth announced that they will be pitching their sustainable pet food on Shark Tank on March 17th! Shark Tank is an American television show where entrepreneurs pitch their businesses to the ‘Shark’ investors, and Wild Earth plans to show how they’re re-inventing pet food.
According to Ryan Bethencourt, CEO and co-founder of Wild Earth, “one of the biggest challenges in pet food is actually the low-quality of the protein”. Wild Earth plans to fix that problem by using koji, a distant relative of mushrooms. Will the Sharks join Wild Earth CEO Ryan Bethencourt and take a bite out of their dog food?
With all the calls from the meat industry to ban cellular agriculture companies from using the word meat, there is a new product using the term.
In 2012, ABC News released its infamous ‘Pink Slime’ video. In the video, ABC News looked at what Beef Products Inc. (BPI) did to produce a product called LFTB (Lean Finely Texturized Beef); ABC called it pink slime.
This month, the USDA announced that LFTB can now be labelled as ground beef (and not LFTB). BPI states that they’ve improved their production process to be more precisely like ground beef and, therefore, should be able to call their product ground beef.
Yet, not everyone in the meat industry is on board. If this highly mechanized and processed product can be called ground beef, why should the label for cell-based meats be any different? In January 2019, for example, several states in the US tried to narrow the definition of meat to exclude both plant-based and cell ag products from using the word.
The USDA’s decision to permit LFTB be labelled as ground beef may have short-term benefits for the meat processing industry with long-term repercussions that may make it more acceptable (at least, regulatory wise) to have cell ag products be produced in a processed manner and be labelled as meat.Then again, it is animal meat. Just without the slaughter.
A research paper by Dr. John Lynch and Dr. Raymond Pierrehumbert called "Climate Impacts of Cultured Meat and Beef Cattle" was recently published in the journal Frontiers in Sustainable Food System. In the paper, Lynch and Pierrehumbert compares the climate impact of cultured meat production to conventional beef cattle by assessing different models of each production type. A unique aspect of their assessment included measuring the impact of each type of greenhouse gas (carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide, and methane) individually. As the researchers shared, each greenhouse gas has its own warming impact and lifespan.
The authors found that, for the next 100 years, cell-cultured meat production will be more sustainable than conventional animal agriculture. Their models warn, however, that cultured meat may not be more sustainable if all the energy required for production is sourced from fossil fuels.
The research paper highlights our need to create a clean energy source to power cell-cultured meat production. Without reducing our dependency on fossil fuels, the paper warns that, at scale, cell-cultured meat may not be any more sustainable for our climate than conventional animal agriculture. Looking forward to sharing a more detailed breakdown about this research paper.
Another recent research paper, “A Survey of Consumer Perceptions of Plant-Based and Clean Meat in the USA, India, and China” by Bryant et al. looked at the lack of global research on consumer acceptance and perception of cell-based meats (called clean meat in the paper). They found that there was a higher acceptance of both cell-based meats and plant-based meats in China and India when compared to the USA. Their findings also showed that, in all countries, higher familiarity about the concept of cell-based meat (and its benefits) led to higher rates of acceptance and willingness to try it. With most cell ag companies working on cell-based meats based in the US, will we see a growth of startups moving to or emerging in Asia?
Clean Research hosted their first open science webinar on cellular agriculture where they focused on the value of producing lean fish meat (fish with little to no fat tissue) from cells. Clean Research is a new non-profit advancing the research and development of cellular agriculture through open science. In their first webinar, CEO Alain Rostain presented the merits of using zebrafish as the first species of cell-based lean fish meat. According to Rostain, zebrafish offers many advantageous qualities for technological development and commercialization of cell-based zebrafish fish meat over other fish species.
Following January, February was an eventful start to the year. The new investment in Perfect Day and the launch of Culture Biosciences and Motif Ingredients reflect the growing interest in sustainable foods (and services for those companies). In particular, the hefty investments in both Perfect Day and Motif Ingredients may be a result of a simpler regulatory pathway forward as acellular products.
In addition, there is a growing amount of research focused on key questions surrounding cellular agriculture. Lynch and Pierrehumbert raises the questions about the sustainability of cell ag without a clean and decarbonized energy source. Bryant et al. address the lack of global data about consumer perception and acceptance of cell-grown products. Clean Research also asks whether cellular agriculture research should focus on a less complex species like lean fish meat. Ultimately, further discussions and research will only help the field grow and address issues along the way.
Like last year, March marks a month with many upcoming conferences. The end of March marks the Disruption in Food and Sustainability Summit (DFSS) in Singapore on March 29th. As a cell ag media partner, looking forward to sharing my thoughts from the event.
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