CEO DIDIER TOUBIA AND CHEF AMIR ILAN FROM ALEPH FARMS: THE FIRST CULTURED BEEFSTEAK TO MAKE HISTORY

By Fabiola Gálvez

The meat of the future, what does it taste like? I wonder. Would you like to taste it? By late 2022 and early 2023, Aleph Farms will probably launch a line of cultured meat products to the market although it will be limited.

Chef Amir Ilan says that Aleph Farms fine cut beefsteak has the same culinary, sensorial and nutritional quality as the delicious conventional steak that people love. “It sizzles and has the aroma of the meat as it browns in the pan to the flavourful taste of umami as you enjoy the first bite”. “It is an exciting new option for chefs and restaurateurs”.

Just now, Aleph Farms is in the midst of building a pilot plant for large-scale production.

But what is Aleph Farms?

It’s an Israeli startup founded in 2017, which has become one of the most important cultured meat companies in the world market. They have got straight to the point and created the first cultured beefsteak, which is far from previous proposals of creating little pieces of meat that looks like minced meat to make hamburgers or meatballs. This innovation has meant that the company has had more investors, with a turnover of 12 million dollars.

Cultured meat promises us slaughter-free meat, health, care of our planet, and it is even offered as food for the astronauts, one of their prototypes was printed in space. It is a fascinating topic, that in this context of a pandemic and in the middle of the 21st century is increasingly being discussed. The project has even drawn the attention of the powerful multinational Cargill, as well as M- Industry (the industrial group of Migros), which is in its group of investors. To look at the big picture of what we are talking about, we spoke with Didier Toubia, CEO of the company, and this is what he told us.

Why did you start to research cultured meat?

At a time when the occurrence of the regional and global crisis is increasing (African swine fever, Australia fires, COVID-19), resilience is at the core of Aleph Farms’ vision. We are at a pivotal point in human history where we must collectively make systemic changes that address global crises such as climate change, rapid depletion of natural resources, the emergence of zoonotic diseases, and massive food shortages, mainly linked to the fragile relationship between us and nature over the years.

Just as our ancestors made the shift from horse-drawn carriages to automobiles, and from oil lamps to electricity, we believe that the next progression occurs in the industrial way we produce meat, which is currently facing fundamental challenges to meet the demand by increasing productivity and efficiency, therefore draws consequences that affect our daily lives and our planet’s health. The shift from using animals as industrial machines to produce food, to cultivating real meat directly from cells allows our livestock farmers to revert back to more traditional ways of producing food. Cultivated meat bridges this gap between less productive methods to the increased demand for quality meat products. As an ecosystem, we hold the responsibility to make the world a healthier place for future generations.

CULTURED MEAT GROWS ON CELLULAR ‘SCAFFOLDS’

“The beefsteak outside of the animal’s body grows similar to how hydroponic lettuce grows, directly from its seeds, under controlled conditions”.

How did you create the first slaughter-free steak in the world?

In December 2018, Aleph Farms made history when it revealed the world’s first slaughter-free steaks, cultivated outside of the animal’s body, under controlled conditions. The company was co-founded with Prof. Shulamit Levenberg, who’s also the company’s Chief Scientific Officer. Prof. Levenberg is a leading scientist in the field of Tissue Engineering and was selected by ‘Scientific American’ as one of the world’s 50 leading scientists.

The technological capability relies on reproducing under controlled conditions in a scalable and cost-efficient manner, a natural phenomenon which occurs in nature. This phenomenon is called ‘Tissue Regeneration’ and it occurs when tissues renew and grow in order to repair tissues in the body.

Through a nature-inspired production method that lasts for 3–4 weeks, Aleph Farms cultivates the cells responsible for this process in an animal-free environment, letting the cells to naturally expand, as they would have expanded in the animal’s body. The cells adhere, multiply and grow on an animal-free “scaffold”, a substitute to the extra-cellular matrix that provides the infrastructure on which the cells grow, proliferate and continue to expand, forming a slice of beefsteak outside the animal, similar to how hydroponic lettuce grows directly from its seeds under controlled conditions.

“Growing meat on a large scale will be similar to yoghurt factory production”

We want to make sure our large-scale production is as traceable and as sustainable as possible and we feel that responsibility to our future consumers, and to future generations as one. When available for the consumer at large-scale, our meat will be cultivated at our “BioFarms” (large-scale clean, automated and sterile facilities, similar to yoghurt factories).

“The current cost of our steaks is $50 per piece”

To put things into perspective, it’s important to note that the first cultivated burger revealed in 2013, cost $300,000. The current cost of our steaks is $50 per piece and since it’s yet to be commercially available, and we’re at the midst of building a pilot plant for large-scale production, the price will continue to significantly come down as the production process moves to our BioFarms. We strive to put a product on the market that is at an affordable cost and aim it to be slightly more expensive at the beginning (similar to any new food products on the shelves), but within few years, when the cost-efficiency continues to increase and reaches parity with conventional meat.

ANOTHER FEAT FOR ALEPH FARMS WAS PRINTING CULTURED MEAT IN SPACE

“Space serves as of the scarcest environments possible, with no natural resources available. By producing food in space, we get valuable insights on our sustainability strategy towards achieving the goal: provide food security with nutritious food for anyone, anytime, anywhere, while using minimal resources”.

The experiment, which was led by 3D Bioprinting Solutions, demonstrated our capability to produce food without the reliance on local land and water resources.

And we can produce quality food anytime, anywhere and to anyone, even in the harshest conditions imaginable.

Also, cultured meat is a solution to combat food waste. Today, one-third of all food produced is wasted, while on the other hand, close to 1 billion people suffer from malnutrition. The main reason is that food today is not produced when and where it is needed to produce. This experiment demonstrates that cultivated meat can be produced anytime, anywhere and in any condition. We can potentially provide a powerful solution to produce the food closer to the population needing it, at the exact and in the right time. Such an approach would grant better access to high-quality nutrition for all people but also would avoid any spoilage of food during transportation or storage.

In the context of the pandemic, have new business opportunities emerged?

“COVID-19 crisis highlighted the reality that everything is interconnected within our food systems: the public, food producers, workers, and related businesses”.

It has also emphasized the urgency to shorten supply chains, consolidate their resilience and bring them to the forefront. Instead of making decisions based on cost-efficiency optimization, we should adopt a balanced distribution of supply sources and develop means of production closer to consumers, and with less interconnectivity. This would limit supply risks and shortage in time of crisis, and at the same time, save costs on logistics and decrease their environmental burdens. Having production closer to consumers would allow us to be more flexible and adapt to changing situations more efficiently. By cultivating meat under clean and sterile environments and in closed systems, which eliminate the human direct contact with the meat or use in antibiotics, the traceable productions ensure the protection from contamination in the products. Since the production of its cultivated meat lasts for only 3-4 weeks long per production cycle, it enables an almost real-time adjustment between demand and supply with no disruptions in times of crises. Economies will be able to be boosted by cultivating meat locally without dedicating large areas of unhabituated land for the production. Besides aggressive environmental goals that Aleph has set, its social sustainability goals aim to cooperate with small farms and promote their prosperity by creating inclusive business opportunities.