September has arrived – and with it a sense of excitement regarding the developments in the innovative global food space, writes Laura Turner.
On August 29, Washington DC saw the announcement of the Alliance for Meat, Poultry & Seafood Innovation, the coalition between five cutting-edge food companies within the cell-based meat, poultry and seafood space. The founding members include BlueNalu, Finless Foods,Fork & Goode, JUST and Memphis Meats. This alliance will help to engage policymakers and stakeholders in the US and encourage them to become better informed with regard to their cell-based meat products. It is also an opportunity for the alliance to work with the US Congress, US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as they continue their developments of a regulatory framework for the cell-based or clean meat products.
Regulation within this emerging market is a key hurdle that must be overcome for these companies to meet the meat demand when they are ready to launch to the mainstream. But which country will be first to have a slaughter-free sliver? The US, EU, Singapore, Japan, China and Israel are all plausible destinations for a first lab-grown commercial product.
The forward-thinking, tech-haven island of Japan could win this contest, with IntegriCulture Inc.’s launch of their cell-based foie gras in restaurants in 2021. Integriculture is supported by the Japanese Government, and indeed many governments globally have supported other companies through funding. Regulatory approval, however, may rule this race.
Looking west to US, where the cell-based clean meat scene is arguably most dominant, especially around the golden coast of California, regulation has perhaps had the most advances. The USDA and FDA are responsible for joint approval of cell-based meat products. This was announced on 7 March 2019: the FDA will oversee cell culture and production up to the point of harvest of cultured meat; while the USDA will oversee the production of the products, including labelling. The FDA will oversee all aspects for cultured seafood. This new cooperation should help the field to grow, especially in conjunction with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Climate Agreement.
The Good Food Institute, GFI, a US based nonprofit organisation that promotes plant-based meat, dairy, eggs and clean meat as alternatives to conventional animal agriculture, has been engaging with policymakers to advance the space. Labelling of plant-based products, which will also apply to cell-based meat products, has caused quite a stir in the states of Missouri and Arkansas, due to the issue of using the word ‘meat’ to describe products that do not contain slaughtered animal.
This appears to be a violation of free speech under the US First Amendment and merely a protection of traditional cattle farming – highly unsupportive of this emerging industry compared to other large-scale meat producers! Tyson Foods and Bell Food Group both have equity stakes in clean meat companies; Tyson is launching their own plant-based product line later this year following their exit from Beyond Meat (NASDAQ: BYND). ‘If you can’t beat them join them’ appears to be a wise tactic and common theme amongst the largest meat producers in the world.
Back on home turf, or at least until Brexit happens, EU regulation has progressed. The Novel Foods Regulation, as of 1 January 2018, encompasses cell-based meat as a Novel Food, which should ease companies such as Dutch based Mosa Meat into bringing their products to the EU market, while maintaining a high level of food safety for European consumers.
While clean meat products are at least a couple of years away from landing on our dinner plates, we can indulge in the continual success of the alternative plant-based meat space:
Last week, saw the launch of Lewis Hamilton’s London plant-based restaurant, Neat Burger, serving up Beyond Meat’s burgers. In the US, KFC’s trial of Beyond fried chicken went down a storm in Atlanta, selling out in under five hours – the first plant-based addition to their chicken since 1984! A recent BBC post stated that according to the market research company Mintel, one in six new food products launched in the UK in 2018 were vegan.
Exploring a middle ground between the full-blown veggie and meat-lover is the emergence of blended products that contain both meat and plant-based proteins. These offer an opportunity for consumers to reduce their meat intake, and therefore their carbon footprint, whilst still enjoying the tastes and textures they have become accustomed to. The Better Meat Co. has partnered with Perdue Foods, a major poultry producer in the US, to produce Perdue’s first blended frozen chicken products.
Agronomics (LSE: ANIC), the AIM-listed investment company, remains the only UK based vehicle that provides the public with an opportunity to engage in a sector which is likely to become the future of our food. August saw Agronomics participate in BlueNalu’s latest fundraising round following the announcement of their First-of-its-Kind Commercialisation Strategy. When Jim Mellon and Anthony Chow return from attending the Good Food Conference, I am sure the September buzz for this hot sector will continue.
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Laura Turner is an analyst at the AIM-listed investment company Agronomics, which targets life science investments such as the emerging alternative food technology. She graduated from the University of Oxford, with a Master’s degree in Chemistry.