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Cultivated Meat – Interview with Aleph Farms

Cultivated Meat – An interview with Co-Founder and CEO of Aleph Farms

At Anuga 2021, Didier Toubia, Co-Founder and CEO of Aleph Farms talked about his vision about cultivated meat. In his interview for Anuga and Anuga HORIZON , he gives insights about the future of cultivated meat and why he thinks, people are ready for this.

Didier Toubia, Co-Founder and CEO of Aleph Farms, at Anuga 2021

Didier Toubia, Co-Founder and CEO of Aleph Farms, at Anuga 2021

Your company was founded in 2017 and you have achieved a lot since then. What’s your vision?

Our vision is to provide unconditional nutrition to anyone, anytime, anywhere. We aim to make cultivated meat independent of climate or availability of natural resources, driving the transition to resilient and sustainable food systems.

Aleph Farms is one of the companies pursuing leadership in a new category of meat, called cultivated meat. How is cultivated meat different from plant-based meat?

Cultivated meat is defined by growing meat products directly from their building blocks, the cells, rather than the entire animal. Although often categorised as “alternative protein”, like plant-based alternatives, cultivated meat is an alternative to the current production process of meat. The core concept behind this method is the tissue regeneration process, which naturally occurs in all animals: tissues renew themselves by reproducing cells to repair and maintain overall health. Cultivated meat replicates this process under controlled conditions. It begins with taking a number of cells from an animal and nurturing them in a nutrient-rich, animal-free growth medium, where they are capable of multiplying. Subsequently, the cells can be stimulated to differentiate into muscle, fibre, or fat cells, and through tissue engineering techniques supporting the three-dimensional organisation of the cells, a tissue is grown that mirrors slaughter-based meat.

We believe that there are a series of solutions coming together and we believe that there’s a need for both new production methods for meat (cultivated meat) and for meat alternatives (plant-based) in the market as well. There isn’t one single bullet for everyone.

The inclusive solution Aleph is promoting reflects the complexity of the problem and involve multiple strategies working in concert with education and policy: 1) responsible meat consumption and the adoption of sustainable and healthy diets, 2) sustainable agriculture practices incorporating incremental innovation to increase efficiency, and 3) transformational innovation such as cultivated meat, but also fermentation-based protein, insects, etc, that can complement sustainable agriculture practices to meet the growing demand for food.

An inclusive solution must realise the complexity of relationships between different activities and stakeholders and account for the socio-cultural differences within our ecosystem. At Aleph Farms, we have developed an inclusive business model that includes collaboration with local stakeholders from the meat sector. We have carefully hand-picked our partners based on synergies in sustainability commitments and our core values. Food systems touch all people, and it will take all of us to make this change happen, each playing our own role in an inclusive transition to a more sustainable, equitable and secure world. Aleph white paper : An Inclusive Transition to a Sustainable and Resilient Meat Sector

Together with your research partner at the Faculty of Biomedical Engineering at the Technion - Israel Institute of Technology you have successfully cultured the world's first slaughter-free ribeye steak using three-dimensional (3D) bioprinting technology. What is this all about and what makes this technology so special?

In February 2021, together with our research partner at the Faculty of Biomedical Engineering at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, we successfully cultivated the world's first slaughter-free ribeye steak, using 3D bioprinting technology and the natural building blocks of meat – real cow cells, without genetic engineering and immortalization.

Aleph revealed its cultivated ribeye steak just two short years after unveiling the world's first cultivated thin-cut steak which did not utilise 3D bioprinting, unlike the ribeye. The advancement of 3D bioprinting now offers Aleph the ability to produce any type of steak and paves the way to Aleph’s expansion into different types of quality meat products.

Aleph Farms’ 3D bioprinting technology combines cell cultivation and 3D bioprinting to print living cells that can then be incubated to grow, mature and interact with one another. This phenomenon is facilitated under controlled conditions, outside of the animal’s body, where the cells are given the necessary nutrients to multiply and grow. Within a fraction of the time and resources required to grow conventional meat, Aleph’s steaks deliver the full meat experience we all crave, with the texture, look, taste and nutritional content expected when eating conventional meat.

The Future of Cultivated Meat. Copyrights: Shutterstock

The Future of Cultivated Meat. Copyrights: Shutterstock

Do you think people are ready for cell-based meat? And will cultured meat be suitable for mass consumption?

Consumers today are looking to enjoy the culinary and sensory qualities of the meat they have always loved, without making a major behavioural shift of removing meat as a central part of their diets. A recent study conducted in the US and in the UK shows that up to 80% of the market is open to cultivated meat; among Gen Zers, it’s more than 90%.

One of the big challenges of cultivated meat is the ability to produce large quantities efficiently at a cost that is in line with the meat industry. Overall, we have developed five different technologies that are unique to Aleph Farms which are put into a proprietary large-scale production process and patented by the company. This scalable production platform paves a clear path for us to reaching price-parity with conventional meat within five years from initial launch.

The production platforms for Aleph’s steaks, as well as our collagen, share similar inputs (same cell source of non-genetically engineered nor immortalized cow cells, as well as FBS-free growth medium) and are produced in similar techniques and equipment in bioreactors. This ‘whole animal’ strategy represents significant operational synergies that can contribute to faster cost-reduction in both production platforms — leveraging economies of scale and deep-tech innovations.

Aleph Farms is also investing in the development of open supply chain solutions that can overcome the main cost barriers in large-scale production of cultivated meat. The latest solution we have developed with WACKER, a supplier of leading protein production technologies, is focused on producing complex growth medium proteins at the quantity, quality and cost that match standards of the food industry, eliminating a key hurdle in the commercial viability of cultivated meat.

The agreement between WACKER and Aleph Farms is non-exclusive, meaning any cultivated meat company will be able to obtain these same affordable proteins. As demand for such proteins increases, there will be an increase in production scale, and a corresponding decrease in cost.

When will your products be available on the European market?

We are waiting on the regulatory process in our first key markets, Asia and the Middle East, and will launch as soon as approvals are finalised.

What are your plans for the future?

Earlier this year we announced our move into our new headquarters in Israel. This 65,000 square foot facility increases our operations sixfold, allowing us to launch our pilot production facility, build a state-of-the-art R&D centre that enhances our technological leadership, and open a community centre that will embrace the creative ethos of Aleph Farms and our approach to the future of food.

More than merely expanding our footprint, this move prepares us for a busy year ahead, as we work toward the global commercialization of our cultivated steak. As we transition to our pilot production facility – one that will house some of the world's most advanced technologies in cellular agriculture – we will not only better serve our efforts to gain regulatory approval for our first, thin-cut beef steak, we can also optimise processes towards our larger scale production facilities which are set to be built during 2022-2024.