Growing meat artificially, instead of within an animal, may soon be an available reality. Meet one of the pioneering developers of this product of the future: Aleph Farms. With their innovative methods, they are better able to mimic the structure and texture of our well-known beef. But they want to go beyond just mimicking 'real' meat. We spoke with Didier Toubia, founder and CEO of Aleph Farms, who sparked our imagination with his idea of the next farming industry. Are farms the clean meat laboratoria of the future?
In a conversation with our friends at the Good Food Institute, Matt Ball told us about the work of Aleph Farms. He states: “Aleph Farms has an absolutely world-class scientific team! If they are successful with growing four distinct cell types in three dimensions, they will be able to replicate more complex cuts of meat than are currently being attempted by other clean meat startups.”
We got in touch with Didier Toubia, CEO and founder of Aleph Farms, and found ourselves inspired by their ideas, technology and innovation.
Towards taking the cow out of the steak
The lacking animal welfare, the high environmental impact, and the potential health issues related to our traditional meat industry, are motivating a quest for a better alternative to our dearly-loved meat. Didier Toubia explains “With Aleph Farms, we're part of what is called the ‘cellular agricultural revolution’, a transition towards agriculture where we’re directly growing tissues off of cells instead of growing the whole animal.”
Didier compares this growth of meat to hydroponic agriculture, where crops are grown without soil, but attached to nutrient flows. “The same as there are ways to grow vegetables disconnected from the soil, we are growing a steak disconnected from the cow.”
However, before this revolution can unravel, the clean meat industry is facing multiple challenges.
“Developing cost-effective growth media is the biggest challenge for clean meat's future at the moment.” Matt ball explains. Didier Toubia adds: “Scaling up the production efficiency, and lowering the costs of the current methods, are well-known challenges that we, as well as other companies, are working hard for to overcome.”
But Didier sees another challenge. "It’s also important that at the end of the day, the clean meat product will be attractive and appealing to the consumer.” Therefore, the currently lab-grown meat must develop further. “It has to be a complex piece of meat, with a texture and structure which is closer to real meat.”
“The same as there are ways to grow vegetables disconnected from the soil, we are growing a steak disconnected from the cow.”
Aleph farms may be able to further this resemblance of meat. “We bring two innovations to the clean meat industry. Firstly, we developed a method with Technion, the University in Haifa, where they use a platform for regenerative medicine that restores and repairs tissues for patients. With this method we can grow a 3 dimensional cut of meat.”
“Moreover, we are the first to generate meat with 4 types of cells. Besides the muscles cells and fat, we also have connective tissue and blood vessels in our meat.”
Besides these advancements in the clean meat development, they seem eager to take on another challenge. “Beef is probably the least sustainable type of meat, and it is triggering most problems in the meat industry these days. However, there is only two countries in the world working on lab-grown beef, as it is a much more complex type of meat to grow in a lab. We believe our technology is capable of doing the job, so we choose to start our clean meat development with beef.”
Clean meat is to be differentiated from traditional meat
Didier is keen to emphasize: “To start off, the end-product is meat, just meat. Lettuce is a lettuce no matter how you grow it. The same counts for lab-grown meat, which is in the end meat. We just grow it in a more advanced manner.”
But, the end goal is not necessarily to make a piece of meat that one cannot distinguish from real meat. “I think it is necessary to go beyond mimicking real meat.”
“In the beginning clean meat will still be more expensive than cow-meat. Moreover, if people know the meat is not produced exactly like cow-meat, a psychological bias will likely give them the sensation that the meat does not taste the same.”
"Clean meat should be unique and new experience, that differentiates the product from traditional meat and grants some real added value."
These arguments led Didier to the following conclusion. “I think it is better if we don’t directly compete with traditional meat, but that it is ‘clean meat’ as a statement. Clean meat should be unique and new experience, that differentiates the product from traditional meat and grants some real added value. Your In Vitro Meat Cookbook with that respect is, well, a pioneering vision for clean meat, which I liked very much.”
The process of developing clean meat also allows for this differentiation. “Clean meat offers lots of possibilities when compared to traditional ways of growing meat.” For instance, “We have some freedom in the ratio between fat and muscle tissue, as such we can develop products with a different nutritional profile.” That reminds us a little of our home incubator, no?
Alongside the unique experience of clean meat, Didier trusts that clean meat will already be attractive to people for its "cleaner" nature. “We like to see clean meat as something mainstream, meaning it addresses the need of many consumers who are more and more aware of the downsides of real meat." Didier explains. "The process of growing the meat is more efficient, sustainable and ethical. Furthermore, because we grow the meat in controlled conditions, there is no need for animal antibiotics. And it is free of contamination, as this is a prevailing risk at slaughterhouses, which obviously won’t apply to clean meat.”
Opening the market for clean meat, starts simply with spreading that exact message. "If you want to further the development of clean meat, spread the word that clean meat is better for the planet, better for us as humans, and better for the animals."
The next laboratory is actually a farm
The original term ‘in vitro meat’ is not used by Didier. And, I have to admit, when I think of clean meat, I still see a petri dish with a perfectly pink piece of meat in it. This association with the lab may repel people from the concept. However, the future of clean meat is not envisioned to take place in a laboratorium.
Didier explains: “Even your most standard cookie was once made in the lab, like any new food product starts in the lab for research and development.” It is not surprising that, now that clean meat is slowly progressing from this R&D stage, the industry is both moving and rebranding its product. Didier chooses specifically to envision an integration of the old and the new. The future of in vitro meat, may just find its way into our well-known farms.
“We envision that the production of clean meat will be done in bio farms. I believe that those biofarms can be integrated with the traditional farms, which nowadays are already very high-tech. Farmers are integrating new technologies and approaches all the time. I see clean meat simply as another improved technique for agriculture, giving farmers additional revenues. I think they are the best partners for us to produce clean meat globally and to increase production capacities quickly. I don't feel safe as a biotech company, but I’m sure as a farming business.”
I don't feel safe as a biotech company, but I’m more sure as a farming business.
We at Next Nature are more than curious to see how Aleph Farms will continue to develop their innovative methods, their differentiated meat experience and their ideas for the next farming industry. Thank you for sharing, Didier Toubia!