by Jim Mellon
More and more people are waking up to the problems of modern intensive farming, from animal cruelty and environmental pollution, to further animal-to-human viral transmission. For many countries, there is a further risk of dependence on food imports; Israel, for example, has seen record highs of livestock imports in recent years.
There are however, many innovative scientists and entrepreneurs around the world who are leading the charge to reform our global food system, providing solutions that could replace and eradicate intensive farming. Their optimism inspired me to write my latest book, Moo’s Law: An Investor’s Guide to the New Agrarian Revolution.
This revolution has two waves. The first is plant-based substitutes for meat. The technology is quite simple, but the results are fantastic. Companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods have achieved multibillion-dollar valuations by mixing legume matter and extruding it into a mince-like mixture. Each company has special tricks for recreating meat: Beyond uses beetroot to recreate the ooze of blood, while Impossible uses yeast-fermented soy leghaemoglobin to add haem, the flavourful additive that adds a beef-like texture. My household ate the Beyond Meat burgers several times over lockdown, and we were all pleasantly surprised by how realistic it tasted.
But even more significant will be the second wave, which is cellular agriculture, including cultivated meat, cell-based seafood and materials. Scientists have essentially repurposed techniques from the biotech industry in order to grow meat in laboratories and factories. A small biopsy of cells is taken from an animal, and stem cells are isolated from this material. These cells are then expanded in bioreactors to create large quantities of biomass and then differentiated into the desired cell types that meat is composed of: muscle, fat and connective tissue. This process is much faster than growing animals and the price is falling rapidly as companies scale up to commercial levels of production: about eight years ago, one cell-based burger patty cost €250,000, whereas today one company (Mosa Meat) can produce a €9 patty. Within the next decade, I expect the industry to reach “Griddle Parity” with conventional meat, after which point it will rapidly displace the existing animal-based food system.
There are two reasons why I’m so excited about cellular agriculture: the planet will benefit, and investors will profit. Compared to intensive animal farming, cellular agriculture requires only a fraction of the land and water and a huge reduction in greenhouse gas emission.. Animals will no longer be mistreated and slaughtered en masse. Future zoonotic infections will be far less likely. And in terms of financial opportunity, investors should remember that the global meat industry is the same size as the Spanish economy – the rewards for successfully disrupting this sector are almost limitless.
One factor determining the success of clean meat will be consumer acceptance. This is particularly interesting in the case of Israel because of the debate about whether the products will qualify as kosher. A paper published last year by Joel Kenigsberg and Ari Zifotovsky of Bar Ilan University suggests that kosher status could be achieved by sampling stem cells from a kosher species after traditional Jewish slaughter. However, Talmudic scholars have not yet looked at the topic in enough detail to reach an authoritative consensus.
Among consumers more generally, however, acceptance will come down to price, taste and convenience. On all three criteria, we should be optimistic, cultivated meat will be able to match conventional meat with regard to the sensory experience, flavour profile, nutritional value and cooking experience, because it is genuine meat, just produced in a much more efficient manner.The first cultivated chicken products from Eat JUST have already been approved for sale in Singapore, and are now served at 1880. Bloomberg’s Mark Cudmore said, “I think that I could quickly prefer this to normal chicken, even if I think there’s a slight difference, because this is a very nice texture and presumably they can make it consistently good because it’s lab grown.” And the price, as discussed, will only fall further as the scale of production increases.
Israel is at the forefront of what I call the ‘New Agrarian Revolution’. The same reasons why Israel’s life sciences and biotech sectors lead the world have also turbo-charged the nascent cellular agriculture sector: well-integrated networks of entrepreneurs, scientists, venture capitalists and universities. And government support is on the way too: In December, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tasted Aleph Farms’ cultured meat and announced, “I have directed State Secretary Tzahi Braverman to appoint a coordinator to serve these industries in order to connect and oversee all the stakeholders operating in this field. Israel will become a powerhouse for alternative meat and alternative protein.” In my book, I feature some of the most promising Israeli businesses, including SuperMeat, Aleph Farms, and Future Meat Technologies.
SuperMeat is particularly notable because it opened “The Chicken” in December, which is the world’s first restaurant serving cultured meat. “The Chicken”, located just outside Tel Aviv, serves chicken burgers whose meat is grown in bioreactors at the other end of the building. As a restaurant concept, it is still very much at the prototype stage (they can’t charge customers for example, as the Israeli government has not yet approved any cultured products for sale) but it is a promising sign of the catering industry’s future.
I am also impressed with Aleph Farms, whose CEO, Didier Toubia, I interviewed for the book. Didier is particularly focussed on cellular agriculture as a solution to food scarcity, which still afflicts 850 million people today.
He told me that Aleph Farms will reach large-scale production at commercially competitive prices within seven to ten years. This is actually on the slow end of most companies’ timescales, but Didier’s aim is to capture the market through careful design: Aleph won’t be the first to market for cultivated beef, but it is developing a whole-muscle steak product, the only company in the sector to have this approach.
Two years ago, Aleph Farms’ technology was used to grow a beef steak in the International Space Station, which is an example of potential future applications. This month, they reached another milestone by developing the world’s first slaughter-free rib-eye steak in association with the Technion–Israel Institute of Technology.
The New Agrarian Revolution is backed by irresistible ethical and environmental imperatives. I applaud Israel’s innovation and proactive approach to building this industry, and I would encourage the rest of the world to follow suit. Cellular agriculture will and can drive the reinvention of our food system, to provide healthy tasting meat, without the downsides of intensive farming.
Jim Mellon is a British investor and entrepreneur. His latest book, Moo’s Law: An Investor’s Guide to the New Agrarian Revolution is available via Harriman House and Amazon.
On 4th March 2021, Jim will participate alongside scientists, CEOs and investors in the cellular agriculture industry in a webinar hosted by Master Investor on the sector’s opportunities. To sign up, visit http://bit.ly/39KiKyB