Sustainable Protein to Nourish a Growing World
What’s a meal that you’ll never forget? Food is a cherished part of our traditions and cultures. Cooking is a huge part of what makes us human. I believe that everyone deserves access to healthy, affordable food, but too often, our food systems fall short in providing the nutrition we need. While modern agriculture has lifted hundreds of millions out of starvation, the next great challenge is to nourish the global population with a diverse diet, beyond staples.
While hunger has been in decline for decades, approximately one-fifth of deaths around the world are still linked to bad nutrition, including nearly half of deaths in young children. Protein is critical to a healthy diet, but meat, dairy and other animal proteins have a huge environmental impact. This value chain is responsible for some 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions. As the planet warms and our population continues to increase, we need bold new approaches to sustainably feed our growing world.
As part of Leap 08 / Develop sustainable protein supply, we’re investing in platforms with the potential to transform food production. From growing more nutritious crops, to plant-based meat alternatives, to beef grown without cows, there are myriad new platforms and potential breakthroughs that could provide nutrition using a fraction of the cost and resources used today.
Food is such a diverse, varied part of our lives that no single solution can address all of our nutritional needs. At Leaps, we are investing in multiple approaches to enabling a sustainable protein supply. One exciting new direction is cultivated meat, as we recently explored in our latest Leaps talk, featuring celebrity chef JJ Johnson, futurist Amy Webb, and entrepreneur Niyati Gupta, CEO of Fork & Good, one of our recent Leaps investments.
Meat is a major part of the diets of billions of people around the world, but bringing that meat to the table is incredibly costly. The tens of billions of livestock animals that feed our world currently use more than one-third of our crop calories. Additionally, as the world’s population continues and grow and more people enter the global middle class, demand for meat is projected to increase 70% by 2050.
Cultivated meat is a promising approach to tackling our nutritional needs. Beginning with an animal cell sample (a biopsy), scientists cultivate fat and protein cells, allowing them to grow pork without a pig. Cultivated meat offers the flavor we crave and the nutrients we need through a clean, humane process. The biggest challenge with cultivated meat is efficiency: nourishing these cells can be an expensive, resource-intensive process. When the first proof-of-concept cultivated hamburger debuted in 2013, it cost over $300,000, but innovation has driven these costs closer and closer to parity with conventional meat.
That’s why I’m so excited about recent Leaps investment Fork & Good, which is pioneering a new approach to cultivating meat at large scale. Their patented process for growing pork, which is the most eaten type of meat around the world, has already increased yield by a factor of 100, bringing cultivated meat closer to tables everywhere. With concerns around supply chain volatility, animal welfare, and the potential to dramatically lower land, water usage, and other inputs, their approach could help satisfy the demand for delicious, safe, and more sustainable meat.
Animal proteins are only part of the solution. Amfora, another Leaps portfolio company, is building plant-based alternatives for animal proteins. Using patented gene-editing technologies, they’re building a genetic switch in crop plants that turns up protein production while lowering the production of carbs. The result is a more nutritious, high-protein crop that can nourish more people from the same plot of land, making agriculture more sustainable and cost-effective. While Amfora has started by applying its approaches to soy, they’re also working to increase the protein content of wheat and rice to bring healthy food choices to more consumers around the world.
Together with other Leaps ventures like Ukko, a Leaps portfolio company that is using recent breakthroughs in AI and protein engineering to expand the market for safe plant-based proteins, I’m hopeful that innovations like these will help us transform food production to meet the challenges of the 21st century. As new technologies like cultivated meat and nutritionally enhanced crops reach the market, it’s crucial that we engage openly and honestly with consumers’ concerns. It will be a daunting challenge to find sustainable ways to feed our hungry world, but I am optimistic that breakthroughs in biotechnology will help us create a future with healthier people and a healthier planet.