The Cabinet is allocating 60 million euros to stimulate the development of farmed meat and dairy products. The investment will go to a consortium of companies, universities and other organizations working on the technology to produce animal products such as milk, cheese and meat from cells. The money comes from the National Growth Fund, with which the government will allocate 20 billion euros over the next five years to ‘projects that ensure sustainable economic growth’.
This consortium includes Mosa Meat (producers of the first experimental cultured burger) and These Vegan Cowboys (start-up for cheese made from milk protein from the laboratory), but also multinational companies such as Nutreco and DSM.
The intention is not to start selling cultured meat or laboratory milk together, but to promote knowledge and education about new technology. It is also planned to share research facilities, for example, in order to scale up production.
The contribution from the Growth Fund is necessary to make the breeding sector ‘a success for the Netherlands’, says Ira van Eelen, spokesperson for the consortium. However, the promised 60 million euros from the Growth Fund is significantly less than the consortium had hoped: The application was for 382 million euros. The amount is lower than requested, the Growth Fund estimates, due to “the early phase the sector is in” and because it is uncertain how the technology and the market for cultivated products will develop. Nevertheless, according to Van Eelen, the 60 million are “the largest public investment in cellular agriculture in the world.”
Asked whether companies such as Mosa Meat or Nutreco can not finance the development of cultured meat themselves, she says: “These companies get no money, but have to invest. The money from the Growth Fund must make it possible to exchange knowledge that such companies cannot share as competitors. ”
“This is not a hidden grant to companies,” says Tim van de Rijdt of Mosa Meat. Last year, Mosa raised almost 80 million euros from private investors. “Without public funds, this sector will continue to develop,” says Van de Rijdt. “But then all the knowledge and economic benefits go to investors, often abroad. While you want the Netherlands to benefit from it, you are investing in talent development, science, production capacity and jobs. “
Cultivated meat or cheese is produced by multiplying cells in bioreactors. For meat, stem cells are obtained with a biopsy from an animal that is not to be slaughtered for this purpose. In milk and cheese, cow’s milk protein from mold and yeast is mimicked with synthetic DNA. Potentially less land is required for cultivated products. It is also associated with less CO2emissions than livestock. It is not yet possible to say how big the environmental benefit will be. It is unclear how much energy is required for the bioreactors and how large the footprint of the necessary raw materials will be. Sugar from crops is needed for the production of culture cells and milk proteins.
The question is also whether consumers are open to high-tech ‘unnatural’ breeding products and whether they really want to eat less ‘normal’ meat as a result.
Also read: The race for cultural meat
Cultured meat has Dutch roots. The Dutch doctor and researcher Willem van Eelen obtained the first patent in 1999. (Ira van Eelen, spokeswoman for the consortium, is his daughter.) In 2013, Mark Post, founder of Mosa Meat, presented the first cultural meat burger to the outside world.
Jaap Korteweg, founder of De Vegetarische Slager, has been working with cheese for two years: The vegan cowboys develop proteins in a Ghent laboratory that are identical to cow’s milk proteins.
Meanwhile, other countries are not standing still. In the United States, hundreds of millions of dollars are flowing from investors to start-up meat cultures like Eat Just and Upside Foods. Cultivated nuggets or burgers are not yet for sale in the United States, but cultivated whey proteins and mozzarella are already on the market.
Culture cell technology is also being embraced in countries such as Singapore and Israel. Singapore is the first and only country where cultured meat can be sold: American Eat Just started there in 2020 on a small scale with cultured chicken.
In the Netherlands, the call for state aid for ‘cellular agriculture’, as the consortium calls it, became stronger. In March, a proposal from D66 and VDD to enable the testing of cultural meat was adopted by a large majority – at the moment this is still banned.
It is unclear when the first piece of cultured meat or laboratory cheese will hit the market in the Netherlands. In Europe, it can take up to two years for European food authorities to give approval, from the moment producers can show a finished product. Dutch producers of cultured meat and cow-milk-without-cow have not yet done so.
A version of this article was also published in NRC Handelsblad on 15 April 2022