Israeli startup Aleph Farms, Mitsubishi team up to bring cultured steak to Japan

Westernization of Japanese diet sees an increase in meat consumption; Aleph, which makes meat from cow cells, will develop and market products with Japanese giant

Shoshanna Solomon is The Times of Israel's Startups and Business reporter

Young men at a restaurant in Tokyo, Japan. November 17, 2019. (Nati Shohat/FLASH90)
Young men at a restaurant in Tokyo, Japan. November 17, 2019. (Nati Shohat/FLASH90)

Aleph Farms, Ltd. and Japan’s Mitsubishi Corporation’s Food Industry Group have signed an accord to bring cultivated meat to the Japanese table.

As part of the memorandum of understanding signed between the parties, Aleph Farms will bring to the partnership its manufacturing BioFarm technology to cultivate whole-muscle steaks from cattle cells without the use of animals, while Mitsubishi will bring its biotechnology expertise, its food manufacturing processes and its local distribution channels in Japan, Aleph said in a statement.

“The MoU with Mitsubishi Corporation’s Food Industry Group marks an important milestone for us” as the firm seeks to build up its marketing activities with partners to integrate cultivated meat in the food ecosystem, said Didier Toubia, the co-founder and CEO of Aleph Farms, in the statement.

The Israeli firm has set up similar partnerships with other multinationals: Migros, the Swiss industrial group, and US-based food corporation Cargill have also invested in the startup.

Amir Ilan, Resident Chef at Aleph Farms, cooking cultivated meat (Courtesy)

Aleph Farms’ non-genetically engineered technology, co-developed with Prof. Shulamit Levenberg of the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, uses the ability of animals to grow tissue muscle constantly. The company discovered a way to isolate the cells responsible for that process and grow them outside of the animal to form the same muscle tissue typical of steaks. This enables the startup to produce real meat cuts from cow cells, with the same look and feel and almost the same taste, but without killing animals and without using antibiotics.

One of the world’s most densely populated countries, Japan is the world’s third largest economy.

Japanese citizens traditionally have been large consumers of fish and seafood but meat consumption has increased gradually in recent years, especially among the younger population. In November 2017, Japan was ranked the world’s largest meat importer, and consumption of meat and meat products is expected to grow due to the ongoing westernization of the traditional Japanese diet.

In addition, a shortage in the supply of fish and seafood has led to a surge in prices, leading consumers to turn to the cheaper meat alternative. Pork meat, bovine meat, poultry and meat preparations account for 90% of the volume of imported meat products, according to EU data.

Arcades next to butcher shops in Tokyo, Japan. November 17, 2019. (Nati Shohat/FLASH90)

Japan is also seeking to raise its food self-sufficiency, and is looking to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. The use of cultivated meat could help the nation meet all of these needs, Toubia said. In April, Aleph Farms committed to eliminating emissions associated with its meat production by 2025 and reach the same net-zero emissions across its entire supply chain by 2030, the statement said.

Mitsubishi Corp. is a global business with 1,700 companies in 90 countries and a variety of industries. The Food Industry Group covers fresh foods, consumer products, and food ingredients, and is active in all links of the food supply chain, from the production and sourcing of raw materials to the manufacturing of finished food products.

Aleph Farms and Mitsubishi Corporation are members of the “Cellular Agriculture Study Group,” a consortium that brings together experts to define and set out policies for cell-based foods in Japan.

Aleph Farms was co-founded by Toubia with The Kitchen Hub of the Strauss Group and with Levenberg of the Technion.

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