- The Precision Fermentation Alliance, a new global trade and policy group officially formed last week.
- Charter members of the group include Change Foods, The Every Co., Helaina, Imagindairy, Motif FoodWorks, New Culture, Onego Bio, Perfect Day and Remilk. The alliance will promote understanding and global transparency around food items made with the technology; educate and engage key stakeholders to establish best practices; and engage with governments to develop regulations, greater market access and public funding outlets. The new group’s chair is Nicki Briggs, vice president of corporate communications at Perfect Day.
- Precision fermentation is the latest emerging food tech to create an industry group. The Plant Based Foods Association was founded in 2016. The Alliance for Meat, Poultry & Seafood Innovation, which represents cultivated meat companies, started in 2019. Biomass fermentation companies founded the Fungi Protein Association last November.
As food made through precision fermentation makes its way to consumers worldwide, it makes sense for leading companies in that industry to form their own group. After all, the technology feels new and different to consumers, manufacturers and policymakers alike and by banding together the companies can promote better understanding.
Even though precision fermentation for food has been in wide use since the 1990s — it’s how most rennet used to make cheese has been produced for more than two decades — most consumers don’t know much about the technology. Today’s precision fermentation is used to make egg and dairy ingredients without animals, as well as creating items such as sweeteners, oils and flavorings that can be difficult to come by in nature.
Precision fermentation uses biotechnology to reengineer common microbes, such as yeast, to produce a protein or substance that is identical to those generally found in places like eggs, dairy or sweeteners when fermented. The Good Food Institute describes precision fermentation as a way to make microbes behave as “cell factories” that make a large quantity of something new.
Products using this technology have been available to consumers for several years, though the manufacturing capacity and new launches have been ramping up. Perfect Day’s animal-free whey proteins are available in milk beverages, cream cheese, ice cream and chocolate bars, among other products. The company is quickly expanding to new countries and potentially new capabilities with its recent acquisition of gelatin manufacturer Sterling Biotech Limited. Other companies are not far behind as they increase scale and talk with food manufacturers about adding their ingredients.
Precision fermentation companies say that their methods of creating ingredients can bring consumers the taste, nutrition and function they like about animal-based food but in a less cruel and more sustainable way. However, the fact that the technology is so new can be confusing to consumers. The Non-GMO Project has started to talk about these products — which are only possible through genetic modification — as “synbio dairy” options that are potentially harmful to consumers and the environment, and an existential threat to small, non-GMO dairy farms.
An industry group that brings together several leaders in this space can give them a stronger voice to explain what they do and why it is an option for manufacturers and consumers to consider. It also can help to counter misinformation or consumer fear about something that sounds overly scientific.
“Ushering in this new era in food requires clear communication, thoughtful policy, consistent regulation and stakeholder engagement, which this alliance is positioned to do,” Irina Gerry, chief marketing officer at Change Foods and the new group’s vice chair, said in a statement.