The future of meat is... air?!
A couple of weeks ago, I was lucky enough to be invited to participate in the inaugural European chapter of KindEarth.Tech’s “Alternative Protein and Dairy Summit” which took place in Amsterdam across a gloriously sunny few days. These are my observations from the chats I had, boat I hosted and talks I visited:
1. The topic of clean meat may feel like it has only just begun, but has actually been in development for many years.
Ira Van Eelen is the organiser and has a special connection to this theme - she is the daughter of the first man to ever discover that you could grow cultured meat cells and the whole event was a fitting tribute to her pride in her father's dedication to bringing this technology to light. Given the event was held in her home, Amsterdam, we spent our 1st day at the science museum, NEMO, where they have an exhibition dedicated to the "Future of Food". Our 2nd day of talks saw us relaxing on canal boats, touring the city in the sunlight (so pretty!), and made for a relaxed environment to take in all the fascinating insights we were treated to in the talks from the pioneers in this field.
2. Vegan or not vegan?
There is much to debate about the ethics of using biopsies from animals to be able to grow the cells and whether or not that would fall within a vegan approach. Personally, as a vegan, I recognise that these products are designed for those who refuse to give up their precious meat and if the choice is between clean/cultured meat vs the cruelty and suffering and volume of resources the current system requires, I’m for it. The fewer animals that suffer, the better. I can also see that this is an important stepping stone towards new and developing technology in our food system as climate change threatens our food security globally.
3. Cultured cell producers are working together to help these products reach the market sooner.
Companies from across the world are open sourcing their technology to help their competitors because they all recognise the urgency of the climate emergency and the rising demand for products like theirs. Most are predicting a market-ready product hitting shelves in 2022/3. As these products scale, the costs will decrease and it's less of a race to feed the world than a team challenge. Almost everyone talked about how they were sharing their findings and collaborating with others - refreshing to hear in light of our current political situation. If only politicians could do the same!
4. The science is almost ready... but further investment is required to scale and bring the costs down.
They will all need more money and more talent to help them bring these products into our food cycles globally. Another issue is the product they have to had to use to feed the cells to help them grow - the only one they can use in their research is FBS - fetal bovine serum which is taken from unborn calves (about as un-animal friendly as you can get). Using anything else means their research would go unpublished and unrecognised since they are currently restricted by outdated medical legislation. By the time their products hit the market, this area of specialisation ought to have its own category and legislation which will enable them to escape these cruel shackles. As non-medical products, there is no reason to hold them to medical standards when food production regulations would be more appropriate. As soon as this happens FBS will be eradicated from the process as there are other plant-based materials they can use. By developing a new category of food as innovative as this they will help to eliminate animal agriculture sooner and will open up new possibilities for the food of our future. Keeping this end goal in sight is crucial to get on board with this technology!
5. Some of the most exciting technologies I heard about were managing to create protein from non-animal matter.
Kiverdi is focused on converting microbes in the air into protein (which looked like protein powder), and are also capable of turning landfill into usable material. The event wasn’t limited to meat production. We heard from a Singapore-based startup, Shiok Meats which is focusing on replacing seafood with cell-based alternatives; a consortium of EU scientists looking to grow foie gras and another making a plastic alternative from beer waste material. Inspirational stuff! Loui Blake, of Kalifornia Kitchen and Erpingham House fame, (and KET’s “Head of Cool”), also joined in to offer advice on how to educate consumers around making this new innovation in food something exciting and tempting for consumers.
We were also treated a tour of the Future of Food exhibition at NEMO museum, which was also where the Next Nature Network entertained us by imagining what the future for cultivated meat products could look like for consumers. Click here for a taster (not for the squeamish!): https://bistro-invitro.com/en/menu/
Cell-based innovation has its critics but at the heart of it these scientists are reinventing our food production as we know it into kinder, more environmentally and efficient systems which can support the dietary requirements of 9.7 billion people come 2050. And by then, one would hope we will be doing it without exploiting animals.
KindEarth.Tech has plans for future events in Europe, Asia and USA to help connect this burgeoning industry and to help its products reach the market and access the investors they need to take even more traditional meat, fish, dairy, and eggs off the shelves for good.
Visit https://www.kindearth.tech/ for more info.