Spotlight on

Future Food

We are seeing a food revolution take place before our eyes. With increasing global demand, animal welfare issues and pressing environmental concerns, many are questioning whether conventional agricultural practices are sustainable.

These challenges are driving exciting new developments in ‘future food technologies’, such as those which involve Cellular Agriculture, plant-and microorganism-based alternative meat products, genetic manipulation of plants, or which employ novel food sources such as insects. Such innovative technologies have the potential to provide sustainable, affordable and secure nutrition for the ever-growing global population.

Cellular Agriculture - also commonly known as cultured meat or clean meat, involves growing populations of animal cells, often skeletal muscle cells from cows and pigs, by culturing them in vitro. Studies have suggested that lab-grown meat will use a fraction of the land, water and antibiotics used in traditional agricultural practices, and will be associated with dramatically reduced greenhouse gas emissions. Cellular agriculture doesn't stop there though - it can be used to engineer a whole host of animal derived products such as milk, leather and silk. We have seen significant investment in this area with US based start ups Just and Memphis Meats attracting significant attention and governments are starting to take notice - Singapore has recently allocated substantial funds to R&D in this area. Investment firms such as Agronomics are nurturing portfolios of firms that will help cultured meat come to fruition as a go-to consumer product.

Plant based proteins - in the search for sourcing more protein for human consumption, the plant based protein alternative market is now booming. Plants and fungi have a lower carbon footprint and healthier nutritional profile compared to meat from livestock. Whilst traditional plant-based meat alternatives made from processed plant material, such as tofu, tempeh and seitan, have been eaten for centuries, in recent years plant-based meat analogues (PBMAs) have emerged as a new class of plant-based proteins. Their aim is not to simply to provide a plant-based protein source, but to closely mimic conventional meat - that is to say, they are not just an alternative to meat, but a like-for-like substitution.

Plant engineering technologies  - faced with intense pressure to increase the productivity of crops, scientists and plant breeders are increasingly looking at methods of engineering crops. Developments in marker assisted breeding and genomic selection breeding can reduce the time taken for the development of new varieties of crops. Developments in computational biology and genomics approaches can be used to identify candidates for gene-editing, a notable example being RNA-guided CRISPR technology

It is clear that in the search for more sustainable food sources, there are plenty of opportunities for innovation. Public perception and regulation will play a significant role in determining the impact of these technologies. Building a strong brand will be crucial in fostering public trust. Innovators will need to approach regulatory and consumer confidence challenges as seriously as they would any technical hurdles. 

Read our Future Food Blogs

Cellular Agriculture – Innovating through the Challenges

Cellular Agriculture – Innovating through the Challenges

by Nick Sutcliffe

The last year (2023) has seen a difficult environment for Cellular Agriculture (Cell Ag) companies working to commercialise cultivated meat.

European Parliament votes to endorse plants bred using New Genomic Techniques

European Parliament votes to endorse plants bred using New Genomic Techniques

by Sarah Harvey

7 February 2024 marked a milestone for plant science as the European Parliament (EP) voted to endorse plants bred using New Genomic Techniques (NGTs) such as CRISPR. The EP has been looking more ...

Gouda vibes only – AI cooks up vegan meat and cheese alternatives

Gouda vibes only – AI cooks up vegan meat and cheese alternatives

by Emily Lythell

The Kraft Heinz Company has recently introduced three new vegan sliced cheese varieties in the United States, marking another step in the growing trend of AI-powered innovation in the food industry. ...

High Court confirms EU law does not prohibit use of ‘milk’ in a trade mark for milk substitutes in the UK

High Court confirms EU law does not prohibit use of ‘milk’ in a trade mark for milk substitutes in the UK

by Jamie Emerick

Last year, in December 2023, the Chancery Division of the High Court handed down its decision on the use of the word “milk” in trade marks for non-dairy milk alternatives. The case, Oatly AB v Dairy ...

Eat your greens: innovations in sustainable alternative protein sources

Eat your greens: innovations in sustainable alternative protein sources

by Lauren Woolley

As the demand for plant-based products continues to grow, so too does the rate of advancement in this area. Although plant-based protein sources are generally more eco-friendly than their meat ...

Mewburn Ellis is proud to be participating in Veganuary (again)

Mewburn Ellis is proud to be participating in Veganuary (again)

by Lauren Woolley

Following last years’ success, we will once again be taking part in the Veganuary Workplace Challenge here at Mewburn Ellis. Like last year, we will be publishing a series of blogs that explore how ...

Learn More

Cellular Agriculture - The Race to Innovate

Focussing in on Cellular Agriculture, much of the existing equipment, reagents and techniques used to produce cultured meat derive from those developed for the in vitro culture of animal cells for basic cellular biological and medical research.

Research and development efforts for producers of cultured meat are similar to those working in regenerative medicine and adoptive cellular therapies – growing the largest possible population of cells of a particular type from a given starting population, in the shortest period of time, at the lowest possible cost, with minimum variability within and between expanded populations. 

There are still some key technical challenges to be overcome for the producers of cultured meat but with challenges come opportunities for inventors and investors. Some of the challenges include:

  • Increasing the extent to which animal tissue-resident stem cells divide in vitro in order to generate sufficient quantities of cells

  • Developing techniques for growing and differentiating multipotent progenitor cells in order to minimise the need to add expensive growth factors, and without genetic modification of the cells in culture (which brings with it additional regulatory concerns)

  • Developing appropriate culture media and techniques for growing cells from organisms and tissues where there are no well-established reagents and procedures.

Those looking to produce products more closely resembling animal tissue face greater challenges still. This will likely involve growing cells of different kinds together, and using physical and chemical stimuli to induce the cells in culture to interact with one another as they do in the animal body. 

Protecting your innovations

With these challenges comes huge commercial opportunity. Even modest improvements to existing technologies could be very significant as we move ever closer to cultured meat products hitting the supermarkets. Patents relating to new or improved techniques for culturing animal cells/tissue in vitro, growth media/additives, culture equipment, and methods for processing the cultured meat products could be enormously valuable. 

It is important to make the most out of your IP whatever stage of the lifecycle you are at. Whether you're just starting out and preparing to covert a strong idea into an investable concept, looking for initial growth and scale or in the expansion or maturity stage, it is important to understand your IP objectives.

Open pages of Green IP Report

Green IP Report

Patents are both a driver and a barometer of innovation

Our report examines the role of patents in making innovative ‘green’ technologies into a reality as well as how the patent landscape can be used to identify opportunities for partnering, collaboration and investment.

We share our enthusiasm and admiration for commercially-focused innovation across a diverse range of technologies, from repurposing carbon dioxide to make protein-rich foods, to the multi-faceted approach to a circular plastics economy. We also discuss the tantalising prospect of AI-mediated renewable energy supply, and the harnessing of battery tech from the EV boom to drive energy efficiency in consumer devices. This report reflects our passion for technology solutions that tackle our shared global challenge. 

Download the Report

Is the Future of Meat Animal Free?

With so much innovation taking place we have seen an explosion in patent filings over the last few years as companies focus their R&D efforts on making the improvements and refinements to contemporary technologies necessary to make these meat free products a commercial reality. Coupled with the continuing developments in plant biotech which present their own opportunities for innovators in this space, the future of meat could be animal free. 

"For me, the thing that makes future food technology, and the cellular agriculture movement in particular, so exciting is its potential to contribute meaningfully towards addressing the challenges we face as a growing population – from the environmental crisis to global threats to public health – in an ethical manner. We have seen an explosion in patent filings as innovative companies in this space arrive at the solutions for bringing foodstuffs based on novel technologies to market.”

 

Adam Gregory, Life Sciences Partner, Mewburn Ellis

Jim Mellon Podcast-thumb

Cellular agriculture and the new agrarian revolution

Podcast with Jim Mellon

Jim Mellon, investor in innovation, entrepreneur and author, joins us for our Forward podcast. With insights from Jim's latest book, Moo's Law: An investor's guide to the new agrarian revolution, this episode tackles the subject of cellular agriculture. Caitlin Mackesy Davies, editor of Mewburn Ellis Forward, speaks to Jim about the new technologies and ventures that are taking on the challenge of providing alternatives to current agriculture, particularly animal farming.

Listen to the podcast