Robert Wiblin: Hi listeners, this is the 80,000 Hours Podcast, the show about the world’s most pressing problems and how you can use your career to solve them. I’m Rob Wiblin, Director of Research at 80,000 Hours.
If you want to rid the world of factory farming there’s two broad ways you could do that – one is to convince people it’s wrong, another would be to make it technologically obsolete. That’s the approach my guest today is taking.
This is our first episode about meat replacement research, so it’s likely to be of broad interest, whether you plan to work in the area yourself or not.
For those who do plan to work in the area, be sure to subscribe because we hope to get out a follow-up episode with a research scientist working on the problem quite soon.
Most people find out about podcasts from their friends, so if you’re enjoying the show, be sure to let people know, in person, online, or by shouting about it to strangers on the street.
And now I bring you Bruce Friedrich.
Robert Wiblin: Today, I’m speaking with Bruce Friedrich. Bruce is executive director of The Good Food Institute, a nonprofit organization that promotes plant-based meat, dairy, and eggs as well as in vitro meat alternatives to the products of conventional animal agriculture. In November 2016, Animal Charity Evaluators named GFI as one of its top charities in its annual animal charity recommendations.
Bruce has also written opinion pieces for USA Today, the Los Angeles Times, and the Chicago Tribune and many other publications. Bruce is a popular speaker on college campuses and has written the animal activist handbook, which I can strongly recommend checking out. Bruce graduate magna cum laude from Georgetown Law and he also holds degrees from Johns Hopkins University and the London School of Economics. Thanks for coming on the podcast, Bruce.
Bruce Friedrich: I’m delighted to be here. Thank you for having me.
Robert Wiblin: I’m joined in the hosting chair by Natalie Cargill, a barrister in London who has a background working in animal advocacy herself. Welcome Natalie.
Natalie Cargill: Thank you.
Robert Wiblin: So Bruce, tell us what The Good Food Institute is all about?
Bruce Friedrich: So the Good Food Institute was formed about a year and a half ago and the central brainstorm of the organization is that we can use behavioral economics, we can use markets, and we can use food technology to create products that actually compete with animal agriculture based on the factors that dictate consumer choice. So the three of us and everybody listening, when we’re thinking about what it is that we want to eat, every single one of us thinks about the price of the food, we think about how it’s going to taste. We may not be thinking about convenience but convenience is going to be a central factor. If it’s not there, we’re not going to consume it.
So the goal of GFI is to take ethics off the table because the vast majority of people, they don’t think about ethics when they’re choosing what it is they’re going to eat. We want to actually create plant-based alternatives and clean meat alternatives to conventional animal agriculture that compete on the basis of those factors and shift the world away from industrialized animal agriculture.
Natalie Cargill: Great. So Bruce, could you tell us a bit more about your role specifically in GFI?
Bruce Friedrich: Yeah. I was recruited to run the organization, so I started working on it in October of 2015. At that point, we were calling it the future of food foundation. So I was a part of all aspects of founding the organization. So we created a strategic plan and we raised the money to get the organization off the ground. We created the website and the vision. It started with what we want to do is create the next Impossible Foods or Hampton Creek or Beyond Meat and then from there, it was, “Well, how do we figure out what that’s going to look like?”
And I was the first swing at the strategy working with a bunch of other people to figure out what the vision should look like and then how the vision gets implemented. So what are our key performance indicators? What is our strategic plan? How does that align to our various goals? Who are the people who we need to hire in order to execute on all of the things that we want to do? What are the most important things to do? And we started working on that in October of 2015. We launched the organization on February 1st of 2016. At that point, we have three staff and we’ve been iterating the strategic vision and the KPIs and everything else from there.
Natalie Cargill: And how did your background help starting this up?
Bruce Friedrich: We’re a fairly standard story for a startup, so we’re a startup 501(c)(3) nonprofit rather than a startup for profit in Silicon Valley. But really, what you need to run a startup is the capacity to be comfortable with chaos, to put a whole lot of balls in the air at the same time. It’s like building a plane and flying the plane at the exact same time. That’s what’s going on. So I have the capacity to work very hard. I can keep an awful lot of balls in the air at the same time, and I’m a big fan of strategic visioning and those are the things that are really necessary.
I previously was for a number of years running the largest division at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. I was vice-president of campaigns for a bunch of years, so I had more than 50 people under me. But I can tell you that being in charge of 50 people where you have structures and you grow somewhat slowly is a radically different animal from growing from three people to now more than 20 in the course of about a year. Yeah, it’s tough to be prepared for this unless you’ve done basically the exact same thing, which I hadn’t.
Natalie Cargill: So for some of our listeners who don’t know very much about clean meat or cultured meat, could you just briefly say why is this an important thing to be working on?
Bruce Friedrich: Yeah. The main thing that The Good Food Institute works on, when we say alternatives to the products of conventional animal agriculture, basically what we’re looking for is products that will compete on the basis of price, taste, and convenience as I mentioned. Price is obvious and when I say taste, I’m talking about things like the Impossible Burger and Beyond Meat, so plant-based meat. One of the things that I really like that Ethan Brown, the founder of Beyond Meat, talks about, he says, “Look, meat is made of amino acids. It’s made of lipids. It’s made of minerals and water. There is nothing in animal-based meat that we cannot replicate with plants.” So that’s plant-based meat and it’s pretty basic.
The other thing that we’re working on is clean meat and clean meat is basically real meat, the exact same, it’s biologically, physiologically, it’s the exact same product except that it’s created without farms and without slaughterhouses. So right now, how meat is made is you feed an animal, requires vast quantities of resources. Most of what you feed to the animal, the calories in, the energy in, most of that goes into the animal, simply existing and then a tiny fraction of those calories goes into cell multiplication and growth which is what creates the meat that we … There’s a much better way to get cell multiplication and growth. So you just take a biopsy the size of a sesame seed from a chicken or a pig or a cow or fish, you bathe the cells in nutrients, the cells multiply and grow, you put them on a scaffold, you put them in basically a meat fermenter, and then you harvest the meat.
Right now, they talk about harvesting animals. What that looks like is awful industrial farms and just hideous slaughterhouses. This is actually harvesting meat off the scaffold, out of basically a meat fermenter. So a much more efficient process, much cleaner process, much better process.
Natalie Cargill: So it seems like there’s plant-based meat substitutes and then clean meat or cultured meat. Do you think that the substitutes could get to be almost unrecognizable from meat itself or from cultured meat? And in that case, why bother investing all this time and energy and science into creating it cell by cell when you can almost perfectly replicate it?
Bruce Friedrich: Well, you can perfectly replicate it. You can do better. One of the things that Pat Brown at Impossible Foods is fond of talking about is how you are constrained. If you are going to go the conventional meat-making way, you are constrained by the biology of the animal. If you want to use plant-based meat, no constraints. You can do something that’s identical because there’s nothing in animal-based meat that you can’t do with plants but you can actually do better. You can do taste tests and find things that people like even more and obviously, it’s going to be healthier because it has complex carbohydrates, it has fiber, it doesn’t have cholesterol, it doesn’t have as much saturated fat. So it’s a better product.
But I can tell you from now a year and a half of working on this full time and then I go to lots of colleges and universities and I go to conferences and I talk with people, there is something in human beings. There’s a really phenomenal book by a journalist from Poland named Marta Zaraska and the book is called Meathooked. There appears to be something in the human either psychology or physiology — I don’t know which, maybe it’s a combination of both — no matter how good plant-based meat gets, our hypothesis is that there are a significant number of human beings who are going to want to eat real meat, and we’ll be thrilled if that’s wrong. If it turns out that clean meat is unsuccessful because either plant-based meat or a whole foods plant-based diet or some combination of the two is so wildly successful, if that’s why clean meat is unsuccessful, nobody will be happier than we are.
But I can tell you from talking to an awful lot of people like when I get to the end of a lecture at some of the schools that I’m going to and I say, “Okay, we’ve laid out the arguments in favor of plant-based meat and in favor of clean meat. If we get plant-based meat and it biomimics animal-based meat perfectly, tastes exactly the same and it’s cheaper, who here will switch over most or all of your meat consumption to plant-based meat?” And after they’ve heard my lecture and there’s probably some social pressure or whatever going on, most of the people raised their hand to that hypothesis. But when I do the same thing for clean meat, it’s routinely 100% of people who raise their hand. There’s just something about meat. There’s the myth of meat. A lot of people appear to want it. So maybe that’ll change and great if it does but in the meantime, we figure we need both options.
Natalie Cargill: So you’ve talked about taking the ethics out of meat. If we put it back in for a second, for listeners who are interested in having a positive impact on the world and sparing as much animal suffering as they can, how good of an option do you think this is?
Bruce Friedrich: I think this is the perfect option. So I adopted a vegan diet 30 years ago and 30 years ago, about 2% of the population was either vegetarian or vegan. Twenty years ago, about 2% of the population was vegetarian or vegan. Ten years ago, about 2% of the population was vegetarian or vegan. Are you catching a theme? It hasn’t changed in 30 years. So a lot more people claim to be vegetarian or vegan now than claimed to be vegetarian or vegan 20 and 30 years ago. But if you look at the actual numbers, if you look at when you do the polling in the most accurate way and you say, “In the last month, which of these products have you not consumed,” it turns out that about 2% of the population is vegetarian or vegan.
Robert Wiblin: What about if you just look at total meat consumption per person, has that gone up or down?
Bruce Friedrich: It’s going back up. So total meat consumption per person is a little over 200 pounds a year. I think it’s about 207 pounds in 2016, which is down slightly from eight or ten years ago but over the last couple of years, it’s been going up. In 2016, more animals were slaughtered in the United States, both in raw numbers and in per capita numbers than had ever been slaughtered in the history of United States before and that’s because there’s been a bit of a shift from beef to chicken. So in the United States, we slaughter about nine billion animals every single year and 98.5% of them are birds.
One of the things that we talk about in animal advocacy is if you’re thinking about going incremental, if you cut out the small animals first and it’s just we’re thinking about the fact that 98.5 of every 100 animals who are slaughtered are birds. We literally slaughter 250 times as many birds as cattle. We slaughter a hundred times as many birds, chickens, and turkeys as pigs. So even though per capita meat consumption is down slightly from 7 years ago, it is going back up and because people are shifting from beef to chicken, the raw numbers of animals and consequently the amount of animal suffering is at an all time high.
Natalie Cargill: I suppose people might also say perhaps cultured meat or clean meat can solve the meat eating part, speciesism, and that will spare the lives of billions of animals a year. But we run the risk of fixing the meat problem without fixing the speciesism problem and people won’t actually have expanded their moral circle to give moral consideration to animals more generally. What do you think about that?
Bruce Friedrich: Yeah. There’s a Belgian activist named Tobias Leenaert who wrote a really interesting book recently. He’s known online as the vegan strategist and he’s an effective altruist himself. And one of his theories about clean meat is that part of the problem, part of our significant uphill battle in trying to fight against speciesism is that 98% of people are directly participating in hideous cruelty to animals almost every time they sit down to eat. So if 98% of people are eating meat, that means those 98% of people are supporting cruelty to animals that would warrant felony, cruelty to animals charges if dogs or cats were similarly abused.
And his theory, which I think is right, is that if you get people to stop participating on a daily basis in that hideous abuse, it opens up their capacity to see other animals for who they are and to break down the speciesist barrier. So part of the theory of change is once people stop eating animals, it becomes much, much easier for them to say actually, I think animals do have some interest that matter. This is something that Paul Shapiro dives into in a book that he has coming out early next year about clean meat. He looks at past social justice issues, slavery for example, and says it was easier for the north to be morally opposed to slavery because they didn’t have the economic need for it. I think that’s going to be true with speciesism as well. If we can get meat out of people’s diets, it’ll make it a lot easier for us to convince people that other animals suffer in the same way and feel pain in the same way that we do.
Natalie Cargill: You know, the obvious question everyone will always ask, but — when can we get our hands on some clean meat?
Bruce Friedrich: Well, it looks very, very likely that it’ll be in the next couple of years that there will be products that are partially plant-based and partially clean meat. I imagine the clean meat companies would make you a full clean meat burger or clean meat nuggets if you could afford it, but it’s going to be a little expensive over the next couple of years. But I think we can expect to see products that are partly plant-based and partly clean meat probably within a couple of years. And within about five years, we’ll see full clean meat nuggets and burgers and that sort of thing. Within 10 years, it looks like they will be cost competitive. So that’s the prediction of the people who know better than anybody else in the world.
So Uma Valeti from Memphis Meats and Mark Post from MosaMeat. Uma was previously a cardiologist and a cardiology professor at the University of Minnesota. He was trained at the Mayo Clinic, and he was the head of both the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association for the Twin Cities. He left it all behind to move to the Bay Area and found Memphis Meats. Similar story for a guy named Mark Post who was a tenured medical professor at Harvard Medical School. He’s a dual medical professor and tissue engineer with a PhD in tissue engineering, teaching at one of the top medical schools in Europe. And he’s the guy who’s oftentimes considered to be the father of clean meat because he got a million dollars from Sergey Brin, the Google co-founder, to create the first clean meat hamburger which he did just a couple of years ago.
And both of those guys think that within five years, you’ll have full clean meat available. It’ll probably be cost competitive with grass-fed organic beef so high price points, relatively speaking. But the economies of scale are so good. It’s just so much more efficient that as demand goes up, we should be cost competitive with the cheap animal-based meat in about a decade.
Natalie Cargill: That’s encouraging.
Bruce Friedrich: Yeah, it’s really exciting.
Natalie Cargill: Yeah. I notice there was a lot of clean meat in your answer there. Could you talk a little bit about the use of that phrase, clean meat, cultured meat, in vitro meat? What’s the debate going on there?
Bruce Friedrich: Well, I don’t think there is anybody who supports clean meat who still calls it in vitro or lab grown. And lab grown is just a misnomer. Lab grown is what the media often times likes to call it. It’s somewhat sensationalist. But lab grown is just wrong. At scale, once this stuff is commercialized, it’s not going to be grown in a lab — it’s going to be grown in essentially a meat brewery. That’s what it’s going to look like. So every processed food starts in a food lab but we don’t say lab grown Cheerios, or lab grown whatever else. It isn’t anymore. It started in a food lab, now it’s in a factory. And the factories for clean meat are going to look like breweries, so we’re calling it clean meat and we’re talking about meat breweries.
Cultured is a pretty common term still among people who support clean meat although Hampton Creek and Memphis Meats and the Modern Agriculture Foundation and SuperMeat, most of the companies and most of the nonprofits have shifted to calling it clean meat and one of the reasons for that is that it’s sort of a nod to clean energy. So a clean energy is energy that’s better for the environment. This is meat that’s better for the environment. So as one example of that, right now, the most efficient meat is chicken and it takes nine calories into a chicken to get one calorie of energy back out in the form of meat and that’s the best we can do. Incredibly inefficient. We’re not going to feed 9.7 billion people by 2050 with a process that is that inefficient and it gets even worse for pork, even worse than that for beef.
And then we think about climate change. Clean meat causes up to 95% less climate change when compared to animal-based meat, and it’s just another example. There’s a study published in the journal Nature that went food by food how much climate change is produced per calorie. And what it found is that chicken, which is the least climate change inducing meat, produces 65 times as much climate change as legumes on a per unit of energy basis. So you want one calorie of meat from legumes like soy or peas, which are the main ingredients in plant-based meat, and you’ve got about two grams of CO2 equivalent. You want that same one calorie from chicken and it’s 65 times as much. If you’re looking at per protein calorie, it’s still 40 times as much.
So this is a climate change solution and it’s an energy efficiency solution and a lot of other reasons that it’s clean from a clean energy, clean meat perspective. It’s also just a much cleaner product. You don’t have the farm, you don’t have the slaughterhouse. In the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control, tens of millions of people get sick from the bacteria in meat every single year. Tens of thousands end up in the hospital, thousands end up dead. All of that goes away. Also, no antibiotic residues or any other drug residues, could go on for a while about that. It’s a cleaner product, it’s a more efficient product, so it’s clean meat.
Natalie Cargill: So it seems like we’ll be able to get some clean meat fairly soon. I was wondering are there still any major scientific hurdles to overcome? I’m thinking specifically in terms of chicken because as you say, that causes the overwhelming majority of animal suffering from factory farms. So how far are we ahead in solving that kind of problem?
Bruce Friedrich: When people talk about scientific problems and they talk about engineering problems, what that seems to be shorthand for is scientific problems are do we need an aha, and engineering problems are do we just need to make this cheaper. If that’s the way you define a scientific problem and an engineering problem, there are no scientific problems. Everything is in the category of engineering problems. That should not be taken as minimizing the kind of work that we had to do. We have significant engineering problems in terms of getting the price points right. I don’t think anybody thinks that clean meat is going to catch on in a really, really big way until it’s cheaper than conventional, industrialized animal agriculture meat.
And getting, there’s a lot that’s going to have to happen with regard to the cell lines. There’s a lot that’s going to have to happen with regard to the nutrients in which the cells grow. Not as much but a significant amount in terms of cost reduction for the scaffolds and bioreactor scaleup. Things change when you go from 5 liters to 20,000 liters. These are not easy engineering problems but people like Uma Valeti and Mark Post and so many other people who really have the clearest eyed vision of what needs to happen, they’re dedicating their entire lives to it because they are absolutely convinced on the basis of all of the evidence that it can be done.
Robert Wiblin: I’d hope that there were significant difficulties when you’re growing cultured meat and that’s controlling the growth of bacteria or viruses in those vats. And also that while it was relatively easy to create an animal cell medium, it was quite hard to get the structure that made the resulting meat taste like a steak. Can you talk about those technical challenges in as much as they exist?
Bruce Friedrich: Both of those challenges definitely exist and I think that … Even if we’re just talking about things like chicken nuggets and meatballs and hotdogs, that second challenge is still going to exist. Meat is complex and there are a variety of different cells and bringing them altogether in the right way is definitely a challenge. It’s moving in the right direction. I tried clean meat chicken, it was pretty fantastic. Expensive but as far as I can remember, it tasted exactly like chicken and people who actually still eat chicken also said it tastes exactly like chicken.
The woman from the Wall Street Journal who ate it in May was like blown away by the fact that it tasted exactly the same. Making that work in the small scale was still really expensive and you’re absolutely right. That’s just one of the many issues that we are going to have to contend with as we scale up to 20,000-liter bioreactors, but that’s definitely one of them.
Robert Wiblin: Do you know broadly speaking how do you control the growth of bacteria in a bioreactor? Do you have to use antibiotics or is there some other way of doing it?
Bruce Friedrich: No. It really just requires antiseptic conditions and constant monitoring. The antibiotics issue has been completely solved. One thing that happens with antibiotics, it’s anti-life, that’s what antibiotic means. So growing a cell culture at a reasonable price point while using antibiotics, it pretty much will be game over if you needed antibiotics in terms of the overall quest to reach price parity. It will be a challenge but they’re doing it at fairly large scale and everybody believes that they can do it, it’s just going to require some significant technological prowess as we scale up the bioreactors.
Natalie Cargill: So you said that clean meat will be identical to meat as it’s currently produced. Will it be healthier than conventional meat because conventional meat isn’t particularly healthy, as I understand it?
Bruce Friedrich: That’s actually a fairly vigorous debate in clean meat circles. I am firmly in the camp that says the only health advantage for clean meat should be that it’s cleaner. So what I said earlier that according to the CDC, tens of millions of people get sick from the bacteria on meat, more than a hundred thousand end up in the hospital, thousands die. And then there are antibiotic residues and various other drug residues from the drugs that the animals have been fed. That’s the one health advantage that I think clean meat should have. For people who want a healthier product, they can eat plants.
That is not the view of Uma Valeti or Mark Post and they have a lot more to say about it than I do because they founded Memphis Meats and MosaMeat. Both of those guys are cardiologists and both of those guys want to tweak clean meat to make it healthier. I look at some of the research that’s been done out of places like Stanford and Johns Hopkins that says that once you call something a health product, consumer acceptance goes down. So there was a crazy study at Stanford where they took the exact same green beans and they labeled them delicious green beans and they sold the most. They labeled them fat free and it went down. They labeled them heart healthy and it went down from there. And it was exactly the opposite of what I would’ve expected.
But time and time again, if you say that something doesn’t have something, people assume they’re giving something up. If you say something that is healthy or healthier than something else, people assume they’re giving something up. So I really think that what we need to do is produce the exact same thing but make it cheaper. And for people who are concerned about heart disease or cancer or diabetes or obesity or any other things that conventional meat is linked to, they can eat something else.
Robert Wiblin: So a number of people have expressed skepticism about the technological feasibility of cultured meat. I’m thinking in particular of Nick Beckstead of the Open Philanthropy Project who I think you know. He wrote a blog post that I’ll stick up a link to where he explained why at least at the time, I think it was a year or two ago, he was more enthusiastic about funding a research into plant-based meat alternatives rather than cultured meat. What do you think of that controversy? Did you have some sympathy for his views? It seems like you disagree somewhat. You’re more optimistic about cultured meat.
Bruce Friedrich: Yeah. I’m a lot more optimistic about clean meat than Nick is, and we’re looking forward to the opportunity. One of the things that one of our scientists, Dr. Liz Specht, has done is she’s created a presentation in which she looks at the four hurdles that need to be cleared for clean meat to reach price parity or be less expensive than animal-based meat. And she talks about basically the technological innovations that need to happen and the questions that we need to answer, and she ends up being very optimistic that we can do it. And you look at Uma Valeti and Mark Post and now the folks, the scientists at Hampton Creek, the people who are actually the most deeply involved are absolutely convinced that it’s doable.
So one of the things that Liz has done, she’s been meeting with top venture capitalists. She’s met with Bill Gates’ investment fund, she’s met with Andreessen Horowitz, she’s met with DFJ, Kleiner Perkins. And she’s meeting with venture capital funds and big industry to talk with them about what the path forward is to cost parity, and people are coming in skeptical and leaving optimistic. So my hope is that we’ll be able to have a similar meeting with Nick. I think it probably makes sense for us to actually write it up unless it’s just been incredibly busy. But one of the things that we’re going to do is turn the work that she’s done into a white paper and we’ll be sharing it with … Well, we’ll be sharing it online with anybody and everybody who wants to look at it, including Nick.
So that piece was actually published, I think, a little more than two years ago. It’s published at least two years ago, and the technologies changed a lot even in regenerative medicine and of course, it’s the techniques of regenerative medicine that we need to cross apply into food to clean meat. So costs are coming down across the four hurdles that we need to clear, and it’s not a done deal. It’s certainly possible that it won’t be successful but I think there’s a very high likelihood that it will.
Robert Wiblin: Well, whenever you publish that, I’ll take a look at it and we can promote it on our social media feed and blog if people are following that. And maybe we could even get in Nick Beckstead and maybe one of your research scientists and talk about that on the show.
Bruce Friedrich: That would be fantastic. We would love that.
Robert Wiblin: There’s others who worry that even if you make a really tasty product that is as good as meat in general, people are still not going to take it up. I’m thinking of some vegans who worry about this. And they point to the fact that we already have Chinese Buddhist meat that’s made from gluten and Tofurky, products that to me, I think, taste as good as meat and I love them and I eat them all the time. But as you pointed out, there’s a quite small market of products. They’re much smaller than the market for meat products despite the fact that they’re good on many dimensions. So is that a big concern for you, the analogy to existing meat substitutes that haven’t really gotten mass consumer take up?
Bruce Friedrich: Well, I guess there are two things. That’s part of the reason that we’re supporting both plant-based meat and clean meat. So our expectation for clean meat is that as the price point’s all right, that becomes the only option that’s available to people. So clean meat is partly a response to the concern that maybe some significant portion of people just won’t shift to plant-based meat. But with that question as it applies to plant-based meat, it’s worth recognizing that Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods which were the first two companies to set their sights on industrially-produced meat, you look at plant-based meat before 2012 and it was largely focused on competing for the consumer dollars of vegetarians and it was and still is, relatively speaking, quite expensive.
I really do think you need the price and the taste before you’re competing and even today, you don’t have the price or the taste, maybe with the Beyond Burger and Impossible Burger but that’s the first time you’ve got something that’s close to biomimicry and the price points still aren’t right. So you need price and you need taste. And the first two people to come on to the scene and say we are setting our sights on industrialized animal agriculture are Ethan Brown, 2009, doesn’t have a product until 2012, doesn’t have a national product until 2013. So it’s four years that we’ve had the products that are even focused on this and they haven’t gotten the price or the taste quite right yet, as Pat and Ethan were both the first in line to tell you. And the second one is Impossible Foods, which was formed in 2011 and didn’t have a product until the end of 2016.
So it may not work out. I think all the stuff we’ve talked about about clean meat, you could ask the same questions about plant-based meat. Will we actually be able to get the price points right? Will we be able get to biomimicry? I think yes, but maybe not. I think there’s a very high likelihood, but maybe not. We could have the exact same conversations. And if not, then we’re putting all of our eggs into the clean meat basket, so both of them could end up not working out. I think they’re both going to work out but until we have price and taste, it’s an untested hypothesis.
Robert Wiblin: What’s the single best meat substitute product out there at the moment? I think a lot of people say the Impossible Burger is the thing that you should go try if you want to have your mind blown. I think that’s available in San Francisco and London. Is that right?
Bruce Friedrich: Well, the first thing to say is that I love all my children equally. I think the thing you said earlier is right. The Tofurky products are fantastic. I’ve been serving Tofurky to my family who are a bunch of meat-eating, hunting, Midwesterners and I’ve been serving them the Tofurky and the Tofurky Brats and all of the plant-based meats for a bunch of years. If those products were cost competitive, they would be easier to find. If they were cost competitive and easier to find, they’d sell a lot more. And even a lot of meat-eaters would probably eat a not insignificant amount of those products.
It’s also the case that because of Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat, a lot of the smaller plant-based meat companies have been upping their game, upping their research and development, thinking about what is that they’re doing in a different and exciting and more competitive way. It is an incredibly exciting time but it’s super nascent. We’re very, very early days with plant-based meat and even earlier days with clean meat. I do think the Impossible Burger is fantastic. You can now get it in Texas and certainly all over LA and San Francisco and New York City, and they’ve opened a plant in Oakland that’s going to be churning out just massive amounts of the stuff, so it’ll be nationwide probably by the end of 2017.
I think that Beyond Burger is pretty spectacular as well and you can get that in grocery stores in Krogers and Safeways and Albertsons all over the country as well. But for people who haven’t tried a lot of plant-based meat, I think the Tofurky Brats are phenomenal. I think Field Roast is phenomenal. There’s a new company on the scene called Hungry Planet that’s really great. There’s a company called Alpha Foods that’s about to take the country by storm. They’re going to be in Walmarts all over the place by the end of the year. So lots and lots of really exciting things. And when you feed them to meat-eaters, they’re like, “Well, if all plant-based meat was …” And they’ve been saying, “If all plant-based meat were this good, I would switch over for decades.”
But part of it is that the price points are bad and it’s hard to find. You go to the grocery store and it’s relegated to the nether regions and covered in dust. Who wants that? So we have a lot of work to do but I think there are a lot of companies who are thinking about and recognize the work and they see the problem and they’ve got their sets sight. They’ve got their sights sets, I just flipped those words, on X plus Y equals 100. I think we’re going to get there.
Robert Wiblin: I’m interested to learn that your family is not on board with veganism and animal activism. What do they make of you?
Bruce Friedrich: My dad is very supportive but most of my family lives in Minnesota and they hunt and they fish, and we’re pretty tightly knit, so I wouldn’t say tolerate is quite the right word. But when my wife and I go to family gatherings and we bring plant-based meat and they eat the plant-based … They eat it. It’s one of those crazy things where one of the things that you recommend as an animal activist is if you are eating with meat-eaters, it’s like bring lots of vegan food and then watch all of your food get eaten and all the meat still out and it’s a good opportunity to tease people. See, you do like plant-based whatever. I don’t think our family gatherings are vastly dissimilar from the family gatherings of people where their families are completely on board.
Robert Wiblin: Another approach in addition to plant-based products and cellular cultured meat is to produce animal proteins in yeast. Is that right?
Bruce Friedrich: Yeah, that’s right.
Robert Wiblin: I don’t know so much about that. Tell me about what it’s like and is that something that you fund as well?
Bruce Friedrich: So first of all, Robert, what’s it going to take to get you to say clean meat?
Robert Wiblin: All right, I’ll switch to clean meat.
Bruce Friedrich: All right, thank you.
Robert Wiblin: I’m just saying cultured meat because it’s like to draw the distinction, I think, between the cellular culture as against the plant-based products.
Bruce Friedrich: We didn’t talk about this but one of the other things, our scientist went to the Institute of Food Technology Conference, the big food technology conference last year and they went there. This was before we really focused on nomenclature, and we hadn’t figured out clean meat versus cultured meat yet and we hadn’t done the consumer testing and we hadn’t really thought it through. So they went there and they were still calling it cultured meat and what they found was even food technologists like cultured mean something in food. So people are thinking is it pickled, is it canned, and who wants pickled meat? That’s kind of revolting, and like cultured fish gets even worse. You punch in cultured fish, it means aquaculture. So there are a lot of reasons not to call it cultured.
Robert Wiblin: Okay. All right, I’ll switch to clean meat.
Bruce Friedrich: Thank you. In terms of the acellular products which are using, some people call it synthetic biology, some people call it enhanced fermentation. But basically, you take the genetic code of the proteins and just like you can take yeast and you add whatever and you create alcohol. Here, you take yeast or you take bacteria and you add nutrients and you create the dairy proteins in the case of a company called Perfect Day or the egg proteins in the case of Clara Foods or the collagen proteins in the case of a company called Geltor. It’s a very common process. It’s used for almost all rennet. So up until the early 1990s, if you are eating cheese, you would get … I went vegan in 1987 so when I went vegan, all cheese was not even vegetarian because it had rennet which was from calf stomach. And now, all rennet, not all but well over 90% of rennet comes from enhanced fermentation. It’s this way of creating the rennet proteins.
Up until 25 years ago, if somebody, if they required insulin for their diet to treat their diabetes, it was all came from pigs. Now, 100% of it is created through synthetic biology. This is where, if you buy vanilla and it has an IN on the end, it’s synthetic biology so it’s not vanilla, it’s vanillin. There are a lot of other things that are created this way and this is another way. Actually, this is how Impossible Foods creates its heme. It’s using a soy-based but it’s not actually from soy. It’s the exact same thing but the protein carrier for the heme is created through enhanced fermentation.
Robert Wiblin: It’s one that I’ve heard some analysts be particularly enthusiastic about because it seems like technologically, it’s almost there. You can get yeasts that produce the egg white protein and it’s apparently very similar to the egg white. And of course, just so much animal suffering is caused through the raising of battery hens. So it that one part of the space that you think is potentially extremely cost effective or time effective to focus on?
Bruce Friedrich: I think it’s both cost effective and time effective. Obviously, the technological hurdles are even lower, the technological barriers are even lower. We still need to get the price points right that’s going to require scaling up but they’re already doing if for a wide variety of products and it certainly seems highly likely that it will be successful for dairy proteins, collagen proteins, egg proteins. Collagen proteins might take a little bit longer just because there are so many really high price point collagen products. So finding a company that’s going to produce collagen through synthetic biology and then create it food grade might be a little bit tougher. I’m not sure how far down the time horizon that is for Geltor but they’re already shipping products, but they’re doing it for pharmaceuticals at this point. But certainly for dairy and egg products, it’s got tremendous potential.
Natalie Cargill: And if everything goes well and clean meat, people are able to purchase it for a similar price as conventional meat, do you think they will? Have you done any RCTs to back that up? Yeah, what are your thoughts around how people are going to actually change?
Bruce Friedrich: Yeah. I’m in the camp that says right now, people eat meat despite how it’s produced. People are not eating meat because of how it’s produced. So if you were to walk out into the street and ask 10 people would you eat chicken from an animal who grew seven times as quickly as chickens grew 45 years ago, everybody would say no. Would you eat chicken from animals who are slaughtered 9,000 animals per hour, most of them still conscious through the entire process, everybody would say no. And yet, that’s how all chicken is produced in the United States. Well, more than 99% of it so statistically speaking, all of it.
People do not want to see what happens on modern farms and in modern slaughterhouses. They don’t even want to think about what happens in modern farms and in modern slaughterhouses. So when you have two options and one of them involves what’s happening now with all of the inefficiencies and the climate change and the cruelty and the filth and people are suddenly forced to contend with that because the people who were selling the other product with the same or cheaper price points are saying, “Look at what we’re doing, live streaming on the internet. Look at what they’re doing. They’re passing laws to make it illegal.” To find out about the production processes, I think absolutely. Everybody shifts when the price is right.
And even right now, we are biologically programmed to say don’t eat something if you don’t know how it was produced or if it’s produced in a novel way because for a really long time, the first person to try something new often died. So there’s a visceral I don’t want to try that reaction but even now, the polling that’s done indicates that well over half of people, because they recognize that the way that meat is made now, people don’t think about it very much. But if you challenge them, they know it’s problematic. So even now, the numbers are very, very high for people who are excited about the prospect of trying this new product. Even before Madison Avenue, it worked its will with them. So I think absolutely.
And it’s worth recognizing that right now, plant-based meat is at about a quarter of 1% of the meat market. Last year, sales of plant-based meat were around $500 million in the United States. Sales of animal-based meat were $200 billion so it’s literally a quarter of 1%, which is within the margin of error of non-existence. We probably have all had veggie burgers in the last few days but statistically-speaking, maybe we didn’t and that’s a significant meat market. There are a dozen significant corporations with lots of employees working in this field. That’s a quarter of 1% of the meat market.
So if clean meat makes that, it’s a viable industry. But the worst, worst worth polling when you say something like, “Would you eat meat grown in a lab,” like you make it sound as bad as possible and you throw it into a survey with a bunch of other things about crazy futuristic stuff. Even then, the worst it ever, ever does is somewhere north of 20%, that’s $40 billion a year right now. That’s a lot, a lot of companies. So I’m super optimistic.
Natalie Cargill: What kind of pushback are you expecting from the meat industry?
Bruce Friedrich: I don’t think we’re going to get any pushback from the meat industry. And it was interesting because I was talking with the journalist Jacob Bunge from the Wall Street Journal when he was writing his introductory story on February 1st of 2016 about Memphis Meats. And he said, “What sort of pushback are you going to get from the meat industry,” and I said, “Our hope and our expectation is that the meat industry is not sold on industrial farms and slaughterhouses.” If you talk to people in the meat industry, they believe they are feeding the world high quality protein, they’re doing something noble. They’re not wed to farms, they’re not wed to slaughterhouses. They just want to feed the world and if there’s a more efficient way that has a similar profit motive, by and large, I think they’ll just simply shift over.
And when Jacob called Tyson Foods and Perdue and Hormel, he had to call a lot of people to get anybody to say anything even mildly negative. If you go look up that story, you can really read his surprise because everybody’s like, “Well, if this is what the consumers want.” And I was on the panel at a Future Food-Tech conference in San Francisco maybe six or eight months ago with Mary Kay James who runs Tyson New Ventures with Tyson Venture Capital Fund and she said, “We are absolutely looking at clean meat,” which she called it clean meat, “as one of the things that we want to invest in.” And she said, “For us, it’s all about choice. We will provide the meat that consumers want.” Well, price, taste, convenience. When clean meat is price and taste competitive, Tyson, Perdue, Hormel, everybody just moves in that direction.
Robert Wiblin: Hampton Creek Foods has been making plant-based egg products and mayonnaise, and I thought that they had been attacked by the animal agriculture industry to some degree. Can you tell us about that and why you think that’s not going to happen with cultured meat?
Bruce Friedrich: Yeah. The American Egg Board … Unilever rolled over a little bit first. That was an initially competitive product and even there, out of that, Unilever introduced a completely plant-based mayonnaise. They introduced and they actually had one before and now they have another one. So I think that was heat of the battle, competitor versus competitor, and I don’t think that had to do with the fact that Hampton Creek was plant-based. I think that had to do with the fact that Hampton Creek was directly stealing shelf space in a really big way from their products and that would’ve happened regardless of whether it was egg-based or not egg-based. So that was more internecine company v company, and it happened to be incidentally that Hampton Creek was plant-based.
And you see, Unilever were moving in the direction of more plant-based ingredients. I think we’re going to see that with the meat industry as well. But it’s certainly true that if Memphis Meats suddenly becomes incredibly successful and they’re selling their meat against Perdue and Hormel and everybody else at the same time, then Perdue and Hormel and everybody else are putting more R&D resources into clean meat. They will also, as they do go against one another, they’ll go against anybody who’s making a competing product.
Natalie Cargill: So if I ask you to imagine it five or ten years from now and I tell you actually none of this worked out, clean meat didn’t take off, what would be your first thought as to why that was?
Bruce Friedrich: Well, my hope is for why that was that plant-based meat was so widely successful. We sat down with Pat Brown from Impossible Foods the other day and he said, “Our goal is at 2035, 100% of meat is plant-based meat.” When you talk with Ethan Brown, no relation, interesting that they have the same last name, from Beyond Meat, and he talks about wanting to be the next great American meat company. If that’s why, I’m thrilled.
At The Good Food Institute, our focus is markets and food technology and we are bullish on plant-based meat and we are bullish on clean meat. But if one or the other of them fails because the … We have been saying that our goal is by 2050, if X is plant-based meat and Y is clean meat, by 2050, we want X plus Y to equal 100. And we really don’t care which, you know, it can be 100 and 0, it can be 50 and 50, we want X plus Y to equal 100. So you talk with Pat Brown and he wants X to be plant-based meat and that it’s a hundred. We’re thrilled with that. I don’t think anybody in the clean meat sector really cares very much either. They’re also happy with our equation. Pat will not be happy if X plus Y equals 100 in 2050. He wants that by 2035. We’re on board with that.
Natalie Cargill: What if for some reason, plant-based meat and cultured meat, just neither of them took off? What would be your first thought as to why that was?
Bruce Friedrich: Because everybody went vegan.
Natalie Cargill: Okay.
Robert Wiblin: You’re quite an optimist.
Bruce Friedrich: There was a massive groundswell like multiple billionaires, so Mark Zuckerberg, Li Ka-shing, Bill Gates, Marc Benioff. All of these guys got together and said speciesism is the great moral evil of our time and we’re going to put some resources into putting Peter Singer in front of everybody in the world and he’s going to explain to people why eating chickens is no different from eating dogs and cats. And there’s a massive groundswell and everybody reads Michael Pollan and says, “Yes, I’m going to eat beans and grains and fruits and vegetables.”
Robert Wiblin: You have the absolute certainty of an entrepreneur and an activist. Maybe that’s what you need to drive yourself to do something that no one else has done before.
Natalie Cargill: So what are the main hurdles that you’re facing as a company right now? Is it in terms of being able to find the right staff or meet fundraising needs or is it something else?
Bruce Friedrich: People ask this pretty regularly and we’ve been pretty flabbergasted by the amount of support we’ve encountered and by the quality of the people who are willing to work for what we can afford to pay. So we pay nonprofit salaries and if you look at the our team page, if you go to GFI.org and in the top navigation, you’ll see our team and you click on it. And you look at the woman who we just hired for general counsel who worked for five years in the general counsel’s office at the SEC and for the last five years was the general counsel for a major HFAC trade union. You look at the woman who we hired to be our policy director who was a nutrition director at the Center for Science and the Public Interest previously. The quality of the people who are taking huge salary cuts to come work for us, it’s been phenomenal.
Our hope and expectation is that this will continue and get even better, but we’ve been really deeply gratified and honored by the amount of support we’re getting from the EA community and others for this theory of change and our strategic plan and our focus on KPIs and quarterly goals and aligning everything. So really, we’ve met mostly with just positive after positive after positive. There is limited time to do all of the stuff that we want to do. Yeah, I wish there were 48 hours in a day instead of 24 hours in a day but really, it’s just been then a phenomenal ride and it just keeps getting better and better.
Natalie Cargill: Okay. So it seems like it’s not staff. Are you’re saying in that case, more funds would be able to get more hours out of the day? Will you be opening up new positions?
Bruce Friedrich: So we started February 1st of 2016, we launched, we had three people. In June, we staffed up to eight people. At the end of the year, we had 10 people. By the end of August, we’ll be 23 or 24. By the end of the year, we’ll be 35 to 38 and certainly … So the way that we do budgeting is we spend in one year however much we raised the year before. So our expectation is at the end of 2017, we’ll have about 10 months operating in the bank and we’ll have a budget for 2018 of about $4 million and we’ll have 38 staff which will spend that $4 million. That’s basically the budget.
And yes, with more resources, we can hire more people and we can do more things. Our plan is to grow about 20% per year. We do have a strategic vision and a plan that could spend exponentially more money than we have raised and we’re certainly looking even for multimillion dollar grants. So at this point, all of the money we’ve gotten has been from philanthropists or foundations that are based in animal protection opposition to industrialized animal agriculture. So we’ve got no government money, no corporate money. It’s just all been individuals or foundations that are tied to couples or individuals that are focused on that.
We believe there’s tremendous opportunity to get resources into this space, either to nonprofits or to the research and development that we think needs to be funded really from foundations and entities that are focused on climate change or food security or global health, the range of issues that are made better by moving away from industrialized animal agriculture. And our expectation is that we will be focusing a lot on those areas as well.
One of the things that we would like to start working on in 2018 is setting up a plant-based meat research center and a clean meat research center at universities. We’ve already talked to a couple of foundations that are very excited about putting millions of dollars into that. So we have a soft commitment. If we can find the right university for plant-based meat, our expectation is that we can make that a hard commitment as we get into the discussions. So lots of exciting stuff happening and so far, we’re mostly meeting with yes. It’s really not a lot of no and it’s really just a matter of we definitely do need to hire all of the staff to execute on all of the plans that we have. But even once we’ve done that, we have plans for hundreds of staff, not 38 staff.
Robert Wiblin: So hopefully, there’s some people who’ve listened to the first half of this podcast and are thinking I would be interested in spending my career working on developing meat alternatives or clean meat. And I want to really push in and dive deep on what concretely can they do? Should they go study? Who should they be meeting? What conferences should they be attending? What places should they work early in their career? And what should they do later in their career or what should they aim to do once they’ve gained some skills? So starting out, what should people study if they’re an undergraduate or in their early 20s if this is something that they’re interested in doing with their career long term?
Bruce Friedrich: Well, the two things that we need most, we want to create market sectors where there are basically not market sectors. So the thing that both the plant-based meat and that the clean meat market sectors need is CEOs. So my strong suggestion is that people go to the best undergraduate school you can get into, even if it means that you’re going significantly into debt, and then go into the best MBA program that you can get into even if it means you’re going to go significantly into debt.
I have a lot of conversations with people who are offered full school scholarships to tier 2 law schools or tier 2 business schools, and I think that is always the wrong decision for short term gain. We make the decision not to go into debt and I just absolutely guarantee that that is the wrong decision. You can get into Harvard or Stanford or MIT or Yale. No matter how much debt you’re going to go into, go. That will get you the credentials and also the education that you need to be successful. So we need people who get the very high level MBAs and then come out and start these companies as CEOs or join these companies. A really good career trajectory is to go to a top undergraduate school and then go work for a consulting firm like McKinsey or Boston Group or Bain for four or five years and then go to Stanford or Harvard Business School and then come out and found or join one of these companies.
We also need CTOs, we need the scientists. So bioengineering is a really good option for both plant-based meat and for clean meat. Plant biology is a phenomenal option for plant-based meat. But really at the end of the day, those are probably the two things for people who really want to be pioneering in these fields and there are many years to go. There’s a lot of opportunity to be pioneering in both of these fields. Oddly enough, somewhat counterintuitively, there’s probably more opportunity to be pioneering in plant-based meat than in clean meat.
One of the things that we’ve been really surprised by when we started diving into the science a year and a half ago, our expectation because clean meat seems a little bit more science fiction than plant-based meat and we’re familiar with plant-based meat. Our expectation was that there was going to be a lot more scientific uncertainty in clean meat. It’s been the opposite of that. We learn stuff on almost a weekly basis about the science of plant-based meat that we didn’t know we didn’t know, whereas pretty much everything that we expected has basically been what proves to be so in clean meat. So tremendous amount of work to be done in plant biology that has not been done.
One of the things about clean meat is that this is basically taking the techniques of therapeutics, of regenerative medicine, and applying it to food. And there are billions of dollars in regenerative medicine and lots and lots of scientists in all aspects of it. But with plant-based meat, you’re basically creating an industry where there is no industry, which is a remarkable revelation of sorts. So up until five years ago, it was just soy and wheat and then Ethan Brown came along and introduced peas. But there is the same work that’s been done with wheat and soy and peas to be done with at least dozens and maybe more additional proteins. So lots and lots of exciting stuff that could happen in plant biology.
And then from there, all of these companies are going to need really smart, committed, hardworking people across the spectrum. But if you want to be pioneering, do the work that will make you a successful CEO founder or do the work that will allow you to pioneer the science and there will be jobs and exciting stuff to do in these realms for a really long time.
Robert Wiblin: How can people build a professional network and dip their toes in the water in this field early on in their careers and figure out if it’s a good fit for them?
Bruce Friedrich: So that is going to depend. I guess somebody who really doesn’t know whether they want to do science or entrepreneurship, I suppose, could develop the networks parallel tracking. But my hunch is that for most people that are listening, if they’re thinking about entrepreneurship or they’re thinking about science, they know at the very least which of those they want. Everybody who’s involved is super excited to talk with really smart, thoughtful people who might get involved. It is an incredible community of people who are working in the startup space focused on both plant-based meat and clean meat. So the people who are most thoughtful, the people who are pioneers, the people who are just starting these companies are like crazy accessible.
So if you’re interested in going into science, all of the scientists who are focused on this are basically immediately available to you. If you’re interested in entrepreneurship, most of the people who are pioneering these companies are available to you. So anybody who’s seriously thinking about this stuff, I would be delighted to put them in touch with people who will probably talk their ears off trying to convince them that this is a phenomenal career path. It really is a way that you can save the world. You can do an almost unbelievable amount of good in the world and also do very well for yourself, and you’ll be in something that is insanely stimulating intellectually. So self-actualization, stimulating intellectually, lots of money to be made. Hard to imagine a better career path, in my opinion.
Robert Wiblin: So on that topic, something that can really advance your career once you already have some idea of what you’re doing is to find a mentor or sponsor and potentially even a PhD supervisor who can really bring you up to speed or bring you up to the cutting edge. Are they any people you would like to name here who people could potentially get in touch with themselves or ask you for introductions for?
Bruce Friedrich: So one of the things that our scientists are working on right now, so we are hoping in the next year to start working with universities on the idea of plant-based meat research centers and clean meat research centers. So we’re diving into who are the plant biologists who are best poised to answer some of the protein development research questions that we have, who are the people whose labs could be pretty easily redirected in this direction or some portion of them could be put in this direction if the funding were there. We’re doing something much the same with clean meat and we will be basically putting together a white paper.
They’re mainly universities, probably not the labs themselves but we’re hiring an academic research adviser until we have that person. We have somebody who is our scientific foundations liaison. And they would be happy to talk with anybody who is scientifically minded who wants to look for mentors because yes, if you’re interested in doing clean meat or plant-based meat and you’re looking at plant biology or you’re looking at bio-engineering, there aren’t clean meat researchers at the moment. There aren’t clean meat programs but there are therapeutics programs where they can point in the right direction. You’re going to want to find a mentor before you apply to that graduate school and we would be thrilled to work with people who are interested in moving in that direction.
Robert Wiblin: I’ll see if we can put up a link to that white paper with the names of those universities and perhaps some of those people in the notes associated with the blog post. It seemed like you described two broad paths. One was to go into management and entrepreneurship and the other was to the scientific bioengineering research.
And I’ve personally coached some people who were curious about using their career work on clean meat but they were concerned that if they specialized a lot, if they did a PhD in this particular area early on in their career, they were narrowing their options a lot. So some of them weren’t willing to dedicate to say, “I’m going to spend my whole career working on clean meat because I’m still in my early 20s and I’m not sure that that’s the right call, and so I want to keep all my options open.” Is it true that going and doing a bioengineering PhD limits your options a lot and potentially means that you could be stranded with skills that you wish you haven’t developed later on in your career?
Bruce Friedrich: I can’t imagine. So two of our scientists gave a poster presentation at a therapeutics conference in San Diego earlier in the year, and they actually won second prize out of 74 posters at a therapeutics conference. So obviously, 73 of the posters had to do with therapeutics and ours had to do with the application of the various technologies of therapeutics to food which was pretty effing awesome, I have to say.
And it is just the case that whether you’re talking about cell immortalization and cell lines and the application of CRISPR to cell production technologies or you’re talking about the nutrient baths and the growth mediums that are going to be applied or you’re talking about the scaffolds or you’re talking about the bioreactors, all of that has vast cross-applicability. And if what you’re focused on is solving the problems that need to be solved for clean meat to reach commercialization at reasonable price points, in the same way that anything that you’re doing in therapeutics is going to have cross-applicability to food, the stuff that you would be doing to try to develop clean meat would have cross-applicability to therapeutics.
So one of our scientists, Liz Specht has just written a paper which we’re submitting for peer review. And one of the points that she makes in this paper is that clean meat technology on anybody who’s focused on getting the price points down will also revolutionize therapeutics. Suddenly, things like skin grafts become a lot less … Everything having to do with tissue engineering becomes a lot less expensive, not just for food but for therapeutics with the motivation to bring the price points down hasn’t really been there but certainly if you solve those problems, it’s the applicability is absolutely there.
So no, it’s the exact same technology. So if this is what your focus is and you just, for your graduate work, are focusing on food, people in therapeutics are still going to be happy to hire you if the clean meat thing doesn’t work out.
Robert Wiblin: What about people who study food science because they’re planning to work on plant-based meat substitutes? Does that narrow your skills and narrow your options a bit or are there also adjacent areas like medical research where you can apply those skills?
Bruce Friedrich: No. The thing that I was saying just a minute ago, I’d have to think about it more because I haven’t thought about the answer to that question as much, but my hunch is that the answer is not as good. The reason that plant-based meat is so nascent and the reason that we keep discovering things we had no idea about like as another example on even soy and wheat which are the primary ingredients in plant-based meat. The stuff in plant-based meat is a byproduct. Even soy and wheat have not been optimized for the capacity to turn them into plant-based meat because the market incentive is not really there.
But I think if you spend your career in PhD focused on optimizing proteins for plant-based meat, that is going to be an insanely marketable skill. But it’s probably only marketable in the realm of plant-based meat. I imagine a lot of food companies are going to want you because you will have information that literally nobody else in the world has. But the degree to which it’s cross-applicable beyond plant-based meat is not immediately obvious to me.
Robert Wiblin: So a lot of people, they finish with their undergraduate degree or they do their PhD and they struggle a little bit to get there, to get their foot in the door in a professional world. Are there any particular organizations where it’s particularly good to apply to work early on in your career before you’ve gained a whole lot of professional experience?
Bruce Friedrich: So if your focus is clean meat, really there are not limitless but if you’ve got a PhD in tissue engineering or PhD in an applicable variant bioengineering, there are borderline limitless jobs in regenerative medicine. And if you don’t go directly into one of the clean meat companies that’s coming on to the scene and I look at Memphis Meats, they’re about to be hiring four dozens of positions and they are desperate for crackerjack bioengineers. So if you want to work for Memphis Meats and you have a really strong application even if you are a fairly newly minted PhD, I think you have a pretty high chance of getting that job. That’s about to be true for … There are half a dozen other companies that will be racing their series A in the next year or two and there will probably be a bunch of companies behind that.
So I think for people coming out of grad school with PhDs in bioengineering, there are going to be a lot of jobs in clean meat directly. If that’s not the case, there are thousands and thousands and thousands of jobs in therapeutics. And if you go work in therapeutics for a couple of years and volunteer your time or continue to express an interest in clean meat and you’re in contact with the clean meat companies, you have a very high likelihood. This is an incredibly employable degree and capacity.
A lot harder if what you’re looking at is any other area, I imagine, because then there are lots and lots of undergrads who would want these jobs and probably lots and lots of general counsel applicants and finance directors applicants. All the other things that plant-based meat companies and clean meat companies want. There are going to be thousands and thousands and thousands of people who also want those jobs. So it probably be a lot harder to break in. But for the people who are actually going to do the science, I think you have a very high likelihood of getting that job if you’re particularly skilled and hardworking.
Robert Wiblin: So it sounded like your advice for people who just finished with an undergraduate degree is probably to go and get some really good professional experience in the corporate world or elsewhere and then apply to work at these companies later in your career once you can really kick ass?
Bruce Friedrich: Yeah, and I think that’s exactly right. I think the likelihood of getting a job at one of these companies is something other than a scientist fresh out of undergraduate. I know some people who have done it but I think it’s a pretty steep climb and those people were probably in the right place at the right time and were integrated into the community pretty seriously. I think even for people in that sort of a situation, it’s going to be a bit of a moon shot to go straight from undergrad into one of these companies.
But if you go work for a top consulting firm for a number of years or you go work for a food company, go work for ADM or General Mills or some big food company for a number of years. That’s going to be an extraordinarily valuable skill for all of this plan. The connections that you’re going to get are going to be extraordinarily valuable for these plant-based meat and these clean meat companies. So if you do that for four or five years, I think you will make yourself very, very marketable for these companies.
Robert Wiblin: So obviously, you support all of these companies. But are there any that you want to highlight as doing the very best work that someone would ideally aim to work for 10 or 20 or 30 years into their career once they’re really hitting that peak?
Bruce Friedrich: I think it remains to be seen a little bit. I am currently super excited about Memphis Meats. I’m super excited about Clara Foods and Perfect Day, really excited about MosaMeats. There are a couple companies in Israel and Europe that seem to be doing phenomenal work. I think that companies like Tofurky and Field Roast are going to get more and more innovative and more and more exciting. I think the landscape is just going to be very different in five years, even more different in 10 or 20 years.
I think anybody who is looking for work, you want to make sure that the company that you’re applying to work for is the right cultural fit. I would encourage everybody … I talked to an awful lot of people who have accepted jobs at various companies and it appears to me that they accepted the job on the basis of almost nothing other than enthusiasm, which strikes me as a really bad idea. We spend a lot of time thinking about what car we’re going to buy and we spend a lot of time thinking about where we’re going to live. We obviously spend a lot of time thinking about who it is that we’re going to date, well, maybe not. But at least who we’re going to marry. We spend an awful lot of time thinking about it.
And then people, both from the employer standpoint and from the employee standpoint, it’s like you submit a cover letter and a resume and you have a couple of conversations, and I find it flabbergasting that they are willing to offer you a job. And I find it’s equally flabbergasting, maybe even more so, that you’re willing to move across the country to go work there. I would definitely encourage people to go visit the company, talk to the CEO, talk to some of the other people that work there, ask what the working environment is like, ask if the mission alignment is there. Talk to people who know the company who aren’t in the company before you make a commitment. That’s hopefully, multiyear.
And I think doing that, attempting to predict what that’s going to look like and what the best companies are going to be in 5 or 10 or 20 years is just impossible. It’s going to radically different. And hopefully we’ll have X plus Y equals a hundred by then and I’ll be doing something else. But if I’m still doing this, I’m more than happy to have a conversation with anybody who’s thinking along those lines.
Natalie Cargill: So you just mentioned mission alignment and cultural fit. I was wondering across the spectrum of these organizations, how important, if at all, is animal advocacy and the focus on ending the suffering of animals in factory farms? Or is it really just about let’s get a great product out there that people can afford and that they’ll buy?
Bruce Friedrich: Yeah. I think most of the organizations that are working in this space have quite a few hardcore animal activists involved in the corporation or in the nonprofit organization. I’m not aware of any that actually have a proper litmus test. So anybody who’s willing to come and is the best person for their role, the company or the nonprofit, whether that’s Beyond Meat or GFI or Hampton Creek, we want the best person to be our director of science and technology and they want the best person to be their CFO.
But because of the nature of what it is, there are an awful lot of people who are mission aligned and that certainly infuses the culture at least to some degree. I think that’s probably going to be more true at GFI because we’re paying nonprofit salaries than it probably is at some of the companies which are paying competitive corporate salaries. But even paying competitive corporate salaries, I know an awful lot of people who are significant animal rights activist supporters at most, if not all of these companies.
Natalie Cargill: So if listeners who have listened to this and then are convinced they’d like to devote their career to clean meat and plant-based meats, do you actually have any vacancies at the moment or you’re aware of any vacancies in the wider field that people could apply for?
Bruce Friedrich: Yeah. Two things, the first is check our website GFI.org, the resources section. We attempt to keep up with the vacancies at the corporations. We also have a dozen openings at GFI. And then the second thing is if you’re absolutely committed and you’re passionate and you have the right skills, you should feel free to find the company that you’re most excited about. Maybe go intern there. Oftentimes an internship can be a path to employment. Or you can even just send the letter explaining to them why they need you. At some place like Memphis Meats where they’re in the process of hiring a whole bunch of people, if you can explain to them what you can do for them, maybe they will hire you.
At GFI, a couple of positions that I think listeners to this podcast might either be right for or know somebody who’s right for, we’re hiring an environmental scientist. And that person will be performing life cycle analyses and pulling together all of the best information on the health and environmental impacts of both industrialized animal agriculture but also what do the comparison products that we’re supporting, what are the LCAs for those products, and then representing that information to mission aligned venture capital funds and nonprofit organizations and foundations and the governments.
So our goal is to make the normative argument for clean meat and plant-based meat to get a much broader swath of support even outside of the animal protection community. And then we also have a research analyst position open which I think would probably be an awful lot of fun for some of the people who are listening. And this is somebody to help us make sure that the companies, when they’re marketing these products, are marketing them as effectively as possible.
So we’ve selected names for a couple of different companies and the way that we’ve done that, we sort of start with a brainstorming session. But then from the brainstorming session, we do a bunch of A/B testing to figure out which names consumers will be most excited about. We’re also doing a lot of consulting with startup companies on packaging. So things like I’m sitting in a meeting and I’m looking at the packaging and the package says vegan on the front. And I say there are at least four studies that indicate that by having vegan on the front of your package, you’re going to sell a lot less of this product. And the person says, “Well, we focus grouped it, people loved it, we shared it a bunch of people, they all love it.” I’m like, “Well, if you sell 50% less of it and everybody loves it, we’re 50% less effective for mission. Do we really care if lots of people think that red and black is pretty if you’re selling a lot less of it?” And maybe they would like to just as much without the word vegan on the front.
We want to be able to do a bunch of testing for the startups that we’re supporting as an incubator for the entire plant-based and clean meat space. We also want to look at things like the naturalistic fallacy. How do we ensure as clean meat comes to market that the messaging is right for it? And all kinds of testing like that. So those are two of the roughly dozen positions. You can see all of them on the GFI website, GFI.org/jobs. But those are two that are data driven that people who listen to this podcast might be excited about.
Robert Wiblin: Yeah. Let’s stick up a link to those vacancies. Sounds like we might have under discussed the value of doing marketing. If you’re someone who doesn’t want to become a tissue engineer, maybe just becoming a marketing expert and working in the corporate world and going up those skills could be one of the best ways that you could end up being really useful to this field in the future.
Bruce Friedrich: I think that’s true. This goes back to what I said earlier about if you come out of undergrad and you’re something other than a very few positions, there are going to be thousands and thousands and thousands of people who want to do that. And this goes back to the fairly basic concept of 80,000 hours, the vocational fungibility. You want to do something and it’s noble work but lots and lots of other people want to do it. And whoever takes that position who’s not you will be either a little bit better or a little bit worse than you, and it’s basically impossible to predict. Is that the best way for you to spend your 80,000 hours if lots and lots of other people will do it?
There are tons of smart marketers. So my hunch is that that’s probably not … What do I want to do as an undergrad or a graduate student? That’s probably not going to be as valuable as a lot of other things where if you don’t do it, nobody will or nobody is good as you.
Robert Wiblin: Yeah. I guess it would make sense to become a marketer either if you thought that you could be outstandingly better than the other applicants that these kinds of companies would receive or if you just weren’t getting many applications from marketers, but it sounds like that’s not the case. You’re not finding it that difficult or these companies aren’t finding it that difficult to find people who can do these general corporate roles.
Bruce Friedrich: Yeah. I think the companies have not yet recognized that there is a need. It is counterintuitive that if you say your product is healthy, you will sell less of it. It is counterintuitive when consumers say that they care about the environmental impacts of their products, that if you tout the environmental impact of your product, you will sell less of it. But once you point it out, there’s a fare bit of receptivity. Oh okay, that’s what it says. So maybe, if you’re a marketer who goes in and understands that and other marketers don’t and you were the one who brings it to the attention of the company, maybe there’s value in that. But I think that it’s one of those aha experiences where once you point it out, people get it and then they start testing for it.
Robert Wiblin: Is there a global clean meat or plant-based meat substitute conference that people could go to if they’re really into this?
Bruce Friedrich: There are multiple global clean meat conferences.
Robert Wiblin: Do you want to name a few of them?
Bruce Friedrich: Yes. There is one in Haifa that is put on by the Modern Agriculture Foundation. They had their first one in April and are planning on making it annual. There is one in Maastricht the Netherlands which is put on by Mark Post in Maastricht University. It’s usually in September or October. It’s in September this year and this will be the second annual. And then New Harvest puts one on last year. It was in San Francisco. This year, it’s in New York City in October. So that also appears to be September or October. So there are three of them. There is not yet a plant-based meat conference. We may be rectifying that in 2018, but it doesn’t exist yet.
Robert Wiblin: All right. So a final question, you’re obviously very enthusiast about this whole area. But what’s the worst part about your job or the worst part about working in a clean meat or plant-based foods?
Bruce Friedrich: One of the things I remember from the early 2008 Democratic debates was they were all asked to name a flaw and Joe Biden said he’s too honest and Hillary Clinton said she’s too hardworking. I can’t remember what other people said. And they got to Barack Obama and he was like, “Wow, I could’ve sworn you said flaw.” And for the record, his was that he never keep track of anything and if you give him a paper, he will lose it. He has one staff member and his task was doing nothing but making sure he doesn’t lose stuff.
What’s the hardest thing? That’s a little bit like in an interview, what’s your weakness. I’m a pretty optimistic person generally, and this job has been beyond expectation. I have pretty high expectations for it. The job has crushed my expectations in a positive way. There aren’t enough hours in a day. That’s what I was talking about earlier. There’s such an amazing amount of awesome stuff to do. I’ve had so many fantastic conversations at this conference.
We had lunch with Tom Kalil who works for Eric and Wendy Schmidt, and he had a bunch of awesome ideas for things that we can do with foundations that I desperately want to execute and it’s going to take us at least a few months to execute them. You brought up the fact that we need to produce our white paper with the economic analysis, and we’ve just been so busy meeting with VCs and others that it’s going to be at least a couple months before we have that out.
Right before this, I had a really fantastic conversation about some of the stuff that we want to do with business schools, and it has me thinking about how we outreach to business schools in a whole new way and I want it to happen yesterday. It’s going to take certainly three months or more to really get that going in a big way. So it’s like the amount of amazing opportunity and the fact that we can’t do it all yesterday, and I want to do it all yesterday and it’s going to take some time.
Robert Wiblin: Would you like to give a final call to arms to people to encourage them to go out and take action based on what they’ve heard?
Bruce Friedrich: It really is the case that when you think about climate change which is an existential threat and you think about the possibility of antibiotics not working anymore, like you really want to scare punching China and the end of antibiotics. The stuff they are pumping into pigs and the capacity for that to create just global devastation, global pandemic or punch in bird flu and start reading about bird flu. The number of things, for people who are EA oriented and think about existential threat, this isn’t just like short term climate change, short term animal protection, short term clean meat, the bacteria. This is existential threat.
This is billions of people either dying or billions of people leading just really miserable lives as a result of what’s happening with factory farming. And these are two solutions that have the capacity to just create revolution in a whole bunch of different ways. The clean meat industry doesn’t exist yet. The plant-based industry all but doesn’t exist yet. This is the opportunity to get in on less than the ground floor, if there can be less than a ground floor.
Robert Wiblin: The basement.
Bruce Friedrich: Yeah, the basement. Thank you. Sometimes people say, “Well, this is in its infancy.” It’s in its gestation. This is the couple making eyes at one another. It’s not even gestation. You have the capacity to retool your career to do something truly globally transformative getting involved in or starting one of these companies. And if not you, who? If not now, when?
Robert Wiblin: Our guest today has been Bruce Friedrich. Thanks for coming on the 80,000 Hours podcast, Bruce.
Bruce Friedrich: Yeah. Thanks, Robert. Thanks, Natalie. I really enjoyed it.
Robert Wiblin: Thanks for joining, talk to you next week!