The EU Commits €50 Million to Startups & Small Businesses in Precision Fermentation and Algae

Article updated 20/12 to reflect that this initiative also includes finding for producers of algae. This Accelerator Challenge focuses on supporting the production of food from precision fermentation and algae that decouples food production from the soil and environmental conditions. It looks to support the development of viable alternatives that complement agriculture, and capable of producing foods rich in proteins, fats, carbohydrates, dietary fibres, vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients by bacteria, yeasts, fungi, and algae in quantities that are comparable to, or even greater than, foods of traditional plant or animal origin. The approaches taken must be scalable based on a range of process parameters such as, but not limited to light, temperature, and pressure to allow custom modification of the final product to a range of operating environments including those with high, or even extreme, resource constraints without compromising the potential gains from a shift to food from precision fermentation and algae.

The European Union, through its European Innovation Council (EIC) Work Programme 2024 has committed €50 million to aid startups and small businesses in scaling alternative protein production, with a focus on techniques like precision fermentation, over the course of next year.

The programme is part of the EU’s flagship Horizon Europe programme which aims to “improve the sustainability, efficiency, and resilience of the European food supply chain”. The funding, under the EIC’s Accelerator Challenge, aims to support the development of “viable alternatives that complement agriculture”, highlighting that these foods can be produced using existing agricultural sidestreams, with benefits including reduced pressure on natural resources such as land and water.

Precision fermentation leverages microorganisms such as yeast to produce genuine animal proteins without the animal, such as whey and casein, in a manner that significantly reduces climate emissions while eliminating antibiotic use.

Fermify and Bilfinger collaboration
© Fermify
In Europe, a number of companies are making significant strides in the space. Here are just a few notable examples:
  1. Formo (formerly known as LegenDairy Foods, based in Germany): Specializing in dairy products, Formo uses precision fermentation to produce animal-free dairy proteins.
  2. Better Dairy (UK): This London-based startup is working on creating dairy products using fermentation, focusing on cheese and other high-value dairy commodities.
  3. Onego Bio (Finland): This Helsinki-based food-biotech company is producing animal-free egg proteins with precision fermentation.
  4. Those Vegan Cowboys (Belgium): Founded by the creators of The Vegetarian Butcher, the company is working on producing dairy proteins such as casein through precision fermentation to create vegan cheese.
  5. Fermify (Austria): Founded by Eva Sommer and Christoph Herwig, Fermify developed a fully automated platform to produce precision fermentation-derived casein for creating animal-free cheese at scale. The company recently extended its seed round to accelerate the development of animal-free cheese and its market entry.
  6. Paleo (Belgium): Develops alternative proteins for plant-based foods, and today announced its entrance into the plant-based pet food market with an animal-free heme ingredient that effectively makes plants taste like meat.
Better Dairy cheese
©Better Dairy

Worth noting in this context is that a recent meeting for food safety assessment on New Food Sources and Production Systems (NFPS) organized by The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) conducted a foresight exercise to explore and evaluate future safety issues of novel foods such as those produced by precision fermentation. The meeting concluded that, in general, the food safety hazards of these NFPS are similar to those of conventional foods.

Acacia Smith, Senior Policy Manager at Good Food Institute Europe, said: “It’s excellent that the EIC has recognised precision fermentation’s game-changing potential to feed Europe’s growing population, improve public health and reduce our reliance on imports. It’s also very welcome that this funding aims to develop new ways of scaling up production – tackling Europe’s lack of infrastructure – and to look at other critical areas such as consumer acceptance, regulatory approval and supporting the entry of these foods into the European market.”

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