Alternative Protein & Dairy Show by KET: Four companies that are shaping the alternative protein industry

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The Alternative Protein & Dairy Show by KindEarth.Tech is a gathering of the brightest FoodTech innovators, working together to design the future of food.

In August, we attended the Amsterdam edition that was focused around cultured meat, algae & creating a circular economy. We listened to four companies that are shaping the future of alternative protein and wrote down the highlights of their presentations.

Clean shrimp from Shiok Meats

Shiok Meats is a company from Singapore that just turned one year old. Co-founded by Dr Sandhya Sriram and Dr Ka Yi Ling, Shiok Meats aims to disrupt the $40 billion shrimp market and create clean shrimps using stem cells.

Asians eat a lot of seafood: just in Singapore, for instance, 80% of 6 million population consume 80 kilograms of seafood per person yearly. To meet this demand, farmers create more and more fish farms, exhausting the marine ecosystems.

One year ago, two scientists decided to grow clean shrimp meat outside of shrimp body with the same nutritional value, flavor and taste profile. Today Shiok Meats has $5 million in funding and is getting ready to launch their first product in 18-24 months.

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20-30% of shrimps available in the stores are wild-caught, most of them contain microplastics. The rest 70-80% are farmed in Vietnam, Thailand and India. As farmers have to save money on water and feed, shrimps are frequently grown in sewage water or slaughter farm runoffs.

Shrimps are bottom feeders, in their natural environment they feed on dead fish and plants. In dirty sewage water they thrive and grow big, however turn grey or black because of pollution. To get that dirt off, farmers bleach these shrimps, desinfect them with penicillin and antibiotics and ship off to the markets. In 2016, Bloomberg Businessweek published an article on antibiotic-tainted seafood from China.

Slave labor in this industry is another major issue: deshelled shrimps that we buy frozen in the supermarket are peeled by factory workers in inhumane conditions: The Guardian featured a story of a Burmese worker Tin Nyo Win who peeled 80kg of shrimp for just £2,65 a day.

Shiok Meats is not going to compete with farmers or get them out of business: they already know how to sell this product and have customers. The plan is to let farmers and companies use their technology to produce clean and safe product. Cost is of course an issue: at the moment, a kilogram of cell-based shrimp meat costs about $5 000. Dr Sandhya Sriram wants to reduce it to $50 in 12-18 months.

With Singapore being a global leader in cell-based meat development, Shiok Meats has a good chance to become a worldwide pioneer in the clean crustaceans industry.

CO2-based protein from Kiverdi

Californian company Kiverdi is working on CO2-based sustainable protein. In 1960s-70s, NASA was looking at how to efficiently send astronauts to distant planets. As we are a carbon-based lifeform and get carbon through our food, it is important to know how to recycle it during a long space journey.

One of the ideas was to use single-cell organisms: astronauts would breathe out CO2 and the microorganisms would grow food for astronauts creating a closed carbon loop. Kiverdi got inspired by this process and is now planning to make it commercially available.

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Modern agriculture produces more greenhouse gas emissions than our planes, trains, cars and trucks combined. It uses over 19,2 million square miles of land. In the upcoming years, we need to come up with a source of protein that uses less land and does not contribute to the greenhouse gas problem.

The process that Kiverdi is working on is similar to beer brewing or dairy production where microorganisms are used to create cheese or yoghurt. The protein that comes from CO2 is free from hormones, antibiotics and gluten, rich in vitamins and minerals including B12 which is usually lacking in vegan diets.

Kiverdi made the original NASA invention more scalable and economically viable. The transformation now takes hours, not months, requires no sunlight, needs 2 000 times less water and 10 000 times less land than soy. It has a neutral taste and can be used as a base for numerous products.

Cellular steak from Aleph Farms

When CEO of Aleph Farms Didier Toubia was working in Western Africa, he realized: it's not the lack of resources that causes hunger in some of the countries but wrong utilisation and distribution of these resources. This issue is systematic and cannot be solved with single initiatives as our entire approach has to change.

These days, we use 15 000 liters of waters for every kilogram of beef produced, 30% of available land is occupied by livestock. 70% of meat today is produced in big industrial facilities. We lost connection to the animal and focused purely on production efficiency. Cultivated meat can reach the same efficiency without environmental, health and ethics downsides.

The mission of Aleph Farms is to create slaughter-free meat products that are in balance with nature. To achieve this goal, scientists replicated the muscular regeneration process that generally occurs inside the cow in a controlled lab environment. While in conventional meat industry it takes 2-3 years to produce a steak, clean steak can be grown from a cell in three weeks. Cells are collected without harming an animal and can be used to grow an unlimited amount of meat.

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Aleph Farms is not using antibiotics and monitors every step to prevent contamination. The nutritional value of their steak will initially be similar to that of a conventional steak, by the time of commercial launch the scientists are planning to reduce the amount of saturated fat and add vitamins that are frequently missing in the vegan diet. The first commercial prototype is expected by the end of 2020 followed up by pilot production and scaling in 2022-2024.

In the future, we will be able to grow meat in the cities and solve the problems with transportation, carbon footprint and food security. At the moment, many countries cannot grow cattle because of land constraints or weather conditions. The cellular meat industry will allow us to bring high-quality slaughter-free meat anywhere in the world.

In addition, cell-based meat industry fits into the circular economy by recycling part of other players' side products. One of the largest problems in the plant-based world today is a huge amount of starch that is left behind after the protein extraction. This starch can be used to feed the cells for the cultured meat.

Cultivated meat is in direct line of the social evolution of modern societies. Hundred years ago, animals were slaughtered on the central squares and citizens were not shocked by that. Society evolved and slaughterhouses were moved to the outskirts. We don't want to know where the meat comes from anymore because it is unattractive and makes us feel worse. Clean meat is good for all the parties: us, animals and our planet.

Cell-based pork from Higher Steaks

Co-founders of UK startup Higher Steaks Benjamina Bollag and Stephanie Wallis are working on creating cell-based pork meat. There are quite a few challenges working with pork: it is harder to obtain induced pluripotent stem cells that can be brought back to the embryonic stage and grown into different types of tissue.

Secondly, compared to beef, pork is perceived as a low-cost product. Finally, it is not accepted by many people for religious reasons. Nevertheless, the pork industry is a huge market and the demand for it is growing constantly.

We are about to face a massive problem in the pork meat supply. African swine fever virus is going to wipe out 1/3 of Chinese pork supply which is about 16 million tons. 10 countries in Europe are already affected by this virus. In this scenario, we just have to come up with an alternative sustainable solution which will also help us tackle the foodborne illnesses.

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Working with pork gives Higher Steaks a chance to impact the situation with antibiotic resistance. Most of the antibiotics are used on pork and chicken. As pork is the closest to humans biologically, it is a lot easier to adapt human protocols to pork than to chicken or duck.

It will take a lot of time to minimize the impact of animal agriculture. According to the most optimisic research by AT Kearney, by 2040 conventional animal agriculture will comprise about 40% of the market. That's only a 30% change. But what if all of it can be replaced? What will be the place of farmers in this new system?

We could of course say that every farmer will have a little bioreactor, but all the aspects including automation and storage have to be thought through. The entire system around it should be affordable. When it comes to large scale production, we need meat producers to be engaged in downstream processing. Big question is whether they will also do the upstream processing and grow their own cell-based products.

Finally, we need to invest in re-education and support farmers who are willing to build their tech solutions and make their farms more efficient.

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