Bruce Friedrich and Clare Bland are, respectively, Executive Director and Development Director of The Good Food Institute (GFI). They spoke with ACE’s Toni Adleberg and Jacy Reese on July 29, 2016, and they spoke again with Toni on September 26, 2016.
The Good Food Institute’s Mission and Program Areas
GFI’s mission is to create a healthy, humane, and sustainable food supply, and they achieve this by “taking ethics off the table” for consumers by creating attractive alternatives to animal products. They focus on plant-based and “clean” (i.e. produced without the use of animals through cellular agriculture) meat, eggs, and dairy. Since consumers make purchasing decisions based on taste, price, and convenience, GFI aims to make animal alternatives as cheap, delicious, and convenient as animal products.
GFI was the brainchild of the leadership team at Mercy For Animals (MFA). MFA considered creating a new division, but decided to form a new, independent nonprofit with a mission encompassing sustainability, climate change, global health, and animals.
GFI feels that their work is highly complementary to the work that other effective animal charities are doing to change attitudes. In addition to making a positive impact on sustainability, climate change, and global health, GFI hopes to eliminate as much animal suffering as possible by providing attractive alternatives for consumers whose attitudes would not have been influenced by moral arguments.
GFI has four program areas: fostering innovation, supporting innovation, corporate engagement, and institutional engagement.
GFI identifies promising opportunities for research and entrepreneurship and searches for entrepreneurs and scientists to meet those opportunities. They conduct outreach on college campuses and at professional conferences.
GFI works to support plant-based and clean companies, particularly startups. GFI’s entrepreneur in residence, Chris Kerr, provides business consulting and their scientists provide research consulting. GFI’s policy director, Nicole Negowetti, provides regulatory advice, and GFI’s communications manager, Emily Byrd, has written press releases for other companies. GFI has also recruited 25 advisors who help startups.
GFI works with restaurants, grocery stores, and food service providers to improve the availability, quality, and promotion of their plant-based options. When they began working on corporate engagement, GFI put together a “restaurant report card” based on what the top 100 restaurant chains have done to promote plant-based options. They found that more than half of the top restaurant chains currently do not offer any plant-based entree. GFI is confident that they can change that.
Outreach to Institutions
GFI conducts outreach to large grant-making scientific institutes, corporations, and governments. They hope to secure millions of dollars in grants for plant-based and clean meat research by emphasizing the role that clean meat can play in addressing climate change, global hunger, and other issues related to the organization’s mission.
GFI was founded in October 2015, officially launched on February 1, 2016, and received non-profit status in May 2016. In June, they expanded from three to eight staff members and two long-term volunteers with the title Senior Advisor. They’ve recruited (and continue to recruit) an impressive team of experts with very strong track records. At the time of their most recent conversation with ACE, GFI had already raised more than 40% of their $2.5 million fundraising goal, which is remarkable for such a new organization.
GFI’s two senior scientists are in the process of completing technological readiness assessments of clean and plant-based products. These detail the current state of the technology and the path to commercialization. This work is invaluable to the field and should have been done a long time ago. GFI expects to publish the assessments within six months.
GFI’s media strategy seems to be working well. Among other examples (most available in the “resources” section of GFI’s website), Bruce Friedrich has written two letters that were published in the New York Times, written a piece on clean and plant-based meat for WIRED, and engaged Bill Gates on the New York Times’ environmental blog. GFI’s communications manager published an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times, there was a full-page report on GFI’s work in the Washington Post, and they have been featured in both the mainstream and industry media. GFI has surpassed 100,000 followers on Facebook. They have been invited to speak at many high-profile conferences and at top business and management schools, which indicates that they have already gained recognition in the food technology business.
GFI’s short-term goals are to reach their fundraising target of $2.5 million and to grow their staff to fifteen. They want to hire a business analyst, who will build resources for new startups; an innovation manager, who will search for entrepreneurs and scientists to start or join companies; a senior policy specialist, who will lobby Congress and work with other NGO’s on “good food” issues; and four other staff. GFI plans to create an international outreach department, which will require hiring additional staff members.
GFI sees a lot of room for the development of plant-based meats. They plan to compose a white paper detailing which crops could become successful meat alternatives. Pea protein, for example, has become a very popular crop for plant-based meat and dairy, though it was severely underutilized just a few years ago. GFI has found that there are many other crops that are underutilized for plant-based meats in the U.S., though some of them are used in other parts of the world. These include rice, oats, lupin, and certain beans.
GFI’s policy director, Nicole Negowetti, will study the regulatory framework for clean products. This must be done before clean products are released and has never been done before. GFI does not anticipate any major regulatory obstacles in the United States for acellular products. However, it is not yet clear whether clean cellular products will be regulated by the FDA or the USDA.
Estimated Timeline for Cost-Competitive Plant-Based and Clean Meat
At least three plant-based meat companies will launch in the coming months, with GFI’s involvement. One year from now, each of these companies will probably have raised $1 million, and within five years, the successful ones should be producing commercial products.
New kinds of cost-competitive plant-based meat could be available within the year. Clean alternatives for acellular products (e.g. dairy proteins, egg proteins, and gelatin) should be available within 2-3 years. Clean meat companies believe it will be 3-5 years before clean meat is cost-competitive with organic grass fed beef. It will be more like a decade before clean meat is cost-competitive with conventional meat.
Why is GFI working to create alternatives to animal products rather than to shift public attitudes?
One of GFI’s foundational observations is that the main factors determining food choices for the vast majority of people are: taste, price, and convenience. A relatively small fraction of the population have other significant concerns when they make food choices. Right now, plant-based meat is less than 0.25% of the meat market in the U.S. and .1% globally, and clean meat is currently at 0%. Increasing plant-based meat to the 8% market share that plant-based milk has achieved in the milk market would save billions of animals annually, in addition to other significant benefits (climate, global poverty, global health, et al.).
Animal charities have focused on shifting attitudes for a long time. ACE’s current top charities devote significant resources towards shifting public attitudes and a host of other large animal advocacy groups do as well. Bland and Friedrich are supportive of that work but feel there’s an unfilled niche in work of developing competitive alternatives to conventionally produced animal products.
GFI’s work is complementary to the work of shifting public attitudes towards animals. As Tobias Leenaert recently pointed out at an EA Global 2016 panel discussion, people may be more open to shifting their attitudes towards animals after they are no longer causing animals to suffer with their food choices. When cost-competitive alternatives to farmed animal products are available, fewer people will eat animal products and, as a result, fewer people may hold attitudes justifying the consumption of animal products.
Why does GFI invest some of their resources in plant-based foods as well as clean foods when (a) plant-based options already exist, and (b) the development of clean foods seems like it could relieve the need for better plant-based options?
GFI’s two senior scientists have done a lot of work surveying the technological readiness for clean meat and plant-based meat. These assessments indicated that there is even greater room for the development of plant-based meat than for clean meat. The number of unknowns in the field of plant-based meat was surprising, as was the relatively smaller number of unknowns in the field of clean meat. Friedrich thinks that, in plant-based meat research, there is a disconnect between the U.S. and the rest of the world. That is, there is research in the U.S. that the rest of the world does not know about, and vice versa.
Friedrich is excited about both plant-based and clean meat, but he is more excited about plant-based meat at present, in part, because it is already here. The discoveries from the technological readiness assessment of plant-based meat can be implemented immediately. The barriers to the development of plant-based meat are not primarily scientific or technological; they’re related to resources. (There are also some regulatory issues and scientific hurdles for plant-based meat to overcome, though they are much less than for clean meat.)
Plant-based meat requires fewer resources and is more sustainable than clean meat. However, GFI is fairly confident that a significant portion of the population will still want to eat animal products no matter how good plant-based meat is. For that reason, there’s a need to invest in both clean meat and plant-based meat.
Some vegans and vegetarians might say they don’t want to support clean meat because it’s not vegetarian. Has GFI considered how to respond to them?
Clean products aren’t intended for those who are already vegetarians or vegans. They can reduce animal suffering by providing an alternative for the vast majority of the population who would otherwise be consuming animal products. As mentioned earlier, providing such an alternative may also help in shifting public attitudes.
Another point that may appeal to vegetarians and vegans is that clean meat can be used in pet food. Many dedicated animal rights activists have cats and feed them meat out of necessity. Clean cat food would be healthy for cats and would not contribute to animal suffering.
What can GFI do to ensure that consumers will embrace clean meat, given the unpredictability of consumer behavior?
GFI is part of a newly formed coalition that is researching consumer responses to the terms “clean” and “cultured” meat. GFI’s research indicated that “clean meat” had 20–25 percent higher consumer acceptance than “cultured meat,” and these results were corroborated by ACE’s follow-up study.
Friedrich’s scientific team told him that at the International Food Technology (IFT) conference, many food scientists assumed that cultured meat was canned, salted, cured, or aged, much like yogurt. He argues that “clean meat” accentuates one of the benefits of clean meat technology, that antibiotic residues and bacterial contamination will be eliminated with commercialization of clean meat.
GFI is interested in future research to identify the most important factors for consumer acceptance of plant-based and clean meat. For instance, this research could help determine whether it’s better to emphasize animal welfare, sustainability, or the health benefits of clean meat (e.g. the lack of antibiotics or bacterial contamination).
Friedrich does think it’s worth doing further research to ensure that there is maximum possible consumer acceptance; however, he also believes that so far the evidence suggests there will be high levels of consumer acceptance. When Sam Harris asked his Twitter followers whether they would switch to cultured meat, well over 80% said they would. Even Pew’s question, which was framed in an unappealing way and asked without context, suggested that 20% of people would try “lab-grown” meat. Friedrich believes that setting clean meat alongside conventional meat (i.e., educating people about both alternatives) and informing people about the benefits of clean meat will cause consumer acceptance to skyrocket.