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“Wait, human milk?”
But I had not. “Yep, any kind of milk,” said their CTO Max Rye. That encompasses everything from the usual suspects like cow to more niche products like sheep, goat, or even human breast milk.
In fact, TurtleTree’s first product — which they’ll be taste testing in early 2020 — will be milk made from human mammary gland cells. They chose breast milk because it will allow them to enter the market at a higher price. Right now a liter of any of their cell-based milk (any kind) costs just under $200. That’s incredibly steep compared to plant-based dairy, but on par with Prolacta, a service that pasteurizes and resells human milk to feed newborn babies in hospitals.
As a company, TurtleTree is remarkable for a few reasons. Firstly, as far as I know, it’s the first company to make cell-based milk. Perfect Day and New Culture are using a type of fermentation to create milk proteins, while plenty of others rely on plants to imitate dairy’s creaminess. TurtleTree, however, is using cellular agriculture to grow the milk directly, cutting out the middleman.
Two — they are making human milk. It’s a polarizing concept; everyone I’ve spoken to about it so far was pretty grossed out by the idea. Consumers are getting used to the idea of eating meat grown in a lab, but they might not be as open to a lab-grown alternative of something that’s typically made by humans. Especially something meant to be fed to babies.
It’s early days in the cellular agriculture field. And though I haven’t experienced it myself, I know that nursing children can be a frustrating, painful and difficult process for some people. As the idea of consuming cell-based foods becomes more accepted, I wouldn’t be surprised if the idea of cell-based baby milk becomes less polarizing, too.
If a startup tells me it’s working on human meat though? That one might be a bridge too far.
Put a label on it
This week the Plant Based Foods Association (PBFA) released the first standard for the labeling of plant-based meats. Basically, its goal is to create a consistent labeling protocol across the entire alternative meat industry. The standard says that alternative meat companies can use meat terms in on their labels — sausage, chicken, etc. — as long as they include appropriate qualifiers, like “vegan” or “plant-based.”
The PBFA’s new standard is clearly in response to recent legal battles meant to make it impossible for companies to use terms like “burger” or even “meat” when labeling their product, even if they make it clear that it does not, in fact, include meat.
So far, over a dozen states have passed meat labeling restriction laws. But the PBFA and others are fighting back. Just a few months ago PBFA member company Upton’s Naturals won a victory against the state of Mississippi, which was trying to regulate plant-based meat labeling language.
Clearly, the PBFA is hoping that by setting out a universal standard for alternative meat labeling will help the entire industry as they fight for their right to use basic language like “burger” and “sausage.” We’ll see if that will be enough to deter Big Meat.
Big funding for animal-free meat & milk
Two startups creating animal-free products announced some major new funding this week.
First, Meatable, a Dutch cultured meat company, let fly that it had raised $10 million. A few days later Perfect Day, a startup developing animal-free dairy using genetically engineered microbes, announced a whopping $140 million Series C.
Obviously the Perfect Day funding is far more significant, at least in terms of numbers. But it also makes sense: Perfect Day has already brought its first product — flora-based ice cream — to market. Meatable has yet to publicly share a prototype.
When I spoke with Perfect Day co-founders Perumal Gandhi and Ryan Pandya about their Series C, they told me that this is just the start of a series of upcoming announcements. “We’ve got lots coming up,” Pandya said. “Q1 [of 2020] is going to have to have really juicy stuff.”
I can’t wait to find out just what that “juicy stuff” could entail (flora-based cheese, please?). In fact, I expect to see a lot more meaty (lol) funding announcements coming into the alternative protein space over the next few months, especially in emerging fields like flora- and cell-based foods. 2020 is going to be an interesting one.
Protein ’round the web
- Icelandic yogurt company Siggi’s launched a new plant-based line with high protein and low sugar.
- Nutriati, a company that makes plant protein ingredients, announced that it had raised a $12.7 million Series C.
- Beyond Beef is hitting shelves in Canada (via VegNews).
- Apparently McDonald’s could be selling more than 250 million of its plant-based PLT’s if it expanded them into its U.S. stores (h/t RestaurantDive)
- Motif FoodWorks is partnering with the University of Queensland to research ways to make better textures in meat alternatives.