Jeff Bezos’s Charity Donates $30 Million for Fake Meat Development

The facility will research lab-grown and plant-based meats as well as carry out ‘precision fermentation’ to produce proteins for food formulations.
Jeff Bezos’s Charity Donates $30 Million for Fake Meat Development
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Naveen Athrappully

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’s charity is establishing a multimillion-dollar research facility at North Carolina State University for manufacturing fake meat products.

The Bezos Center for Sustainable Protein, which opened on May 31, will act as a “biomanufacturing hub for dietary proteins that are environmentally friendly, healthy, tasty, and affordable,” according to a statement.
The Bezos Earth Fund—billed as a $10 billion commitment from Mr. Bezos to address “climate and nature within the current decade”—awarded the university $30 million to set up the center.

The funding seeks to support research on three types of “sustainable proteins”—plant-based products, cultivated meat grown from animal cells, and precision fermentation that can produce proteins and nutrients to be used in food formulations.

In total, the Earth Fund has committed $100 million to establish a network of research centers focused on such “sustainable protein alternatives.” The North Carolina facility will use the funds to research, create, and commercialize new technologies in the field and gauge the protein preferences of consumers.

“Food production is the second largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, so it’s critical we find ways to feed a growing population without degrading the planet,” Andrew Steer, president and CEO of the Earth Fund, said in a statement.

Although “sustainable proteins” have tremendous potential, there needs to be more research to boost product flavors and reduce prices to ensure people have access to nutritious, affordable items, he said.

While fake meat products are being promoted as being better for the environment, some studies contradict such claims.

An analysis by researchers from the University of California–Davis found that the environmental effect of lab-grown or cultivated meat is likely to be “orders of magnitude” higher than that of retail beef. For their analysis—a preprint, not yet peer-reviewed—researchers looked at the energy consumed to produce lab meat and greenhouse gases emitted in the process.

Currently, lab meat requires the use of highly purified or refined growth media to ensure cell multiplication. Deploying the technology to produce large quantities of meat ends up using “more resources, which then increases global warming potential,” according to doctoral graduate Derrick Risner from the UC–Davis Department of Food Science and Technology, who was the lead author of the analysis.

The global warming potential of lab meat using purified media was estimated to be four to 25 times greater than the average for retail beef.

There are also concerns about whether lab meat is safe for human consumption. A post by the Center for Food Safety points to the “genetic engineering of cells and their potential cancer-promoting properties” as a matter of particular concern regarding lab meat.

The $100 million set aside for researching “sustainable protein alternatives” is part of the Bezos Earth Fund’s $1 billion commitment that aims to transform food and agricultural systems.

The fund backs research on alternative proteins as it believes population expansion will depend on the widespread availability of proteins that are “produced in ways that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and protect nature.”

The new facility is expected to act as an impetus for biomanufacturing firms to shift locations to North Carolina.

Microsoft co-founder and tech billionaire Bill Gates is also backing a number of firms in the sector, including Impossible Foods, Beyond Meat, and Memphis Meat.

Multiple US States Against Fake Meat

The country’s first lab-grown meat products were approved last year. In June 2023, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) approved Upside Foods, formerly known as Memphis Meats, and Good Meat to sell chicken products grown from animal cells.
Multiple states are currently taking action against lab meat. Earlier in May, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed SB1084, which bans the “manufacture for sale, sale, holding or offering for sale, or distribution of cultivated meat” in the state.
“Florida is taking action to stop the World Economic Forum’s goal of forcing the world to eat lab-grown meat and insects, ‘an overlooked source of protein,’” Mr. DeSantis’s office said in a statement. “While the World Economic Forum is telling the world to forgo meat consumption, Florida is increasing meat production, and encouraging residents to continue to consume and enjoy 100 percent real Florida beef.”

During a news conference, the governor said the measure will push back against the plan of global elites to achieve their “authoritarian goals” through meat grown in labs.

A few days later, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed into law similar legislation that bans the sale, distribution, and manufacture of lab meat. Violation of the law would result in fines and the revocation or suspension of permits.

In January, Sens. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.) introduced the School Lunch Integrity Act of 2024, which is aimed at prohibiting the use of cell-cultivated meat under the School Breakfast Program and the National School Lunch Program.

Raising safety concerns, the senators noted that the USDA hasn’t issued any guidance on the use of cell-cultivated proteins in either program.

“Our students should not be test subjects for cell-cultivated ‘meat’ experiments,” Mr. Rounds said. “South Dakota farmers and ranchers work hard to produce high-quality beef products. These products are often sold to South Dakota schools, where they provide necessary nutrition to our students.

“With high quality, local beef readily available for our students, there’s no reason to be serving fake, lab-grown meat products in the cafeteria.”