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Interview: Didier Toubia, CEO and co-founder, Aleph Farms

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7 min read
AUTHOR: Candice Krieger
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An Israeli start-up is on track to launch its revolutionary cultivated meat in Israel this year. Aleph Farms, which has submitted its application for regulatory review in Israel and expects to receive a positive response soon for the launch of its thin-cut cultivated beef steak, is now in advanced discussions with premier chefs, restaurant owners and hospitality groups to help make this happen. The company is also in talks with UK authorities to move closer to a market launch in the next couple of years. 

Aleph Farms, which counts Hollywood actor Leonardo DiCaprio among its investors, is a cultivated meat company founded in 2017 by Didier Toubia, a food engineer and biologist, together with leading food company, Strauss Group and top research university, Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, united in their mission to feed the world and preserve the planet. 

Aleph Farms’ products are made from starter cells that come from a fertilised egg, which was sourced from a premium Black Angus cow named Lucy, who lives on a breeding farm in California. From a one-time collection of Lucy’s fertilised egg, Aleph Farms can grow thousands of tons of cultivated meat without engineering or immortalising cells, avoiding harming the animal and acting as part of an inclusive solution for sustainable and secure food systems.

Singapore was the first country in the world to approve the commercialisation of cultured meat products. How long before Israel, Europe or the US, follow suit? 

The reception of alternative proteins in countries like the US, China, Israel and the UK at events like COP27 really fills me with hope that we can make a difference in the transition to more sustainable food systems,” says Toubia, Aleph Farms’ co-founder and CEO. “Like Singapore, Israel has become a welcoming ecosystem for cellular agriculture, and cultivated meat in particular. We have submitted our application for regulatory review in Israel and expect to receive positive indications soon.

chef cooking in a kitchen

A chef preparing Aleph Farms’ cultivated thin-cut steak.

Cultivated thin-cut steak

Aleph Farms’ cultivated thin-cut steak.

Left: A chef preparing Aleph Farms’ cultivated thin-cut steak.

Right: Aleph Farms’ cultivated thin-cut steak.

According to McKinsey, the market for cultivated meat could reach $25 billion by 2030, as alternative proteins remain at the centre of the global push to reduce emissions. Authorities and consumers alike understand the environmental case for supporting cultivated meat that is slaughter-free. 

Toubia says: “Cultivated meat had a strong 2022, including a ‘No Questions’ letter issued by the US FDA for a cultivated meat product [for Upside Foods’ cultured chicken]. I anticipate that 2023 will continue this positive trend in terms of regulatory and marketing approvals.

Aleph Farms recently became the first cultivated meat company to receive a kosher ruling for its thin-cut beef steak, paving the way for a full kosher certificate in what is a key moment for the entire cultivated meat sector, ahead of the company’s anticipated market launch. 

Kosher means permitted for consumption by Jews under religious law. Aleph Farms will still need to work with local rabbinic authorities on the issuance of an actual kosher certificate, and while it’s not the first time a rabbi recommended that Aleph Farm’s products be certified as kosher, it is the first time a Chief Rabbi, as leader of the Chief Rabbinate, has issued such a decision.

Aleph Farms is also in contact with Muslim, Hindu, and other religious authorities in order to certify its products as a viable dietary option for groups that have different religious practices.

This ruling sets a foundation for an inclusive public discourse about the intersection of tradition and innovation in our society,” says Toubia. “At Aleph, we innovate in order to provide quality nutrition to anyone, anytime, anywhere in service of people and the planet, and that includes people with different culinary traditions. We’re excited that more groups of diners can enjoy our products safely within the bounds of their religious tradition, helping us to advance our inclusive vision for food security and tap into different food cultures around the world.

Aleph Farms’ strategy is to integrate into the existing ecosystem through joint operations with partners in the food production space. “This will propel our market commercialisation and help the meat sector transition inclusively and meet climate-related goals. Leveraging the expertise and infrastructure of leading food and meat companies will drive a faster scale-up of cultivated meat and eventually lead to broader positive impact.

But the market is not without its challenges. A big one for cultivated meat as a whole, is producing a large quantity of product efficiently enough to become cost-competitive with the wider protein sector – and Aleph Farms, says Toubia, is no exception to this challenge. “Aleph Farms believes in a collaborative, multi-faceted approach whenever possible, and that includes how we scale up our production. Our work includes innovation in production methods, collaboration with supply chain partners, and working with food sector incumbents to scale up production capacities more quickly. These partnerships allow us to leverage the expertise and capabilities of leading food and meat companies, including Cargill (US), Migros (Switzerland), Mitsubishi Corporation (Japan), BRF (Brazil) and CJ CheilJedang (South Korea). 

Ultimately, for cultivated meat to make food systems secure and sustainable, it needs to make financial sense. Achieving financial feasibility is a chief priority.

And of course, consumers need to be convinced that there is no compromise on taste, to guarantee their acceptance for cultivated meat. “The products also need to be available at suitable prices with plenty of convenience for consumers, and be adapted to local cuisines, tastes and customs. Our cultivated meat is designed to offer versatility in cooking, which will help chefs incorporate it into a wide array of cultures and dishes. We’re also confident that being able to produce different kinds and cuts of cultivated meat will help accelerate consumer acceptance.

Currently, food systems are unsustainable and extremely susceptible to shocks caused by war, pandemics and climate change, so when it comes to collaboration in the food sector (not just the protein or the alternative protein sector), no single solution can solve these formidable challenges on its own. The world needs a just transition in agriculture as a whole – one that creates a more resilient and sustainable global food system and does so in a way that provides real opportunity for more people, including current food producers.” 

Interior of a building

Interior of Aleph Farms’ 65,000 square foot facility in Rehovot, Israel. Credit: Amit Goren/Aleph Farms

Exterior of a building

Exterior of Aleph Farms 65,000 square foot facility in Rehovot, Israel. Credit: Amit Goren/Aleph Farms

Left: Interior of Aleph Farms’ 65,000 square foot facility in Rehovot, Israel. Credit: Amit Goren/Aleph Farms

Right: Exterior of Aleph Farms 65,000 square foot facility in Rehovot, Israel. Credit: Amit Goren/Aleph Farms

The use of foetal bovine serum (FBS) has become a problem for the industry. The controversial process involves blood taken from foetuses in pregnant cows during the slaughter process and is used in some cultivated meat processes. In 2021, Aleph Farms partnered with WACKER, a supplier of leading protein production technologies, to find a solution to remove FBS from its process. “We do not use foetal bovine serum or any other animal-based ingredients for growth media. Our growth media are animal-free,” confirms Toubia. “The only animal-based components in our product system are non-modified cells of a premium Angus cow.” Additionally, Aleph Farms enables other cultivated meat companies to avoid the need to use FBS or other animal-derived ingredients, by establishing non-exclusive supply chain agreements (such as the one with WACKER). 

Aleph Farms has raised more than $118 million to date, including an investment from environmental activist and actor Leonardo DiCaprio, who sits on the company’s Sustainability Advisory Board.  

The company has announced MoUs with Mitsubishi Corporation in Japan, BRF in Brazil, CJ CheilJedang in South Korea and Thai Union in Thailand. “These MoUs will accelerate these countries’ transitions to becoming robust, self-sufficient and climate-neutral leaders in food production. Other large producers, including Cargill in the US and Migros in Switzerland, have also invested in Aleph Farms. They view cultivated meat as an opportunity for new production streams alongside core conventional production and as an enabler for meeting their countries’ and organisations’ respective climate and food security goals.

While cultured meat companies are popping up all over, and the global cell-based meat market predicted to be worth $13.7bn (£12bn) by 2043, according to IDTechEx, there is still a lot of work to be done before it becomes commercially mainstream. The focus now for Aleph Farms must be on regulatory and marketing approval for the launch in Singapore and Israel. “We’re in direct and advanced discussions with premier chefs, restaurant owners and hospitality groups to make these launches successful. Intimate tasting events and exclusive restaurant offerings will better enable diners to provide us with direct feedback upon tasting our cultivated thin-cut beef steak, which will inform our marketing and product development strategies,” says Toubia. “Even as we anticipate those approvals, we continue our work and conversations with regulatory authorities in diverse markets around the world. As part of MoUs with global food and meat companies, we are jointly assessing the specific regulatory approval process required in each location.”


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