Food 4 Future, alternative proteins at the heart of food innovation

Face-to-face events are back! Food 4 Future – Expo FoodTech 2021, the meeting to transform the food and beverage industry through technological innovation, from June 15 to 17 in Bilbao, has placed the development and production of alternative proteins at the centre of the debate.

After a pandemic that has limited us to the virtual world for many months, the international fair Food 4 Future – Expo FoodTech 2021 had met more than 5,000 people. In addition, it has energetically resumed the search for answers to the great challenges of the food sector: how to optimize processes through technology, how to develop more sustainable and efficient business models, and what are the trends in the production of new foods and ingredients.

The food industry represents 11% of the world’s GDP, with expected growth in demand of 70% by 2025, and technology is an indispensable ally to face all the challenges mentioned above.

Alternative proteins leader experts and companies have had the opportunity to reactivate personal contact in this event in which our CEO Iñigo Charola has also participated. BioTech Foods has been one of the 20 companies selected by the organization, among more than 2,000 food-tech startups, to present their progress to the international community.

The development and production of alternative proteins, including cultured meat, which BioTech Foods has been working on since 2017, is aimed at minimizing the energy expenditure that the meat industry generates, through the high consumption of resources such as water, land or feed used in the production of animal protein.

Iñigo Charola explained the keys and opportunities that the development of cultured meat production from a sample of animal tissue represents for the world food sector. Cell culture in a controlled environment implemented by BioTech Foods makes it possible, in addition to avoiding animal slaughter and raising food safety standards, to achieve an enormous proportion of animal protein of high biological value compared to traditional methods. Thus, cells extracted from a single pig in one year can produce the same kilos of meat as those obtained by slaughtering 400 animals.

The consumer, one of the challenges of alternative proteins

Alongside the significant advances in terms of animal welfare and health, there are also benefits for the environment. In this regard, it is estimated that cultured meat and other alternative proteins will account for between 11 and 22% of total protein in 2035. This will allow us “to save the water that a city like London would consume in 40 years”, reminds the CEO of BioTech Foods.

Faced with this door that food innovation opens for all those projects focused on obtaining new nutrients more sustainably, challenges also arise, such as knowing whether current consumers are prepared for this type of alternative proteins consumption.

Thus, one of the aspects that the debate has brought to light is the necessary exercise of the population to overcome cultural and mental barriers. This should not be an obstacle if we take into account, as Carlos Bald, senior researcher at AZTI – marine and food science and technology centre – reminded us, that “many countries consume insects daily, microalgae have been consumed for thousands of years in different cultures, and fermentation with yeast, fungi and bacteria has been used by human beings since the beginning of time to produce bread, beer, wine, cheese and yoghurt”.

Given that, according to UN data, by 2050 the planet will have 9.5 billion inhabitants, the demand for protein, a basic macronutrient in our diet, will continue to increase exponentially. In this scenario, the role of alternatives based on plants and cell cultures to replace animal products becomes indispensable.

One of the main conclusions of this first edition of Food 4 Future has been that higher consumption of this type of food would mean a health improvement, as well as helping to face the current environmental and animal welfare challenges. In short, Food 4 Future stresses that the food sector must focus on offering an extended value proposition to consumers that guarantee traceability, food safety, the choice of healthy and clean labels and environmental management.

I want to be a cell farmer!

The cultured meat sector is making steady progress. According to the latest report by The Good Food Institute focusing on the year 2020, a period in which, despite the global crisis, investments, research, and business projects in alternative proteins have grown significantly.

The Good Food Institute’s recently released ‘State of the Cultured Meat Industry 2020’ report provides a comprehensive review of the evolution of alternative animal-based proteins through cellular agriculture. The study details the business landscape, investments, regulatory developments, and scientific progress in cultured meat production, which is expanding by the world rapidly and steadily.

Some of the most significant data collected in the document are evidence of this:

More than 70 companies focused on cultured meat development projects, services, or end products were officially registered by the end of 2020, compared to 55 counted in 2019.

– Companies involved in the cultured meat sector reached a combined investment of $366m in the 2020 financial year, almost six times the amount invested in 2019.

Around 15 types of cultured meat are being made by startups, including beef, chicken, pork, shrimp, duck, whitefish, salmon, tuna, foie gras, lamb, kangaroo, horse, and sturgeon.

2020 was a pivotal year for the cultured meat sector. The industry made significant progress in scaling up technology, through trade partnerships and creating a key regulatory precedent. And it seems that 2020 is but a prelude to ongoing developments in 2021 and beyond.

Many of the experts consulted by The Good Food Institute agree. Natalie Rubio, a researcher at New Harvest, believes that “cellular agriculture will evolve into its field of study and will feature as a degree at major universities, with its curriculum“. In this line, she dares to predict that soon we will hear from the mouths of the new generations: I want to be a cell farmer!

Public investment in cultured meat

Another focus of the report is on public sector support. To shorten the time to large-scale commercialization of cultured meat, governments should “prioritize cultured meat research and create a supportive framework for the development of this critical industry“. The study notes that “public funding for cultured meat would dramatically improve the productivity of our food system and the growth of our economy” and is also “an important lever for diversifying our food supply, ensuring both variety and safety“.

An industry as disruptive as alternative proteins requires a high-risk initial R&D phase and is increasingly in need of production, two areas in which governments have historically played an important role. Thus, governments have been key in the development of high-tech industries such as semiconductors and solar energy, and there is an opportunity to do the same in the cultured meat sector.

In general, cultured meat has lacked public funding until now, but 2020 brought the first positive news and evidence that the public sector is willing to invest in the cultured meat sector.

Public agencies around the world are beginning to recognize the importance of supporting cultured meat research and commercialization. For example, the US government, through a grant from the National Science Foundation, awarded a total of $3.55 million for open access to cultured meat research. This grant will be awarded over five years to a team of researchers at the University of California. The grant is not only the largest US government investment in cultured meat research to date, it is the first cultured meat grant awarded by the US government to a university rather than a company.

In Japan, Integriculture obtained $2.2 million from the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry to help fund a small-scale installation of the company’s CulNet system.

And, of course, the report highlights the case of BioTech Foods, which, leading the Meat4All consortium to develop cultured meat capable of meeting protein demand without animal slaughter and lower environmental impact, has received a $3.2 million grant through the European Union’s Horizon 2020 program.  

In conclusion, a 2020 balance sheet to allow us to think of cultured meat as a reality and a sustainable alternative that is ever closer and will soon be on our menus.

The global phenomenon of alternative proteins

Sustainable food solutions are among the most discussed topics in the contemporary global food industry, focus on new protein sources. Disruptive protein technology and the market for sustainable food solutions are growing at a rapid pace.

“To be part of tomorrow’s food solution” is the aim of the international forum New Food Conference Berlin on 28-29 April, in which Iñigo Charola, CEO of our parent company BioTech Foods, is participating. The New Food Conference is an industry-oriented event that aims to accelerate and promote these innovative food technologies by bringing together the best players in the sector.

The virtual event is organized by ProVeg, an international food awareness organization based on four continents and active in more than 20 countries. ProVeg works with businesses, governments, public institutions, scientific professionals, and the general public to promote the transition to an animal-free society and economy that is sustainable for humans, animals, and the planet. Among its challenges: To reduce global animal consumption by 50% by 2040.

Considered Europe’s largest conference on new protein solutions, the New Food Conference Berlin is a great opportunity to establish synergies with key players in the food industry. It is a pioneering conference in Europe with the participation of prominent leaders in the field of plant- and cell-based proteins, which makes it the perfect platform for publicizing projects aimed at providing innovative food solutions, such as cultured meat, which Ethicameat has been working on since 2017.

As ProVeg recalls, the 2019 edition of the New Food Conference was the first international event in Europe to bring together leading innovators in the fields of plant products and cultured animal products. A knowledge-sharing platform where, once again this year, a wide range of topics will be discussed (see the full program here). From the priorities and forecasts for investment in the future of food to the round table: ‘Cellular agriculture: is commercialization just around the corner’, in which our CEO, Iñigo Charola, will take part.

The forum promoted by ProVeg is, therefore, a unique opportunity not only to accelerate innovative food technologies but also to discuss relevant aspects such as consumer acceptance, dissemination in the media, and public awareness of the opportunities offered by alternative proteins in the face of global problems such as climate change or world food supply. Consumer demand and tastes are changing faster than ever before as awareness of nutrition and environmental impacts grow.

‘Culturedmeat’ project, our mission for food sustainability

We have added an important achievement to the exciting challenge in which we are immersed: to make cultured meat a reality in our diet soon. The CULTUREDMEAT project, led on the technological side by our company BioTech Foods, has received the highest rating in the ‘Missions’ call of the Centre for the Development of Industrial Technology (CDTI). We tell you all the details of our mission!

The CULTUREDMEAT project aims to research meat produced from cellular agriculture that, together with the development of healthy fats and functional ingredients, allows the production of meat products for the prevention of colon cancer and increase in the concentration of cholesterol and lipids in the blood.

This project has submitted to the ‘Missions’ call of the Centre for the Development of Industrial Technology (CDTI), a program aimed at supporting strategic sectorial business innovation initiatives within the framework of the State Programme for Business Leadership in R&D&I of the State Plan for Scientific and Technical Research and Innovation 2017-2020. Out of a total of 128 proposals submitted, only 24 were approved, with CULTUREDMEAT being the best rated in Spain in all areas of the call.

In the context of a world threatened by climate change, where population growth poses a challenge when it comes to combining food and sustainability, cultured meat is undoubtedly one of the greatest innovations of our century, integrating food safety, animal welfare, and sustainability.

Who forms ‘Culturedmeat’?

CULTUREDMEAT has come into being through the cooperation of national biotechnology companies specialized in nutrition and production technologies. BioTech Foods is leading the technological part of this project.  Seven other entities and ten research organizations are involved in the consortium.

Benefits of cultured meat and challenges

The consumption of red meat is associated with diseases like colon cancer and dyslipidemia. In Spain, specifically, colon cancer is the most frequent cancer in the population. Research into functional ingredients that can help prevent these diet-related diseases with a high social impact is fundamental.

The biggest challenge for the cultured meat sector now is the industrial scale-up to produce sufficient volumes. Cultivated meat production has aroused great interest in the industry and, numerous investment funds are betting on this meat of the future that reduces environmental impact and protects animal welfare. Research and development projects for cultured meat are now also the focus of attention from public institutions.

A few months ago, the European Union, through its Horizon 2020 program, awarded the first public investment in cultured meat (more than 2.7 million euros) to the ‘Meat4All’ project, an international consortium led by BioTech Foods. This joint work aims to supply the world’s growing demand for animal protein while addressing the main drawbacks of today’s industrial livestock farming: health, environmental sustainability, and animal welfare issues.

Cultured meat’ is already a benchmark in the global alternative protein sector and, Spain is among the few countries with advanced business projects that are scaling up production to start commercialization. Biotech Foods, which has been working since 2017 on the development of its ‘Ethicameat’ cultured meat, was the first Spanish company to enter this market.