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This is a new way of producing food

Regulation, returns, and science’s solution to meat-eaters

Carrie Chan is the CEO and Co-Founder of Avant Meats. She was also a World Economic Forum Technology Pioneer and co-chaired WEF’s “Summer Davos” in China in 2023.

Q: What does Avant Meats do?
A: We are Asia’s first cultivated fish company. We produce fish and animal protein in an alternative way using the cell culture method and bioprocessing. 

Instead of catching and slaughtering fish, we obtain cells from one fish – it could be a grouper, eel, snapper etc. Then, using a bioreactor, we replicate and reproduce the cells. That yields a protein we can put to different uses, including food and other applications, such as skin care ingredients. It’s an animal product, but it’s sustainably cultivated, which trims the environmental footprint.

Q: Having sustainably reproduced the cells, your goal is to turn that into food?
A: Correct. When we eat fish or meat, it’s actually muscle or fat cells, animal tissue, and we are just producing exactly that. The DNA of the cells we produce using this method will be identical to that of the original fish, so we don’t need to add anything for it to be edible. It’s a bit like making yogurt: a small population of bacteria is put in a vessel and multiplied. Imagine a big pot of broth and the fish cells floating inside. Given the right conditions they split and split again. We keep them there for one or two weeks, and they multiply to maximum density. Then we stop the process, scoop them out, wash them, then introduce plant-based material to bind everything together so it can be cooked more easily. 

This is first-generation technology. It evolved from the medical field and regenerative medicine for treating burns, growing a patient’s cells on scaffold material and transplanting them back to the patient without rejection. That’s the backbone of our technology, just adapted. A number of different companies are working in this space, focusing on different animal species or animal parts. Beef, pork, chicken, mutton, fish and even some crustaceans are all very viable using this hybrid product method. 

We’re still a number of years away from the commercialization of the second- or third-generation product in which cells will grow next to each other outside of the “broth” and bind by forming their own connective tissues, such as muscles and tendons, to become a more structured product. 

Q: It sounds as if you're looking for new technological breakthroughs in order to get to the next stage?
A: Correct. Biotech is very different from e-commerce. With any solution we need to monitor the life cycle of the animal or plant in order to make observations, modify the process, and make the solution more efficient. Optimizing the process takes time. With some e-commerce ideas, it’s “Boom!” You have an app, you market it, and you can generate huge revenue. But with planetary solutions in Big Tech, there's always a longer timeline needed to put in the fundamental research necessary to validate the new solution, and then time and resources to scale-up, a lot of the time, brick-and-mortar infrastructure.  Think about renewable energy, electric vehicles 

Q: How: how long before your fish makes it onto a restaurant menu? 
A: We have conducted multiple private tastings, but this is a new way of producing food, so most governments have yet to provide a comprehensive food safety framework to regulate it. 

Singapore was the first country in the world to allow a private company such as ours to apply for permission to start selling. The US was second, but the regulations haven’t been developed anywhere else yet. So, we’re in the middle of clearing the Singapore government requirement, and we hope we can do that in the next 12-18 months. 

Q: So what does it taste like? And, do you envisage a future in which no animals – fish or mammals - will ever need to be killed? 
A: It’s a very good question, but the world is not binary. I compare it to sending messages using a pigeon, the telegraph, the fax machine, email, and a handwritten letter. We primarily use email and instant messages to communicate now, and while we may not use pigeons, we do still have handwritten letters. 

Similarly, in food, whichever system is most efficient or brings the most economic value to the supply chain will be used by more people and have the highest market share. But some people will still use their preferred alternatives. As for the taste: yes, it tastes good! You may feel that plant-based food misses something. But with animal cells introduced, there are a lot more layers and nuances to the taste.

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