While critics argue that producing cultivated meat at a large enough scale to make a meaningful difference is a fantasy, Joshua March, cofounder and CEO at San Leandro-based startup SciFi Foods, feels contrarily.
Although March is honest in his beliefs that creating scalable cultivated meat to feed the masses may not be possible today, he does “think there are people working on technologies that will make that possible over the next decade and that is the clear future."
March emphasizes that “It’s important to differentiate and separate what’s possible today and what’s going to be possible tomorrow.” Further iterating that “you can make a blended product commercially viable at an affordable price at relative scale using existing technology without needing crazy-scale bioreactors,” and that If you’re proliferating cultivated cells to feature as an ingredient in plant-based burgers and sausages at inclusion rates of 10-30%, the unit economics start to look far more favorable.
SciFi Foods, which is building a pilot plant in the Bay Area that will be ready this year, is “not expecting to have regulatory approval probably for at least another year after that,” said March. Yet March has confidence that he has “a pretty clear shot at being the first company to bring cultivated beef to the market in the US."
SciFi Foods is growing bovine cell lines in single-cell suspension, without microcarriers. According to March, “we’re taking satellite cells from cow muscle and we’re using the power of synthetic biology [CRISPR gene editing techniques] to immortalize those cells and to get those cells grow in single cell suspension, and to make sure they have all the performance characteristics necessary so we can scale them.” Adding that the cells are “partially differentiated,” and should be “seen as an ingredient.”
When asked about a recent UC Davis study, which has not yet undergone peer review, suggesting that cultivated beef could have greenhouse gas emissions up to 25% higher than traditional beef, March expressed skepticism. He pointed out that the study's assumptions regarding the use of pharmaceutical grade amino acids in the basal media are strongly disputed by the industry. According to March, using food grade amino acids should be sufficient for cultivated meat production.
Furthermore, March acknowledged that even if cultivated meat production requires more energy than traditional methods, renewable energy sources could be utilized to power the process. Additionally, cultivated meat production significantly reduces water and land usage compared to conventional meat production.In terms of climate impact, March emphasized that the major concerns with beef production are related to land use changes resulting from deforestation and the release of methane, a potent greenhouse gas.
When asked about the decision to rebrand the company from Artemys Foods to SciFi Foods last year, March addressed the concerns regarding potential backlash from the meat lobby and the labeling of their product as "Frankenmeat" by the press. He explained that they chose to embrace the science behind their product and not hide it.
March expressed the belief that attempting to present their product as "all-natural" under a different brand name like "Nothing to See Here Foods" would lack authenticity, especially in the social media-driven world of Generation Z. Instead, he emphasized that their approach embraces the sci-fi aspect of their innovation. He acknowledged that while it may be considered futuristic, it is also a remarkable achievement of growing real meat without relying on animals.
The rebranding to SciFi Foods reflects their enthusiasm for the scientific advancements behind their cultivated meat, acknowledging its futuristic nature while presenting an optimistic and genuine approach that sets them apart from plant-based alternatives.