One of the biggest trends in the tech world in 2019 is “vegetable meat”: hamburgers and meatballs that are made from soy, peas or beets but try to mimic the taste and consistency of the meat. In the US, startups for this purpose have been prominent in the stock market and fast food chains.
Here in Brazil, names like Fazenda Futuro have already reached the valuation of US $ 100 million. But this “innovation” may soon become obsolete: there are startups that are dedicated to making laboratory meat. Or fish, such as the American Finless Foods, created by two doctors in biochemistry with the ambition to make sushi and sashimi from the cells of rare species.
This is the case of blue fin tuna, whose kilo has already been worth $ 10,800 at an auction in Japan. “We can produce meat of rare species with fresh flavor inside the laboratory,” he explains to the state Mike Selden, CEO of Finless Foods, established in 2016. Based in San Francisco, the company is supported by IndieBio, a biotech accelerator, and NewHarvest, an NGO that is researching new solutions for food safety.
A graduate in biochemistry, Selden was inspired by pharmaceutical industry techniques for his company – today there are isolated cells in laboratories that produce substances previously found only in the blood of specific animals. “We feed the cells nutrients, we hope they reproduce and we give them complexity to become fillets,” he says.
The road to the market is long: after prototypes in 2017, the company is preparing to launch its first fillets in the coming months. It will not be cheap. “For now, we are targeting the luxury market,” explains the executive. But it may be a road to a pressing problem: In last year’s report, FAO warns that fish consumption has grown 3.2% year-on-year since the 1960s; production rose only 1.6%. It may soon become unsustainable – especially considering that more and more people are looking for fish for healthy eating. “If we can scale, we can ensure a healthy supply of fish,” says Selden.
Why make fish from fish cells?
There are several reasons. Today the fish production chain is quite cruel – it involves captive life, antibiotics and hormones, or often predatory fishing practices. Making fish from fish cells is a good argument because it eliminates cruelty – after all, there is no conscience behind the meat. It is also healthier since we can produce food without affecting the health of the oceans, without mercury, plastic or artificial substances. For those who enjoy good food, our fish can be extremely fresh. And for those looking to eat different things, we can produce, in the United States, a type of fish that only exists in the ocean of Japan, for example.