Lab-grown meat and food-tech companies in the US are showing that applying science to what we eat can save the world and make money
If you make food that tastes really good, you win, says Josh Tetrick, with a smile. And winning is crucial, he says, with his company Just in the vanguard of a new sector with an ambitious mission: to use cutting-edge technologies to create food that will take down the meat and dairy industries.
The scope is huge: growing meat in labs, producing creamy scrambled eggs from mung beans, or making fish that has never swum in water, or cows milk brewed from yeast. The drive is to lessen the colossal environmental damage wrought by industrial farming, from its vast carbon emissions to water pollution and disease.
And the meat industry appears to be well and truly rattled. In the US the beef industry has filed a petition to exclude non-animal products from the definition of meat, while a farmer politician in France has managed to get a law passed that bans vegetarian companies from calling their products sausages, mince or bacon.
The most famous alt-protein product so far is the Impossible Burger, an entirely plant-based patty that has an uncanny resemblance to meat and is now served in more than 1,000 restaurants in the US, usually at around $15. The key meaty ingredient in the Impossible Burger the blood is a hemeprotein found in the roots of soy plants. But the way it is produced for the burger shows how the new food tech companies are harnessing techniques first developed for biomedical uses.
The DNA for the hemeprotein is encoded by genetic modification into a yeast, which is then brewed. The protein, identical to the soy original, is then separated and no GM material ends up in the burger.
The same yeast fermentation technique is being used by other companies to make egg and milk proteins that are identical to the originals, but without actual chickens or cows. Arturo Elizondo, CEO of Clara Foods, based in San Francisco, is targeting a marvel of the culinary world the egg white, which foams, gels and binds in myriad recipes.
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