The Netherlands is at the forefront when it comes to biotechnology. It used to be that way and it is still the case. It was the first country in the world to invest in public research into cultured meat: meat for which no animal needs to be slaughtered. And it was the first to come up with a hamburger based on this cultured meat in 2013. This innovative production method has a promising future. But before the Dutch cultured burger hits supermarket shelves worldwide, there is still much work to be done. Cindy Gerhardt, managing director of Planet B.io: "We are going to develop an economic sector that does not exist yet; we are going to produce meat and dairy in a planet- and animal-friendly manner, from cells cultivated in bioreactors. This can only be done if we do it together: education, research, companies, network and sector organizations and governments. An entire ecosystem of Dutch parties is rising to this challenge together."
The beginning is there. In Limburg and in Delft, two startups - Mosa Meat and Meatable - are already developing cultured meat. They have succeeded in finding investors. One of them is DSM. In Planet B.io at the Biotech Campus Delft, Meatable found an inspiring working environment and in Cindy Gerhardt someone who tirelessly built a network to grow innovative startups. "When we heard about the innovation grant 'National Growth Fund', we formed an ironclad consortium, Cellular Agriculture Netherlands. This consortium consists of universities, startups, sustainability organizations and companies that know how to scale up an innovation into a successful market product. Together we involve dozens of other organizations in realizing cellular agriculture as a new sustainable sector in the Netherlands. Think for example of investors and regional development companies, food producers for the cells, equipment manufacturers and soon also restaurants and supermarkets. All those parties are indispensable if you want to make society ripe for such a new concept."
Almost half of the 14 participating parties are based in Delft. Gerhardt: "That is of course no coincidence. We have been active in the field of biotechnology here for more than 150 years. We have a startup (Meatable), a large company (DSM), a pilot plant (BPF), a research institute (CE Delft), a network organization (Planet B.io) and a university (TU Delft)."
€60 million grant
The consortium is thriving. The Dutch government recently awarded Cellular Agriculture Netherlands a €60 million grant for research, education and scale-up. The grant comes from the National Growth Fund for initiatives with the most potential for structural and sustainable economic growth. "We are receiving this impulse to further expand the position of the Netherlands in this field. We are doing this together. The demand for animal proteins such as meat and dairy is so large that our cultivated meat and milk are not a threat to the existing sector, but a solution to meet continuously rising demand. Cellular agriculture businesses do not compete with each other either. Everything still has to be developed, the more parties cooperate, the better."
In addition to research, education and scaling up, there is also a lot of work to be done on the social and economic fronts. Cindy Gerhardt: "New food products for example call for new legislation. We will also talk to farmers to see what role they can play and with consumers to find out what their wishes and demands are. Furthermore, we also deliberate with government about fair competition." The subsidy is not intended for these activities. "We have to solve that from other funds", Gerhardt says. "But the growth fund money does give us a kick start for developing new training and research. The network partners ensure that the consortium will fly." At the Biotech Campus Delft, the news of the grant was therefore received with cheers. "The foundation has been laid. As a single national consortium with international ambition, we are working together towards a green future for our planet."