Solar power 20 years ago was cellular agriculture, and EV battery 10 years earlier.
Moore’s Law has a rapid impact on costs, reducing them from high levels to a level closer to “griddle-parity”. As investors tire of AI’s boom, it is fair to say that “cell-ag”, will be the next Nasdaq darling.
No longer is it science fiction to imagine a world where half of the meat and dairy industries are replaced by food produced in precision fermentation vats or steel bioreactors. This will eliminate the need to kill animals, drain aquifers, or cut down Amazonia for feed.
Venture capital funds are already able to see the potential profits that can be made by undermining and disrupting today’s agroindustrial regime. Jim Mellon is the founder of Agronomics. He said, “Once we reach scale I’m absolutely certain that we will be able produce food for the same price as traditional food in five years.”
Small investors will find it difficult to believe in this story. All of the start-ups were private equity investments. His London fund is currently the only listed equity that offers a pure-play on this technology. Its portfolio includes holdings in meat, dairy products, dog food and fish, as well as leather, cotton, chocolate and leather.
BlueNalu is a favorite, as it develops Pacific bluefin for the Asian market. Tokyo’s Toyosu Fish Stalls sell bluefin for $80 (£65), or $80 per pound. He said that BlueNalu could make it for only $25 and get a 100% return on the first plant.
This is not to be confused with the plant-based products that are strewn about supermarket shelves trying to resemble beef sausages or burgers. They should not be confused with media stars like Beyond Meat or Impossible Foods that have fallen back to Earth. Cell-ag technology is completely different.
We don’t invest much in plant-based food. These foods are highly processed and two to three time more expensive. “They’re also bad for the environment,” said Mr Mellon.
Two years ago, a Seattle Starbucks became the first to offer a cappuccino made without cow’s milk. Perfect Day creates the milk by telling yeast cells to produce the right proteins using the DNA from a Montana dairy cattle called Dominette.
It does not require the use of antibiotics or steroid, which are routinely used in industrial dairy factories in the US and China. These factories house 30,000 cows in hangars, where they rarely see the sun. It emits 97pc fewer CO2. It uses 99pc fewer water. The cappuccino is good.
Huber’s Butchery, in Singapore, offers a skewer of lab-grown chicken. This GOOD Meat chicken was grown in a Bioreactor and fed amino-acids derived from pea protein, corn oil, yeast, vitamins, and other ingredients for five weeks.
Josh Tetrick is the chief executive of GOOD Meat. He said, “If you are allergic to chicken and you eat ours, it will cause an allergic reaction. It’s still meat.”
Mr Tetrick said to the Alt protein journal Green Queen it would be several years until the industry could replicate the complex texture a steak or pork chop. The technology is already available to replace half of the meat consumed today on the planet. He said, “We can make ground beef, sausages and chicken nuggets now.”
He believes it will take years for the industry to be able to replicate the complex texture found in a steak, or a breast of chicken. The technology is already available to replace half of the meat consumed today on the planet. He said, “Ground beef and sausages as well as chicken nuggets can be produced now.”
Singapore is a global roll-out lab. It is open for technology. It is not obstructed by agro-industrialists. It’s worried about food safety. This is a perfect combination to speed up regulation. In June, the US approved GOOD Meat. The UK will soon follow as it departs from the EU’s obscurantism on ag-tech.
This hybrid chicken has not yet been “bio-identical”. This is still an experimental product with some plant-based content. Agronomics Good Dog Food, which will be available in the UK this winter at Pets at Home, is on the verge of crossing the threshold for pure meat. It will be the world’s first 100 percent cultivated meat, said Mr Mellon.
Cell-grown food is beautiful. Raising a cow takes 28 months. He said that stem cells could be used to create a beef cow in just 40 days.
Around 70pc (70%) of the crops produced worldwide are used as animal feed. According to a general rule, cows consume up to 25 times as much protein as they produce and chickens 6 times that amount. He said, “We believe we can achieve a 2:1 ratio.”
Krijn De Nood, from Dutch start-up Meatable, says that cultivated meat has a higher nutritional content than farmed meat. “I can’t think of any reason to not buy it.” “You’d be insane to say, ‘I want the dead animal’,” said he at a recent SynBioBeta Forum.
There is always a cottage-industry of critics who claim that new technologies can’t be implemented at a reasonable cost. Two years ago, this negativism reached its zenith. The market solves problems faster than the opposition can keep pace.
A giant obstacle has been removed. To replicate the natural behavior of animals, lab-meat needs “growth media”, such as factor 8 or insulin. In the past, bovine foetal sera from the biotech industry cost hundreds of dollars per litre. Recombinant plant protein has been found to reduce costs by up to 99pc.
The tiny fleet of bioreactors has been around for almost 50 years. Cell-ag will require thousands of these vats in order to be launched on a worldwide scale. This is how solar and wind were born. They now provide 90pc each of the global power added.
Agronomics is taking matters into its hands. Liberation Labs, a subsidiary of Agronomics, is building in Indiana the largest contract bioreactor on the planet. The first of four reactors will cost $300m each.
Many Westerners will still resist, despite the fact that they eat some amazing foods. Meat and dairy products are intrinsically linked to our identity, culture and cuisine.
First-movers will likely be the Gulf states and city-states without pasture. The first movers will likely be in the Gulf and city states with no pasture.
The vested interests are resisting furiously, but they’re not fools. Cargill Tyson Nestle and Brazil’s JBS all invest in cell-ag to hedge their bets. “They see the writing on wall,” said Mellon.
This will not be the end for Welsh hill farms, or herds of “pasture-for-life” in Kent. The UK will be pushed further toward a Swiss-style system of supporting rural traditions and niche animals.
As two billion more people climb the protein ladder, lab-farming could help us meet the surging global food demand. It will eventually eat up Big Ag’s market of $5 trillion. Then we can restore the degraded land and begin reclaiming our forest.
Yes, this will make a new wave of tech investors rich.