Israel becoming alternative proteins developer powerhouse

Israel is considered a world leader in food tech and has seen the launch of over 50 local start-ups in the food substitutes sector.

By Aryeh Savir, TPS

Alternative proteins, a fascinating new industry that offers a way of transforming our food system, moving away from animal products and toward cultivated meat and fermented and plant-based alternatives – are attracting Israeli scientists, entrepreneurs, and government investments, and signaling the rise of a promising field in the Israeli innovation ecosystem.

Israel’s Ministry of Innovation, Science and Technology, together with the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and the Good Food Institute Israel (GFI Israel), a science-based nonprofit, announced on Wednesday a NIS 4 million strategic government investment in alternative proteins.

Israel is considered a world leader in food tech and has seen the launch of over 50 local start-ups in the food substitutes sector.

The alternative proteins industry, which includes food products made from plants, cultivated meat produced from animal cells, and fermentation processes that incorporate microorganisms in animal-free systems, is attracting considerable research interest in academia, in addition to the attention of institutional and government investors.

Beyond the immediate profit line, alternative proteins also provide an opportunity to repair the global food production system and work toward better food security, and they are rapidly gaining momentum in Israel’s innovation ecosystem.

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A recent study by GFI Israel shows that Israel’s plant-based alternative protein sector has attracted $161 million, 22% of the global investment in the field. In fermentation-derived protein, Israel ranks second after the US, with $152 million, representing 38% of the global investment.

Israel is also one of the world’s two largest investment targets in alternative protein companies, with $320 million, accounting for 18% of the investments worldwide.

Aviv Oren, GFI Israel’s Business Engagement and Innovation Director, noted that “Israel continues to establish its leadership of global innovation in the field of food tech.”

“While there was an 18% decrease in total investments in Israeli high-tech in the first half of 2022 in comparison to the corresponding period last year, we are witnessing a 160% increase in the field of alternative proteins,” he said.

‘The first step in a comprehensive strategic plan’

The engine driving this industry is academia, which generates studies leading to potential new avenues of applied research, and then business opportunities.

Groundbreaking scientific studies conducted in labs in academic and research institutes address bottlenecks and, together with the vigorous activity of academic institutions’ commercialization arms, lead to an increase in the number of companies in the field with the ability to raise significant funds.

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The field has also become a funding priority for the Israeli government, as attested to by a new strategic investment collaboration between the ministries.

This collaboration includes the new NIS 4 million fund to be distributed as grants for Israeli research, centered on alternative proteins as substitutes for dietary proteins from meat, fish, eggs, and milk.

“This initiative will greatly contribute to maintaining Israel’s competitive ability as an innovator in the field and position it at the forefront of global knowledge and research,” said Hilla Haddad Chmelnik, Director-General of the Ministry of Innovation, Science and Technology.

“This program is the first step in a comprehensive strategic plan that will benefit both local agriculture and the high-tech industry, and which is essential, especially in light of increasing global concerns about food security and climate impact of animal-based products,” she added.

The steak was ‘unbelievable, tasty with compassion’

The global food system has broad ramifications beyond one’s plate. Meat, eggs, and dairy production are unsustainable and inefficient, and effects climate change, environmental degradation, and antibiotic-resistant disease.

Naama Kaufman-Fass, Director-General of the Ministry of Agriculture, said that “the increasing demand for animal-based food products requires us to act responsibly – and meet the current demand while seeking alternative sustainable solutions for the sake of future generations.”

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One example of such an Israeli company is Aleph Farms, a cultivated meat company that produces meat from animal cell cultivation. This eliminates the need to raise and farm animals for food and provides a sustainable alternative to farmed animal-based protein.

Then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the Farms in December 2020 and noted that “meat is a major part of pollution in the world. In order to have a cut of regular meat, one needs a cow and use so much pasturage with waste, pollution, and investment of energy, and here they do this directly.”

After tasting the steak, Netanyahu said that it was “unbelievable, tasty with compassion. There is no difference here.”

The alternative steak boasts various advantages in comparison with traditional steak.

The time necessary for the production of such meat would take only three weeks, compared to two years with traditional beef growing. Additionally, lab-grown meat avoids harmful antibiotics, has a lower environmental footprint, and ultimately will reduce animal slaughter and suffering.

The startup was set up in cooperation with the Technion, Israel’s Institute of Technology, and food producer Strauss Group’s incubator “The Kitchen.”