To solve climate problems and handle the increasing global population, tech and bioengineering are infiltrating the food consumption sphere of our lives. Soon, people will take their protein food sources straight from the lab to the kitchen with the biotechs embarking on lab-grown foods.
How does a more vegan culinary ecosystem sound? Unpredictable right? Yes, the movement has been around for some years now, and it seems to not be going anywhere as more biotechnology industries are throwing in their towels in the sector.
As far back as 2000, when the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was founded, the husband and wife co-investors committed to supporting efforts to increase access to healthy nutrition through charity and other campaigns across the world.
According to Gates, the 64-year-old business mogul, meat poses environmental threats to human existence while adding that awareness should be created for more people to understand the dangers of a depleting global ecosystem due to overdependence on flesh.
Further to reducing the over-dependence on meat, in 2013, Gates invested in a startup initiative set to produce vegan-friendly eggs which are entirely plant-based. The company, Hampton Creek Foods, has recorded major success in supplementing eggs consumption with plant-based alternatives.
Bioengineering Companies Taking Over Alternative Protein Sector
Motif, a food tech company, raised $90 million in Series A funding led by Breakthrough Energy Ventures, a tech and innovative technological startup committed to using technology to drive climate change, Fonterra, Louis Dreyfus Company, and Viking Global Investors.
Bill Gates had himself, in a video while demonstrating the potential impacts of ignoring the climate changes said: “Part of the solution is to invest in innovation in all five sectors so we can do these things without destroying the climate. We need breakthrough inventions in each of the grand challenges.” One of the five sectors he mentioned was technology.
Concerns have been raised over the damaging impact of animal husbandry. Raising animals to meet the global high demand for meat bears untold consequences on the climate. Raising these animals requires large expanses of land and multiple trees to be fallen yet the number of calories the animals consume while being grown is more than its output to consumers. Investors now seek innovative ways to fill-up the gap.
Besides the inadequate calories, the fallen trees were meant to clean up the climate and when they are fallen, they increase the chances of flooding and erosion among other climate hazards.
Bill Gates is not himself a vegan but hopes that increased sensitization will lead to a world where people eat with the interest of climate at heart. He looks forward to a gastronomical ecosystem where plants meant for feeding humans will not be converted to feeding just animals.
The well-acclaimed proponent of climate change, Bill Gates, did not waste any time to acknowledge that a world where everyone eats plant-based proteins is non-existence but hopes that his massive investment in alternative proteins in food production will win many disciples.
Is Global Hunger A Threat?
According to the United Nations data projection, there will be a record increase in overall global population up to a staggering figure of 9.6 billion by 2050; a figure which makes experts project global hunger if measures are not put in place. In this regard, sustainable and accessible nutrition are among the biggest threats facing the food industry.
The bio and food technology industry now engages in fermentation for producing plant-based protein alternatives; a process that is less damaging to the ecosystem. This process is sustainable and accessible due to its efficiency and less damaging consequences on the climate compared to traditional animal husbandry.
Consumers are in demand for healthy food varieties, even though healthy and plant-based foods are usually expensive or may not taste or function exactly like the animal-based foods that food tech companies aim to replicate.
What Can We Expect From Motif?
The young startup, Motif ingredients, a company built by Ginkgo Bioworks intends to increase plant-based food protein availability by supporting food producers with similar interests to reach larger demographics. The company uses its biotechnological know-how to ferment animal proteins that were originally derived from animal sources.
The by-product is a plant-based protein source that supplements the traditionally-grown eggs, cheese, and meat. The taste, feel, look, and function in food preparation is said to be like its conventional counterparts by a process of fermenting massive yeats and bacteria to produce a wide range of food products. The technology behind this is akin to that used in brewing beer.
The Industry of Cultured Meat, Straight from the Lab
Slightly different from the fermented plant-based protein foods is the cultured meat typically produced from animal cells. These cultured meat widely known as lab-grown meats, cellular meats, clean meats are prototypes of conventional meat. Cells are taken from animals under a bioengineering process that grows the cells into fat tissues that resemble conventional meat.
As with the fermented plant-based proteins, the production of cultured meat presents little damaging consequences to the climate when compared to traditional animal husbandry. It also does not involve actual slaughtering of animals or meat processing methods that activists find distressing and unclean.
How Soon Can We Expect Cultured Meat?
Cultured meat is still in its infant research stage and may take years before it makes its way to the market. According to its sustainability, a cell sample extracted from a cow is capable of producing tons of cultured meat. If this research becomes successful, it will offer an unprecedented dimension in the meat industry, one that animal activists fear about.
Not minding that the industry is still in its early stages, it has attracted vast start-up firms that have also raised millions of dollars to harness the riches of the new-sprouted market.
What Startups Should We Keep An Eye On?
Some companies like Future Meat and Memphis Meat have even raised huge sums of investment capital to support the research phases of the lucrative meat sector. The two companies as of the second quarter of this year had raised $186 million.
Josh Tetrick, the company’s CEO, said that JUST was set to begin distribution of its chicken nuggets in some restaurants in Asia as soon as it receives approval from the country’s regulator, with whom it was said to be in dialogue, The Guardian wrote. The country in question was not mentioned.
In a report by Good Foods Institute (GFI), an institute committed to promoting culture meat, 2019 marked a record increase of investment in alternative protein companies. There was a 57% increase in the number of startups joining the sector making it look promising for alternative protein sources in the future. Raised venture capital hit a surprising sum of $77 million.
Debates on Underlying Consequences
As with any novel research, there is usually skepticism from the masses and institutions about the health safety of consumer products. In considering the future of alternative proteins, factors to trade-off include health, climate, price, and taste.
There are increased fears from animal advocates that cultured meat could someday displace conventional meat if there are no regulations and the business is left in the hands of capitalist-free investors. Activists have maintained that cultured meat should complement conventional meat and not the other way round.
Chris Kerr, New Crop Capital’s Chief Investment Officer, said: “We will be rich, no matter what,” reported by Clean Hoax Meat, making activists question the underlying motivation behind investors funding the sector.
Michael Hansen, a senior scientist in the advocacy division of the nonprofit organization’s Consumer Reports, questioned the possibility of bioreactor contamination and non-transparency of the research which could also pose health hazards.
Transparency Of Research
A lot is expected of the companies to show transparency across their research stages. “You would think they would put samples out for somebody to test… but all we have are assertions,” said Michael and reported by The Guardian. The final stage of tasting the final product should also be made public so that people can ascertain the difference or similarities between cultured meat and conventional meat.
One of the major promoters of the cultured meat industrial sector, Bruce Friedrich, has been attributed to saying that cultured meat will challenge the existence of conventional meat. He believes it would in the future take over the meat industry entirely.
How Could the Market Play Out?
A lot is yet to be answered about the fate of animals if left entirely in the control of capitalist-free investors. Production of cultured meat has been said to be cheaper, less time-consuming, and cleaner than growing animals for human consumption.
The government could make policies that regulate the meat sector allowing consumers to decide what kind of meat to buy. This will put the decision in the sole hands of the masses rather than investors.