WASHINGTON — Today, nonprofit The Good Food Institute (GFI) has awarded $5 million in grant funds to 22 leading scientists from around the world, whose research will address the scientific barriers to producing thick, structured, three-dimensional meat made from plants, cultivated from cells, or derived via fermentation. This catalytic open-access research is designed to help alternative meats break into the vast whole-cut meat category.
The grants announced today bring GFI’s total funding for open-access alternative meat research around the world to more than $13 million over three years, making GFI the largest funder of open-access alternative meat research in North America.
Funded thanks to gifts from visionary donors, GFI’s Competitive Research Grant Program supports open-access research that addresses the biggest scientific bottlenecks facing alternative meats. Each of the 22 grantees will receive up to $250,000 over two years — 13 will focus on cultivated meat, seven will focus on plant-based meat, and two will focus on meat made via fermentation.
As scientists call for rapid changes to decarbonize the food system, alternative meat and other alternative proteins have been recognized as a powerful and scalable solution. They cause up to 92% less global warming than conventional meat production,* which is responsible for 57% of the 34% of adverse climate impact attributable to the current food system. These reductions are essential to keeping global warming below 1.5 C relative to pre-industrial levels.
But despite the climate mitigation potential, funding of academic research has lagged and is critically needed to bring alternative proteins to market at scale. Public investment for alternative protein research and development (R&D) was just $55 million in 2020, which brings the all-time public investment total to $112 million. By comparison, public investment for clean energy R&D in 2020 was $27 billion, which is 490 times the public investment for alternative protein R&D in 2020 and 241 times the total public funds ever invested in the space.
Private investments in alternative proteins reached $3.1 billion in 2020, and yet public investment in the same year was barely 1% of that, which is minuscule and disproportionate to the climate solution alternative proteins offer. Today, the influx of public dollars into clean energy technologies is helping the sector achieve efficiencies, lower costs, and increase accessibility and affordability. Increased public investment in alternative protein R&D can have a similar effect, achieving synergies with private R&D that can significantly accelerate scientific and social progress.
GFI’s Competitive Research Grant Program is designed to address this public investment shortfall, catalyze scientific discovery, and build a strong open-access research environment to foster alternative meat innovation. Since its inception in 2019, the program has awarded funding to 70 open-access research initiatives from 16 countries: Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Denmark, Estonia, India, Israel, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Serbia, Singapore, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
GFI grantees have made significant progress in their research over the past 12-24 months, with five projects successfully completed in 2021. See key research updates below or here. Read more about GFI’s work to increase public investment in alternative protein R&D here.
GFI grantee Dr. David McClements, University of Massachusetts: “There is an urgent need for increased federal funding directed towards the development of the next generation of alternative proteins. The development of nutritious and sustainable meat, seafood, milk, and egg analogs that can help address the rise in diet-related chronic diseases and adverse effects of global warming requires a fundamental understanding of the science behind these compositionally and structurally complex materials. Improved knowledge in this area would enable the industry to create higher-quality products that consumers could easily incorporate into their existing diets, thereby facilitating the transition to a healthier and more sustainable food supply.”
GFI Associate Director of Science and Technology Erin Rees Clayton: “The full potential of alternative proteins to drive down emissions depends heavily on continued research to answer the many remaining fundamental questions. We must invest in research and development now. Addressing the biggest scientific white spaces by building a robust foundation of open-access data will enable the entire sector to advance more efficiently.”
GFI Founder and President Bruce Friedrich: “Cutting emissions from food production is crucial to limiting climate change, and alternative proteins are the sleeper solution that can create the rapid change we need to meet this moment. Alternative proteins are the one food-based climate solution that scales and, with government support, can decarbonize global food production. Governments should invest significantly and now in alternative proteins as a key part of climate strategy that simultaneously addresses the increasing risk of pandemics, antibiotic resistance, and food insecurity.”
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MORE ON GFI’S 2021 GRANT RECIPIENTS
2021 GRANTEE HIGHLIGHTS
- Dr. Frederico Ferreira, University of Lisbon, Portugal: Dr. Ferreira is developing algae scaffolds and novel edible bioinks for cultivated seafood.
- Dr. Lutz Grossmann, University of Massachusetts Amherst, USA: Dr. Grossmann is exploring ways to reduce the environmental impact of extrusion for plant-based meat through specific selection of proteins that are able to self-aggregate.
- Dr. Xiaonan Sui, Northeast Agricultural University, China: Dr. Sui is recreating the connective tissue of meat with plant protein fibrils to make better whole-cut alternative proteins. This would improve the mouthfeel of alternative proteins and enable the structuring of whole-cut products.
GRANT PROJECTS COMPLETED IN 2021
- Dr. Mariana Petronela Hanga, Aston University, UK, 2019: Dr. Hanga’s research sought to optimize cultivated meat production by creating a robust and reliable scale-up process for fat and muscle animal cells. She co-cultured fat and muscle bovine cells to advance production of cultivated beef toward commercialization. This work paves the way for pilot-scale bioreactors that produce complex cultivated meat products. Read more here and here. Watch Dr. Hanga talk about her research here.
- Mari-Liis Tammik, TFTAK (Center for Food and Fermentation Technologies), Estonia, 2019: Ms. Tammik and the team at TFTAK explored the fermentation of oat protein for application in plant-based meat to optimize the texture, flavor, and nutrition. Their research led to a prototype pea-oat-based burger. Read more here. Watch Mari-Liis talk about her research here.
- Beth Zotter, Trophic LLC, USA, 2019: Ms. Zotter is using red seaweed protein to develop sustainable, meaty, and nutritious plant-based meat. Red seaweed has a high protein content and remarkable umami flavor. Its “red-meat-like attributes” are perfectly fit for alternative protein products such as bacon. Learn more here. Watch Trophic CTO Dr. Amanda Stiles discuss their research here.
- Dr. Ricardo San Martin, University of California, Berkeley, USA, 2019: Dr. San Martin and bright minds at the UC Berkeley Alternative Meats Lab explored the use of nano-scale plant-based oils to produce juicier plant-based meat products. Learn more here. Watch Dr. San Martin talk about his research here.
- Prof. Marcelle Machluf, Prof. Ayelet Fishman, Dr. Davidovich-Pinhas, Technion, Israel Institute of Technology, Israel, 2019: Prof. Machluf and her team worked to design a cultivated meat platform based on scalable cellular building blocks with matching processing methodologies. Using small, edible scaffolds called microcarriers, animal cells are organized into “building blocks” that can be further arranged to create thicker meat cuts. The technologies under investigation are cost-effective and easily scalable, and the process can be used to create a variety of products ranging from minced cultivated meat to 3D cuts, such as cultivated chicken breasts. Learn more here.
About The Good Food Institute
The Good Food Institute is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit working internationally to make alternative proteins delicious, affordable, and accessible. GFI advances open-access research; mobilizes resources and talent; and empowers partners across the food system to create a sustainable, secure, and just protein supply. GFI is funded entirely by private philanthropic support.
*A life cycle assessment conducted by independent research firm CE Delft shows that, compared with conventional beef, meat cultivated directly from cells may cause up to 92% less global warming and 93% less air pollution and use up to 95% less land and 78% less water. Analyses of environmental impacts show that plant-based meat production — compared with conventional meat production — uses up to 99% less water and 99% less land and causes up to 91% less water pollution and 90% fewer emissions.
For the purposes of this release, “clean energy” refers to low-carbon or renewable energy.