Surely, you’ve witnessed the rise of meat analogs, be they plant- or cell-based. They’ve quickly moved from a curious little sideshow usually only found in the most vegan/vegetarian-oriented restaurants and specialty supermarkets to something nearly mainstream America. Today, several major quick service restaurant chains have joined in and are offering vegetarian burgers, and supermarkets are quietly moving those products into their ‘real’ meat cases.
Of course, the move isn’t without controversy. Earlier this year, there was a kerfluffle between the Food & Drug Administration and U.S. Department of Agriculture about which of the agencies had jurisdiction. It was solved with an unusual kiss-and-hug agreement for the very territorial, protective federal agencies. The traditional meat industry initially questioned the validity of those products before accepting what became inevitable and invested heavily with upstart companies that were developing better tasting and more reasonably priced products. They were a step behind big bucks from savvy mega-investors like Richard Branson and Bill Gates.
To understand how much money and research has been put into the development and growth of these products, here is an almost comprehensive list of public companies producing cell-based meat, investing in production or doing research in technology (published by Cell Based Tech, April, 2019 :
Agilent Technologies (U.S.): Gene synthesis used in cellular fermentation and protein expression. http://www.Agilent.com
Archer Daniels Midland (U.S.):ADM (NYSE) Participated in $18.2 million financing of Geltor. Joint development agreement with Perfect Day Foods to develop and commercialize animal-free dairy proteins. https://www.adm.com
Bioneer Corp (Korea): Gene synthesis used in cellular fermentation and protein expression. http://www.bioneer.com
Bio-Rad (U.S.): Gene synthesis used in cellular fermentation and protein expression. http://www.bio-rad.com
Cronos Group (Canada): Partnership with Ginkgo Bioworks to produce cultured cannabinoids through cellular fermentation. https://thecronosgroup.com
Illumina (U.S.): Gene synthesis used in cellular fermentation and protein expression. https://www.illumina.com
Intrexon (U.S.): Cellular plant propagation technology (Boticelli) https://www.dna.com/
GE Life Sciences (U.S.): Gene synthesis used in cellular fermentation and protein expression. http://www.gelifesciences.com
Lonza (Switzerland): Gene synthesis used in cellular fermentation and protein expression. www.lonza.com
Twist Biosciences (U.S.): Gene synthesis used in cellular fermentation and protein expression. https://twistbioscience.com
Tyson (U.S.): Tyson New Ventures, venture capital arm of Tyson Foods led $2.2 million financing of Future Meat Technologies and participated in $20.1 million financing of Memphis Meats. tysonfoods.com
And that’s only a partial role call. Cargill, one of the major players, is missing from the list and there are many more. The estimated total investment in this technology over the last few years hovers around $16 billion. Cell- and plant-based meats, like it or not, are now serious players in the food business. Recently, five of the leading companies that grow red meat, poultry and seafood from animal cells -- BlueNalu, Finless Foods, Fork & Goode, JUST and Memphis Meats -- formed the Alliance for Meat, Poultry & Seafood Innovation (AMPS).
It is a toe-in-the-water first attempt by those participants to wade into the vast and complex food business, a usually rough-and-tumble ocean of competitors. The stated principle was to join together to speak with a unified voice which might easily be drowned by a tsunami of conflicting opinions. Wanting to know more about AMPS, I posed a few questions to the organizers. The answers came from the leaders of the five member companies.
Q. Let’s start this interview with a very basic question: Why did you five companies decide to organize? What do you hope to accomplish?
A. “We decided to form AMPS Innovation because we recognized that collaboration is key to being an impactful partner in the overall food and agriculture sector. All of our member companies have made significant strides in product development, and, as we continue to grow as companies and work towards producing cultured/cell-based meat, poultry and seafood for consumers, we hope to build strong relationships with our colleagues in the food and agriculture industry and listen to and learn from them.
We also have recognized there is a need to advocate for our new industry through sharing our collective expertise, providing insight into our innovation, and committing to safety and transparency. Additionally, we will educate and provide insight into our innovation for consumers, industry partners, policymakers and stakeholders alike. Ultimately, we want to foster a productive dialogue and create an environment for our industry that supports continued innovation for years to come.” (Lou Cooperhouse, co-founder and CEO of BlueNalu)
Q. A joint statement signed by all of you (Lou Cooperhouse, co-founder and CEO of BlueNalu; Michael Selden, co-founder and CEO of Finless Foods; Niya Gupta, co-founder and CEO of Fork & Goode; Josh Tetrick, co-founder and CEO of JUST; and Uma Valeti, co-founder and CEO of Memphis Meats) said, “The Alliance for Meat, Poultry & Seafood Innovation was founded on a desire for members of our industry to come together and speak with a unified voice as we emerge as a viable, impactful partner in the overall food and agriculture sector.
The comment suggests some fundamental differences between cell-based and plant-based products, especially when it comes to government rules and regulations. Would you elaborate on those differences and how you might manage them?
A. “There are many new vegan and vegetarian products coming to market that mimic meat, poultry and seafood, but they are actually composed of plants and plant-based products. They are different from cell-based/cultured meat, poultry and seafood, which is grown directly from animal cells and is the same as conventionally produced meat, poultry and seafood, all the way down to the cellular level. Because of this, we expect our products will be subject to the same inspection and regulations that currently exist for meat, poultry and seafood.
For meat and poultry companies specifically, this means we support joint oversight of our products by FDA and USDA. For seafood, we also support a safe, fair and transparent pathway to market at FDA.” (David Kay, senior manager of communications for Memphis Meats)
Q. It’s a nascent industry with several other important players and certainly more will emerge in the next several years. Will AMPS be open to expanding membership beyond the ‘first five’? And would expansion be with industry suppliers as well as other producers?
A. “We are open to adding new members in the future, and we regularly have conversations with other companies who are interested in joining AMPS Innovation. At this time, our membership is only open to companies that produce cultured/cell-based meat, poultry and seafood in the U.S., at any stage of R&D and funding. What’s most important to us is that we have members who can help us speak with a collective, unified voice and who are committed to an open and science-based dialogue, which we find to be true of companies throughout our industry.”(Niya Gupta, co-founder and CEO of Fork and Goode)
Q. AMPS said it wants to communicate a clear and coherent message about its products to consumers. Talk to me about that message and how it you plan to distribute it.
A. “Our industry is dynamic and still very new, with a large number of new companies working to bring products to market. So far, we’ve focused intently on our launch and making sure people know who we are and what our mission is. In the next few months, you can expect to see more collective outreach from our companies to stakeholder groups, regulators and policy makers on our priority issues like transparency and consumer education.
In addition, we hope to partner with other members of the food and agriculture industry on a variety of issues, but particularly on our work to collaboratively meet the growing global demands for protein. We plan to keep people up to date through our website, ampsinnovation.org, where you can find resources such as the Guide to Terminology and Key Facts About Our Industry right now.” (Michael Selden, co-founder and CEO of Finless Foods)
Q. Many in the animal ag industry view cell-based meat production with a very wary eye, seeing it as a threat to their livelihood. Do you have plans to open dialogues with them? What would be your message?
A. “We view our products as a complement to the traditional meat and seafood industry and we welcome the opportunity to work in partnership with them to meet the growing global demands for meat. Members of AMPS Innovation are committed to our work because we believe that cell-based/cultured meat, poultry and seafood will be critical, in partnership with the overall agriculture sector, to meeting the increased demand for animal protein as the world’s population continues to grow.” (Andrew Noyes, head of global communications, JUST)
Q. Let’s discuss the often much more difficult step: working with the federal government. With no permanent staff, how will AMPS successfully navigate that usually bumpy path?
A. “At this stage, we are an alliance of research and development companies who are working towards a common goal of creating a safe, fair, and transparent pathway to market in the United States. We are not a trade association in the sense that we have not hired staff, outside of our own companies, to lead our organization, though it is possible we will create a more formal structure in the future.
For now, we operate as a partnership, holding regular calls to plan our outreach we’d like to carry out in the coming months. We are committed to working with USDA and FDA on the cell-based/cultured meat framework the two agencies released in March 2019 to provide additional clarity and for this framework to ensure the highest levels of safety and transparency are applied to our products. We look to working with both USDA and FDA throughout this process.” (Andrew Noyes, head of global communications, JUST)