Grown beef enters the radar of Brazilian companies

With the support of the GFI, universities and companies, Brazil is taking its first steps to emerge on the world map of alternative proteins.


In December 2020, a small restaurant located in Singapore created a milestone in the way the world should start to consume meat in the coming decades. That’s because, for the first time, a company was authorized to sell cultivated meat, a form of food production that starts with cell reproduction and does not require animal slaughter. In a short time, the technique improved since 2013 gained strength and now has products capable of mimicking chicken, beef, shrimp and even breast milk. Last year alone, according to a survey by The Good Food Institute (GFI), the sector received US$ 360 million in investments, six times more than in 2019.

With the heated market, the possibility of producing cell-grown meat stirred startups and large companies – at least 70 have been mapped by the GFI. They set the tone for the various product demonstrations that have taken place in restaurants around the world. Brazil is following in the wake of this process and initiatives are emerging that prepare an inevitable ground for making cultivated meat a basic consumer product. A forecast of the German consultancy A.T. Kearney, for example, points out that 35% of the meat consumed in the world should be produced from cell reproduction in 2040.
To continue feeding the population, which is expected to reach nearly 10 billion people by 2050, the UN estimates that it will be necessary to increase food production by 70%. In this way, products such as cultivated meat become a necessity to guarantee food security, especially because they reduce the impact of food production on the environment.

The agenda is urgent: the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) of the United Nations has shown that the impacts of human action on the environment can be irreversible. Contrary to this process, a study commissioned by the GFI and GAIA shows that cultivated meat can reduce its carbon footprint by up to 80%. Previous research also reveals less use of blue water (51% to 78%) and less air pollution (29% to 93% reduction) compared to conventional meat.

However, despite the climate urgency, what really should ensure that cultivated meat reaches restaurants and supermarkets and wins over the Brazilian and global public is the sensory experience that is identical or even better than that promoted by animal meat, in addition to the competitive or lower price. to traditional meat.

According to Amanda Leitoles, expert in science and technology at GFI Brazil, GFI works to understand these and other demands of consumers and industry, overcoming the challenges that this technology presents. “In the area of ​​cultivated meat, but not only there, our role is also to contribute to structuring and articulating the innovation ecosystem”, she says. “Connecting the actors in this chain, with innovation habitats, investors and partners”.

In Brazil, startups prepare
Luismar Porto was a professor in the Postgraduate Program in Chemical Engineering at the Federal University of Santa Catarina for years. Retired, he is now dedicated to the initial studies in his consultancy to bring the technology to Brazil. The idea of ​​investing in the model started when a video of his class on cultivated meat was published on Youtube and had great repercussion. “I’ve been talking about the possibility of developing meat that has been cultivated for ten, fifteen years. The technology comes from biomaterials and biomedical engineering, dedicated to the creation of human tissues”, he says.
That’s also what happened to Bibiana Matte, founder of the cultured meat startup Ambi Realfood. Through a public notice issued by the Research Support Foundation of the State of Rio Grande do Sul, Matte became the first researcher to receive investments to develop the product in a Brazilian startup. Doctor in Oral Pathology, she is also scientific director of Núcleo Vitro, a company that studies health products using the equivalent skin model. “Within this we have a very large range of studies going into the skin, virus, and last year, wanting to think about other areas that our tissue engineering and cell culture expertise could act, I focused on the subject of the cultivated meat”, he affirms.

Today, with a multidisciplinary team that includes veterinarians, biotechnology and process engineers, biomedical and communication professionals, Matte’s goal is to become the first startup to deliver a product based on meat grown in Brazil.

She highlights the support that GFI gave in the startup’s first steps and in the consolidation of technology in Brazil. “We need to work on our own technologies. I don’t want us to be importing 20 years from now, because we have national technology. Brazil is very relevant in the scenario of growing animals as a whole for consumption and this search for other alternatives makes sense to us”.

Industry giants also promise to closely monitor the evolution of technology in Brazil. An example is the partnership entered into by the multinational BRF and Aleph Farms, with support from the GFI.

According to Amanda Leitoles, part of the work in the GFI’s science and technology area is focused on contributing to the development of high-impact research in underexplored areas, which helps to anticipate technology challenges and promote new solutions. Among the actions are the moderation of a research directory, funding of open access research and the holding of courses and training of professionals with knowledge of alternative proteins.
hybrid foods
While plant-based alternatives already have a consolidated place in the diet of vegans and vegetarians, hybrid foods (blended, in English) came to reach an audience that cares about health and sustainability, but does not want to give up the sensory experience and nutrition associated with animal meat, the so-called flexitarians. Incorporating vegetables into dishes traditionally made only from meat, making them hybrids, is a way to change consumers’ diets without the need for major lifestyle changes.

Flexitarian nutrition includes any diet or dietary pattern of those who commit to eating more vegetables and less meat, but it does not seek to eliminate all animal products or to label themselves more strictly. The reasons, according to the report “The Power of Meat,” released in 2020 by The Food Industry Association (IMF), include the fact that these products facilitate a greater intake of vegetables and provide a healthier way to eat meat.

In addition to being better for the consumer’s health (because they contain less saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium, more fiber and vitamins), hybrid products are also better for the environment, since livestock is one of the activities that most pollute, deforest and emit greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. According to the World Resources Institute (WRI), Americans eat 10 billion hamburgers every year. According to the institute, if one-third of the meat in each hamburger were replaced with mushrooms, it would save an amount of water equivalent to the annual domestic water use of 2.6 million Americans. In terms of air pollution, it would be the equivalent of taking 2.3 million cars – and their CO2 emissions – off the streets a year. When it comes to land, the WRI reports that the “blend” in hamburgers would reduce the global use of agricultural land by more than 36,260 km2, an area equivalent to 4,395 football fields.

Apart from the environmental impact, the strategy of increasing vegetables in animal foods can also reduce the production and marketing costs of several products. In the case of cultivated meat, for example, mixing a percentage of vegetables in animal cells is essential to make its production cheaper, which, despite already being a reality, faces challenges related to cost reduction, scale increase and legal regulation.

While the demand for meat grows, at the same time as the demand for vegetable alternatives, companies that produce hybrid foods position themselves well between the two categories. Over the past two years, market giants have jumped on the trend and added hybrid lines to their product catalogs. Tyson, the largest meat processor in the US, launched under the brand Aidells Whole Blends sausages and meatballs with meat with vegetable mixtures, such as chicken with spinach and feta cheese or chicken with dehydrated pineapple. Applegate has created a hybrid hamburger made from beef

with cauliflower, spinach, lentils and pumpkin, and another made from turkey with sweet potatoes, white beans, kale and onion.

By using less animal meat, they were able to use a “grass fed” product, that is, animals that were fed naturally on pasture, without the use of feed with grains and medicines. Each brand hamburger (106g) delivers around 1⁄3 cup of vegetables.

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