PAtrick Brown has a mission: to eradicate the meat and fish industries by 2035. The CEO of Impossible foods, a California-based company that makes genetically modified plant-based meat, is very serious. No more commercial livestock or fishing. No more steaks, fish and chips or roasts, at least not as you know them.
Instead, his company’s food scientists and technicians will create plant-based substitutes for every animal product used today in all regions of the world, he promises.
“I want to end the animal agriculture industry. It’s that easy. The goal is not because I have ill will towards the people who work in that industry, but because it is the most destructive industry on Earth, ”says Brown.
The former Stanford University professor of biochemistry started Impossible Foods in 2011 after a sabbatical from research in intensive agriculture. Since then the company has attracted almost $ 1.3 billion (£ 960 million) in investment. Jay Z, Katy Perry, Serena Williams and Trevor Noah participated in the majority recent $ 500 million fundraising round in March of last year, together with the main financial institutions. The Silicon Valley firm’s flagship Impossible Burger is for sale at thousands of restaurants in the US, Hong Kong and Singapore, including around 7,000 Burger King chains, and the company has diversified into the supermarkets during the pandemic.
The products are not cheap. a 5 lb (2.25 kg) family pack of ground beef Impossible Burger in the US costs around $ 65 (£ 48), but the company aims to lower the cost as it grows and announced a 15% cut at wholesale prices this week. Impossible pig and Impossible Sausage added to its portfolio of GM plant-based meat substitutes in 2020, part of the company’s “worst-first” approach that focuses on the most environmentally damaging livestock consumed by humans. Milk and fish equivalents are being developed in their laboratories.
“To the outside world, Impossible Foods is a food company, but deep down [it] it is a bold but realistic strategy to turn back the clock on climate change and stop the global collapse of biodiversity, ”Brown wrote in the company’s 2020 publication. impact report. As part of his vision of the future, 45% of the Earth’s land surface reserved for livestock would return to nature. Deforestation, antibiotic resistance and overfishing could be overcome and reversed in some cases, Brown insists.
Although attitudes toward plant-based diets are changing and a growing number of Americans are eating less meat, Brown still has a mountain to climb to make his vision come true. As of January 2020 YouGov survey found that more than two-thirds of American adults identify as carnivores, while beef patties score higher than vegetable equivalents for taste.
But there are good reasons to see the need for a change. Millions of hectares of ecosystems are projected to disappear mid-century to meet future demand for agriculture, animal feed and bioenergy. A 2018 study of life on Earth found that farmed poultry make up about 70% of the planet’s birds. More than half of the mammals are livestock, mainly cattle and pigs, and only 4% are wild animals.
“The whole cause of the catastrophic collapse of wildlife populations, which are less than a third of what they were 50 years ago, globally, is the use of animals as food technology,” says Brown, before his talk at Web Summit, a technology conference hosted virtually from Lisbon, during which he told the tech industry that he had “finished the game” for traditional animal agriculture.
“Cows outnumber all wild vertebrates left on earth by more than a factor of 10. Only cows. We have literally completely replaced biodiversity with cows. We’re going to get rid of the damn cows and let nature recover, ”he says.
Brown’s vocabulary is steeped in the Silicon Valley lexicon. Livestock is a “prehistoric food production technology.” Producing meat from animal carcasses is “not part of the value proposition” for consumers. He talks to the body, disturbed by the impatience of someone who is sure that he is right.
Did Brown ever eat meat? Yes, up to 20 years old, but stopped when he realized that he was only doing it for pleasure. Do you really mean that all meat and fish could be substituted? And the chorizo? “No problem.” And what about the ranchers? “They will no longer be in that business. But there are many very reasonable solutions. “
But the rise of Impossible Foods, which claims to have “cracked the molecular code of meat” and aims to disassociate “meat” from animals, has not been without controversy. Unlike the market leader Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods uses genetically modified ingredients to reproduce the texture, taste and sensations of eating meat. Soy leghemoglobin, known as heme, produced by genetically modified yeast, is the key to reproducing the “meaty” taste. The Impossible Burger even “bleeds” while it cooks.
Some scientists say such GMO innovations It may save humanity, but the UK Food Standards Agency has not authorized the ingredient for sale in the UK and requires a pre-market safety assessment. Impossible Foods says it plans to meet and exceed food safety regulations in all parts of the world, including the UK. In the US, the company has faced criticism from various organizations, including Friends of the Earth and the US Center for Food Safety, out of concerns that the process to produce heme has not been properly tested and that the products are “over-processed.”
Joe Rogan, the comedian and podcast host, attacked the impossible burger on their show, citing unproven claims about product ingredients. The US Food and Drug Administration has twice investigated soy leghemoglobin and found no questions about its safety.
“It’s ridiculous,” says Brown. “Our food is not more processed than the food that people eat every day. Everything you eat, the little loaf of bread that you perhaps baked in your own oven, is processed in much the same way as our food.
“Processed food is a pejorative term because people are used to applying it to foods that are basically sugar, salt and junk. OK. But that image does not apply to the progress of our project with our food, which is very, very carefully made from healthy ingredients. “
In the UK, the debate over next-generation food will intensify amid calls by the chief scientist at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs for a new public discussion on biotechnology. Rather, this interview takes place days after the first regulatory approval of cultured meat (unkilled lab-grown “chicken bites”) in Singapore by the American company Eat Just. Brown, however, doesn’t see them as a rival to plant-based meat substitutes.
“It’s never going to be a thing. You lose the real opportunity when you think about replacing animals in the food system, ”he says.
“As we learn what consumers prefer in terms of flavors and textures, we can turn them up and down. You can’t do that when you’re stuck with anything an animal cell can do. “
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism