According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, 90% of the global fish population is fully fished, overfished, or in crisis. Yet, fish is an important staple in the world’s food supply.
At the New Food Conference, which takes place on 10-11 October in Cologne, Dr Sebastian Rakers, CEO and Co-founder of Bluu Biosciences, will talk about how cultured seafood will be able to bridge this gap. Here, he gives a brief overview on regulatory status, consumer acceptance, and the role of farmers.
Bluu Biosciences is Europe’s first company focusing on the development and commercialisation of cultured fish. Why did you choose seafood?
Fish is already the most widely consumed source of protein in many regions of the world and demand is increasing due to the world’s growing population, while supply is constrained due to overfishing. Stocks are declining or they are exploited to their maximum. Aquaculture is trying to catch up, but it has its own limitations and challenges. Therefore, cultured fish provides a viable alternative to overfishing our oceans.
Cultured seafood has its advantages compared to cultured meat since it is more tolerant of changes in temperatures, which is beneficial for upscaling production. Seafood is also less complex in structure, which will more easily allow for the development of structured products further down the line. Bluu Biosciences draws on more than a decade of experience in working with fish cells, and our team is driven by a real passion for marine biodiversity.
What products do you have in the pipeline?
Our focus is on products based on Atlantic salmon, rainbow trout, and carp. We thus cover three of the world’s most popular edible-fish species. These species are a good fit for cultured production: their genome has already been fully sequenced and research on cell lines is well advanced.
The first products that reach market readiness will be unstructured – think fish balls, fish tartar, or even fish sticks. Later on, we envision structured products such as salmon fillets. More research is needed for this 3D production in order to be able to combine the cell material of various tissue types.
Do you expect consumers to accept your products? What are you doing to encourage future consumer acceptance?
For the most part, we are registering a great openness to the topic – mostly driven by consumers’ growing environmental awareness. The potential demand is growing. The cultured-fish sector will also benefit from the increasing acceptance of cultured meat in general. Overall, much more communication and transparency is needed in order to reduce consumer prejudices against cell-based technologies. Other markets, such as Asia, are leading the way. Here at Bluu Biosciences, we are gradually adding complexity to our communication and are honest about the challenges.
Although the disruptive potential for the traditional fish industry is huge, we believe that feeding a growing world population is going to take all of it: cell-based, plant-based, and sustainably produced animal proteins.
To what extent do you expect your products to be healthier than their conventional counterparts?
Ultimately, the product will not differ from wild-caught fish in terms of taste or cooking behaviour . However, we are optimising our cell lines for omega-3 fat content so that the products will be even healthier and more nutritious than conventional seafood. Due to the highly controlled environment, we can ensure that our fish products are free from microplastics and heavy metals.
Critics of cellular agriculture fear that it will lead to the destruction of traditional farming. How would you respond to this concern? Traditional fish producers and farmers tend to be wary. They often fail to realise that their business is far less threatened by cultured alternatives than it is by overfishing, pollution, climate change, and a lack of sustainability efforts in their industries. But we also see an increasing openness to new business models, especially among younger farmers, and I am sure that, as long as we maintain open communication about the chances and risks of cultured-fish production, we will see more farmers thinking about it as an alternative.
In November 2020, Singapore was the first country to approve the commercial sale of cultured meat, a major milestone in the field. How would you assess the regulatory landscape in Europe?
Regulatory approval is of course a highly important milestone for every company in the space. We plan to have our first prototypes ready by 2022. We will work on the regulatory approval process in order to have the first products on the market by 2023-to-2024, and we want to expand the technology relatively quickly, so that we can help to feed the world more sustainably within the next few years.
With regard to European regulation, at this point it is difficult to estimate when exactly the first approvals will be granted. We are working closely with the authorities in order to get a detailed guideline about the path to market. We all want to have the safest products, which means that the regulatory process needs time and care.
Thank you for the interview, Dr Rakers.
To learn more about the vast potential of cultured fish, make sure not to miss Sebastian Raker’s presentation at the New Food Conference on 10-11 October. Get your ticket now!