In first, Israeli startup to get permit to produce cow-free milk

PM says company to get go-ahead in coming days; permit said set to be granted to Remilk, a developer of cultured milk

Sharon Wrobel is a tech reporter for The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tastes cultured fish and meat at Rehovot-based Steakholder Foods, April 19, 2023. (Haim Zach/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tastes cultured fish and meat at Rehovot-based Steakholder Foods, April 19, 2023. (Haim Zach/GPO)

An Israeli food tech startup will be given the green light to produce cow-free milk, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Wednesday.

Netanyahu did not name the food tech company that will be granted the approval in the coming days, but Tech12 reported Israel’s Remilk, a developer of cultured milk and dairy, as the permit receiver. The startup will still require approvals from regulatory bodies in Israel.

Earlier this year, Remilk won regulatory approval to sell its cow-free milk in Singapore and a letter from the US Food and Drug Administration that its animal-free whey protein can be safely used in food products. That’s after the company started sales of its protein in the US last year.

Founded in 2019, Remilk produces milk proteins via a yeast-based fermentation process that renders them “chemically identical” to those present in cow-produced milk and dairy products. The startup claims that the result is 100 percent similar to “real” milk, but free of lactose, cholesterol, growth hormones and antibiotics.

Remilk recreates the milk proteins by taking the genes that encode them and inserting them into a single-cell microbe, which they manipulated genetically to express the protein. The product is then dried into a powder.

Netanyahu made the announcement during a visit at Rehovot-based maker of cultivated meat products Steakholder Foods on Wednesday evening. During the visit he tasted 3D-printed structured cultivated fish as well as cultivated meat made from ethically harvested animal cells rather than slaughtered animals.

Israeli startup Remilk uses a yeast-based fermentation process to produce animal-free milk proteins that, the company says, are indistinguishable in taste and function from cow milk proteins, but free of lactose, cholesterol, and growth hormones. (Victor Levi)

“Today we ate fish that was produced without fish and meat that was produced without cattle. This is a global revolution,” said Netanyahu. “Israel is a global leader in the field of alternative protein and we will see to it that we continue to lead.”

“Soon we will have new permits and new heights that will change the world,” he added.

Israel ranked second after the US in alternative protein investments in 2022, with local startups in the field raising some $454 million in capital, according to a report by the Good Food Institute (GFI) Israel, a nonprofit organization that seeks to promote research and innovation in food tech.

In 2022, the Israeli government declared food tech among the top five new national priorities for significant investment over the next five years. Earlier this year, the Israel Innovation Authority announced a plan budgeted at up to NIS 50 million ($13.7 million) to build an R&D hub for cutting-edge fermentation technology of microorganisms, such as yeast or fungi, to eventually produce alternative proteins on a larger scale and uphold the country’s edge in the field.

Among the participants at the Steakholder Foods demonstration were Innovation, Science and Technology Minister Ofir Akunis, Prime Minister’s Office Director-General Yossi Shelley, Health Ministry Director-General Moshe Bar Siman Tov, Innovation Authority Director Dror Bin, Osem-Nestlé CEO Avi Ben-Assayag, and Tnuva Chief Innovation Officer Shay Cohen.

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