AMS Spring 2023

Aleph Farms and Mitsubishi Will Supply 3D Cultured Meat to Japan

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Food tech startup Aleph Farms signed an agreement with Mitsubishi Corporation‘s Food Industry Group to supply cultivated meat to Japan. The Israeli-based firm will deliver its proven, scalable manufacturing 3D tissue engineering platform, called BioFarm, to cultivate whole-muscle steaks. Simultaneously, global business Mitsubishi will provide its expertise in biotechnology processes, branded food manufacturing, and local distribution channels in Japan.

Through a newly signed Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), Aleph Farms and Mitsubishi will collaborate to help the country meet climate change and food security goals by ensuring the successful integration of cultivated meat within the local ecosystem. This cooperation takes a lead role in the fight against climate change, especially now that the Japanese government stipulated a goal of achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Aleph Farms is the first slaughter-free meat startup to grow steaks. Image courtesy of Aleph Farms.

In 2010, beef alone was responsible for 25% of all food-related greenhouse gas emissions. With demand for meat set to soar – particularly in Asia and other emerging regions – there has to be a more sustainable way of providing protein to a growing population. Aleph Farms seeks to bring forward a healthier, safer, and more sustainable food culture that doesn’t involve animal suffering to tackle these environmentally threatening issues.

Since creating the world’s first slaughter-free steak made from cow cells in 2018, Aleph Farms helped cosmonaut Oleg Skripochka successfully 3D print meat on the International Space Station (ISS), far away from any natural resources and using a 3D bioprinter developed by the Russian company 3D Bioprinting Solutions. Months later, it unveiled a prototype of the first commercial cultivated steak product. The move marks a significant leap in Aleph Farms’ goal of making cultivated meat widely available in the global community. The company is transitioning its commercial products to its BioFarm pilot plant, planned to launch by the end of 2022.

Aleph Farms Launches ‘Aleph Zero’ Program to Grow Steaks in Space. Image courtesy of Aleph Farms.

Cell-grown meat is typically generated from a few cells of a living animal, extracted painlessly, and then nourished and grown to produce a complex matrix that replicates muscle tissue, suggests Aleph Farms. However, one of the barriers to increased meat production has been getting the various cell types to interact with each other to build a complete tissue structure as they would in the natural environment. Finding the right nutrients that would allow the multicellular matrix to grow together efficiently, creating a complete structure gave Aleph Farms an edge over its competitors.

By relying on a bioengineering platform developed in collaboration with the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, Aleph Farms can create a whole-muscle steak. The initial products are still relatively thin, said Didier Toubia, Co-founder and CEO of Aleph Farms, but the technology developed is a great leap forward in producing a cell-grown steak. Aleph Farms’ leading 3D technology and its capabilities for growing real beef steaks enable it to mimic the traditional texture, structure, flavor, and shape of beef muscle tissue steak, claim the company. But without the need for devoting vast tracts of land, water, feed, and other resources to raise cattle for meat, or use of antibiotics, helping the startup garner strategic partners from the food industry needed to build a sustainable ecosystem for cultured meat.

For Toubia, the MoU with Mitsubishi marks a significant milestone and is part of the company’s objective of having a global go-to-market with selected partners. As the demand for meat continues to rise with evolving lifestyles, the cooperation will also provide actionable solutions to overcome the local population’s societal challenges surrounding the domestic meat supply. This includes implementing stable food channels of quality nutrition.

The mass production of alternative meats is not only critical to reducing the ecological footprint of gas emissions; it could also boost a clean meat trend and address uncertainty in massive disruptions in the food supply chain. These issues rose to prominence amid the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. During the first months of the global crisis, scientists quickly pointed out the zoonotic risks associated with animal products, particularly meat. In contrast, cultured meat offers a similar taste and texture while eliminating any risk of viral infection.

The risk of COVID-19 outbreaks led to plant closures and reduced production capacity, which resulted in cattle slaughter being down by 19% in March and April. The heavy supply chain disruption and risk of disease spillover from animal to human by consumption could sway consumers towards cell-based products or more sustainable food technologies soon.

A frozen cell bank in liquid nitrogen later grows into the many cell-types that comprise meat. Image courtesy of Aleph Farms via Instagram

According to Aleph Farms’ VP of Market Development, Gary Brenner, the collaboration with Japan is part of a network of “BioFarm to Fork” strategic partnerships developed by Aleph Farms in the Asia-Pacific region, Latin America, and Europe. It follows the successful 2019 strategic $12 million Round-A series investment from U.S. food giant Cargill and the Migros Group in Switzerland.

Aleph Farms and Mitsubishi Corporation are both members of the Cellular Agriculture Study Group, a consortium implementing policy proposals under the Japanese Center for Rule-Making Strategy. The consortium brings together a range of experts on the definition and construction of cellular agricultural foods. It also clarifies conditions for Japanese products and technologies to have international competitiveness and establishes mechanisms for coexistence and division of roles with existing industries.

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