By Connor Davis & The Future Fields Team
This article was also posted on our Medium channel: https://medium.com/@futurefields
As of December 2019, 55 cultured meat and seafood industry startups around the world had publicly announced themselves . Out of these 55 companies, only four are currently operating in Canada: Appleton Meats, Because Animals, Cell Ag Tech, and Future Fields. In the non-profit sector, Cellular Agriculture Canada (CAC) is working to educate the public and advocate for a regulatory framework in Canada. Along with this necessary industry work, academic research is vital to fill in gaps that cannot be filled by startups. Santiago Campuzano (Pelling Lab at the University of Ottawa), Dr. Cameron Semper (Dr. Alexai Savchenko’s lab at the University of Calgary), and Dr. Peter Stogios at the University of Toronto are some of the first to be conducting cultured meat specific academic research in Canada.
All of these groups are paving the way for cellular agriculture in Canada, but in order to create the future of food we envision, we need more people working on the challenges that lie ahead. As we continue to do our part and push forward here at Future Fields, we are excited to see what the future holds for cultured meat, and all of cellular agriculture, in Canada.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made it clear that alternative protein sources are required to provide stability and safety to our fragile protein supply chain, but we also need more protein sources to feed our growing population. As the worldwide population and average income increases, so does the global demand for meat . The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) predicts global meat consumption will increase almost 73% by 2050, as our population approaches 10 billion . As it stands now, the current meat production system will not be able to sustainably support this increased demand. Worse still, the livestock industry will continue to contribute detrimental environmental effects, threaten human health, and kill billions of animals as it tries to keep up with the growing demand. To learn more about the human health risks associated with our reliance on the animal-human interface, check out our latest piece here. Humans are resilient, but we need a sustainable protein production system that will be resilient alongside us. COVID-19 has exposed the current system’s flaws, and we need to use what we have learned to reinvent and improve upon it.
Cellular agriculture will be an integral part of the solution to the problems that the current food system faces. Much of the food we eat today is deeply ingrained in our culture. As a result, it is difficult to shift away from certain foods, even if you are made aware of the damage their production may cause to animals, our planet, and even ourselves. What we and other groups around the world envision, is a world where we can continue to eat the food we enjoy without compromise, while also reducing the negative consequences that are normally associated with these products. We know there are students, entrepreneurs, and investors all across Canada who are also motivated by this idea and want to be part of the solution. We also recognize that trying to understand what is needed in such a new and fast growing industry like cellular agriculture can be difficult. Future Fields wants to facilitate growth of this field in Canada and beyond, and we are also striving to educate the public on cellular agriculture, as greater understanding will lead to greater acceptance . Canada has the opportunity to become a leader in cellular agriculture, but we need more involvement all across the country. Below, we outline ways that we believe students, entrepreneurs, investors, and the public across Canada can make an impact on the future of food through cellular agriculture.
For students and recent graduates looking to enter the cellular agriculture field in Canada, it may feel like there aren’t many options — don’t let this deter you! The field is seeing large growth during 2020 (in the midst of a pandemic), with no signs of slowing down. This means that there will be openings as companies grow and as new companies are started. An excellent resource to check current worldwide job postings in the entire cellular agriculture field is Cell Agri. Regardless of whether there are open positions here in Canada, we encourage you to reach out to us and others in Canada working on cellular agriculture. Making early connections is a valuable first step for when they are hiring! It is especially valuable in such a nascent and relatively small field, where interacting with founders and leaders in the field is very accessible for anyone. This can lead to opportunities and connections that may not be possible in larger and more developed fields.
As mentioned above, there are already academic projects being done here in Canada. These projects are funded by either New Harvest or the Good Food Institute (GFI), and you can visit Funding Opportunities and Research Programs respectively to learn more about potential funding opportunities these organizations provide. It’s important to note that there is a need for academic research in all parts of the cellular agriculture value-chain. ‘Box 2’ from the GFI Cultivated Meat State of the Industry Report gives an overview of some of the current white space in the industry . In order to successfully integrate cultured meat sustainability into the global food supply, work is needed in all areas of the supply chain. A great example of white space not mentioned in this figure is decarbonized energy availability. A few life cycle analysis (LCA) studies comparing cultured meat to traditional livestock have shown a need for increased reliance on decarbonized energy sources in order for cultured meat production to have a smaller environmental footprint [5,6]. In our goal to create a sustainable protein production system, this shift in energy reliance is essential. This is one of many areas where academic research may hold an advantage over the private sector in driving progress. Overall, as a student or recent graduate, there is plenty of opportunity to use the skills and knowledge you have gained to contribute to the advancement of cellular agriculture.
Cellular agriculture is the process of producing animal products by culturing animal cells. Traditional agriculture products, such as milk or meat, can be produced using laboratory techniques without the need to raise and slaughter an animal. With cellular agriculture practices, any type of animal product imaginable can be created. This technology decouples food production from land use, bypassing many of the challenges associated with intensive farming practices. It has the potential to greatly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve food security and most importantly, reduce transmission of animal-borne diseases. With cellular agriculture, the human-animal interface is reduced, as animal products can be created without the need for animal husbandry. This encompasses any animal product, meaning sources of zoonotic agents, such as those attributed to COVID-19, are removed. The more we reduce, or at least control, the human-animal interface, the more we decrease the likelihood of future zoonosis.
Other factors associated with animal agriculture (particularly intensive farming practices, such as concentrated animal feeding operations) contribute to zoonotic transmission. Deforestation and climate change are thought to have caused the 1998 Nipah viral outbreak in Malaysia, which was transmitted from bats to livestock as the bat population was driven out of their native habitat . In the Congo Basin and Rift Valley, studies have demonstrated that the loss of biodiversity and deforestation have significantly increased the risk of zoonotic transmission to humans . Deforestation is a direct consequence of animal agriculture as more and more farmland is required to grow crops for animal feed. Cellular agriculture reduces deforestation as the production practices are decoupled from land-use.
While intensive animal agriculture practices are certainly problematic, it is important to consider the socio-economic factors that influence the transmission of zoonotic diseases. Food insecurity and lack of adequate protein sources, often linked to conflict or poverty, are a common driver of bushmeat hunting [11,12]. As we have seen in many cases, practices like this contribute to disease emergence. Cellular agriculture has immense potential to address food insecurity and provide a more stable and sustainable source of nutrition. With adequate protein sources, we can reduce the need for bushmeat hunting and other practices that leave us susceptible to zoonotic disease emergence.
For entrepreneurs looking to get involved in cellular agriculture, there are plenty of ways to put your skills and creativity to good use. ‘Box 2’ from the “Cultivated Meat State of the Industry Report” outlines potential opportunities for innovation in the field . If you spend some time reading the literature and articles on cultured meat (Cultured Meat Literature), you are bound to find even more opportunities for impactful involvement. GFI’s industry reports (Alternative Protein: Industry Analysis) are a great place to start to understand what exists already and what is needed moving forward. If you are looking to network and learn from others in the industry, join the GFIdeas Community! Once you join, you’ll have access to a community Slack group and monthly online seminars that explore varying topics in the alternative protein and cellular agriculture spaces.
Once you have an idea, you will then need to begin to execute on it. This will involve many hurdles and questions. Should you find a co-founder? Is your idea actually feasible? How will you raise money to pursue this idea? These are just some of the many questions you will need to ask yourself. Luckily, GFI has another great resource, the GFI Startup Manual. This is a detailed guide on “planning, launching, and growing a good food business” . Reading this manual is essential if you’re planning on creating a company in the cellular agriculture space.
To help grow and create a market for cellular agriculture in Canada, it is crucial to build companies here. In order to gain government attention, they need to see the industry being built in Canada. We need this government attention to ensure cellular agriculture gets the proper regulatory framework and support that it will need to integrate into the Canadian food supply chain. Demonstrating the potential in the numerous cellular agriculture companies active in Canada will be critical in gaining their support and involvement.
There is ample opportunity for investors to get involved in the cellular agriculture and cultured meat industry, and now is the time to do so. As per the “Cultivated Meat State of the Industry Report”, the number of cultured meat startups is increasing steadily. More than one third of the fifty-five companies were founded or left stealth mode in 2019 alone . Over $200 million USD has been raised by cultured meat companies in 2020 (as of May), bringing the cultured meat investment total to over $350 million USD. However, almost half of the current companies have received no external funding (as of December 2019). For investors, there is an opportunity here to invest early in many of these early-stage startups in an industry that is already seeing accelerated growth.
There is clearly an opportunity to invest in cellular agriculture, but why should you?
Cellular agriculture is going to be a major part of the solution for three of humanity’s greatest challenges: feeding 10 billion people by 2050, mitigating climate change, and mitigating the threat of antibiotic resistant and zoonotic diseases. With population growth, rising income and declining yield trends , the food industry will not be able to meet the demand for animal-derived food products by 2050, and it will continue to accelerate climate change and the spread of these diseases. It is clear the industry is in need of positive change, and cellular agriculture is exactly what is needed to prompt this change now.
For investors, the potential market size of cellular agriculture and alternative protein products cannot be understated. The current animal products market is estimated to be worth $2.17 trillion (2018), with human food accounting for 85% of this market . The alternative meat market alone is expected to grow from $4.6 billion (2018) to $140 billion in ten years, capturing up to 10% of the total meat market . So, you don’t even need to be overly optimistic about alternative protein’s potential to take over the meat market, as capturing a small amount of it will result in huge gains for investors anyways. For investors to fully understand the market potential, reading the AgFunder Alternative Protein White Paper is essential .
The idea that cellular agriculture will play a major role in the future of food is already being recognized by governing bodies all around the world as well. In March of 2019, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) agreed to jointly regulate cultured meat. Both the government of Singapore and government of India have put funding into cellular agriculture, and Hong Kong is expected to reduce time to market by introducing a smooth regulatory process.  The Good Food Institute is also working on food safety and regulatory requirements in the EU, Israel, and Brazil . All of this work in food safety and regulations around the world should be seen by investors as a reduction in risk.
To be clear, we believe the entire alternative protein industry will be key in creating a sustainable future of food — not just cellular agriculture. Thus, we encourage investors to explore all opportunities within the alternative protein industry. To better recognize the investment opportunities specific to cellular agriculture, it is important to understand the fundamentals of the industry. Below is a list of resources that will increase your understanding of the industry and the companies involved. Hopefully this will help you, as an investor, better navigate the opportunities that are available. Many of the other resource suggestions in this article will be useful for investors as well.
You don’t need to invest all your time and/or money into cellular agriculture to support the industry. A simple way to get involved and support our mission is to increase your understanding of cellular agriculture and then share what you learned to others.
Discussions around cellular agriculture inherently prompt a wide range of emotions, and first impressions are often quite strong — this is natural. Food is an essential part of our lives and culture, and seeing novel technology being used to reinvent our food system can feel threatening without the proper information and context. Once you begin learning about cellular agriculture, you’ll realize the science and technology that seems complex on the surface can be broken down into a few fundamental techniques. You may also realize that your vision for the future actually aligns with the motivations of the founders of these companies, and that cellular agriculture is not as strange as it first seems.
The social media accounts of groups involved in cellular agriculture are a great place to start learning. We recommend checking out Cellular Agriculture Canada’s Twitter and Instagram, the Good Food Institute on Twitter, and CellAgri on Twitter. Each of these groups have newsletters you can subscribe to as well! Another great resource is the Cultured Meat and Future Food podcast. If you are interested in a longer read, Clean Meat by Paul Shapiro and Billion Dollar Burger by Chase Purdy are both great options.
We also encourage you to better understand how the food you currently eat is produced. Cellular agriculture doesn’t seem so invasive to our food system when you learn all the science and technology that is already involved in it. Take a look at the following resources to start learning about how science + technology are already prominent in food production: Processed: Food Science and the Modern Meal, and The Importance of Food Science and Technology.
Furthermore, learning about the problems with our current food system will help you better understand why change is so important right now. The cellular agriculture groups around the world working tirelessly to create a more sustainable future of food all want to resolve these problems. Take a look at the following resources to start learning about the issues with our current food production system: How the practices of industrial agriculture put our health and environment at risk, Factory Farming: Assessing Investment Risks, and Ending Factory Farming.
The global food system needs to see change, and for us, that change starts here in Canada. We want to see Canada become a leader in cellular agriculture, but more involvement is needed. We hope this article can serve as a resource and guide for those who are trying to get involved in cellular agriculture and enact change to our food system. As we said in our last article, we are relentlessly working with our customers to revolutionize the future of food — a future where safe, affordable, and sustainable food production exists with minimal use of land and animals. We hope that you will join us on our mission to do so.