Meet the company making mouse meat cat treats without harming animals

Because Animals CEO Shannon Falconer

Courtesy: Because, animals

Shannon Falconer, CEO of the pet food start-up “Weil Animals”, hasn’t eaten meat for years. After all, cats are carnivores and dogs are omnivores in the wild.

Falconer and Weil Animals co-founder Joshua Errett (also a seasoned animal rescuer) have worked to create pet foods that meet the “diet of the ancestors” of cats and dogs, but that do not require the slaughter or rearing of animals in an industrial setting.

This week the start-up is bringing its Harmless Hunt Cultured Mouse Cat Treats, its first clean meat product, to SuperZoo, one of the largest trade shows in the pet food industry.

The treats are made from mouse tissue grown from stem cells in a food-grade bioreactor on vegan medium, explained Falconer. No mice were killed to make the treats, but scientists had to take cells from the ears of donor mice to begin. The process involved placing a mouse under mild anesthesia while its ear was pierced.

Two years later, the donor mice are doing fine, says Falconer. All three have adopted the Weil Animals employees and they live in a rather plush mouse house.

Joshua Errett, COO and Co-Founder of Weil Animals.

Courtesy: Because, animals.

Most of the companies in the emerging clean meat industry focus on making food for humans.

These include: the Dutch start-up Mosa Meat, which caused a sensation in 2013 with the world’s first cultivated beef burger; the Israeli company Aleph Farms, which makes “slaughter-free steaks”; Upside Foods in California, which makes cultured chicken and duck; and Bluu Biosciences, developers of cultured seafood from fish cells, among many others.

As CNBC previously reported, the alternative meat market – including clean meat – is projected to reach $ 140 billion over the next decade and comprise about 10% of the world’s $ 1.4 trillion meat industry.

Clean meat is not without its critics. No one has yet managed to bring laboratory-grown meat production to levels that hold promise for feeding the world.

In addition, Oxford University researchers have stated, “It is not yet clear what the emissions footprints of real cultured production systems will look like.” At the same time, advances in animal technology promise to make the traditional meat industry healthier and more sustainable.

Still, venture investors have seized the opportunity to disrupt traditional industries and hopefully reduce the negative environmental impact of global meat consumption. According to a PitchBook analysis, 66 clean meat startups have already raised $ 1.77 billion in venture capital from 382 different investors.

Because Animals, for its part, has so far raised $ 6.7 million from investors such as SOSV, Draper Associates and Orkla. SOSV is one of the most active investors in this area, with at least 10 clean meat companies in its portfolio (as of July 2021).

A general partner of SOSV, Bill Liao, said that “Because Animals” could be a faster path to mass production than other clean meat companies.

For one, because Animals doesn’t make tiny mouse meat steaks – it just needs to make enough cultured mouse tissue to give its pet food a flavor profile that cats and dogs will love. (The company’s new goodies contain other ingredients like cultured yeast and pumpkin, Falconer told CNBC.)

He added, “One of the greatest challenges in cellular agriculture is sustainable, low-cost media.” Because Animals developed just that – and it’s vegan.

Many other clean meat companies have relied on fetal bovine serum, obtained from the blood of animals, to aid in the growth and reproduction of animal cells for their products. However, FBS is very expensive and its use annoys animal and climate activists.

Because Animals developed its own cruelty-free formulation, and Liao believes the technology will be widely applicable, possibly beyond pet food.

Falconer says it is focusing on the growing pet food category for now.

The CEO chose sustainable pet food while working as a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University’s School of Medicine, she recalls.

Microbiologist Shannon Falconer founded “Weil Animals”. to bring cellular agriculture to the pet food industry.

Courtesy: Because, animals.

There were laboratory animals all around her, and she did not have the expertise to eliminate the scientists’ need for them. But with her advanced degrees in microbiology and biochemistry, she knew how to cultivate different types of microorganisms and cells in a laboratory.

Falconer saw the potential to use her scientific skills to reduce or remove animals from the food supply chain. But she also felt that there were many options to choose from in her own diet, both in restaurants and in grocery stores. She’s mostly a lentil and tofu person, she says, but is a huge fan of Impossible Foods’ plant-based meat substitutes.

“We can always use more,” said the CEO, “and I’m happy when there are more alternatives. But there was absolutely nothing for my cats and next to nothing for dogs.”

Falconer initially wondered if the pet food market was big enough to address and what environmental difference it could make to shift pet food meat production to cultured ingredients.

According to the latest available EPA data, livestock farming in the US was responsible for the equivalent of 260.54 tons of carbon dioxide emissions in 2019.

The amount of animal feed consumed pales in comparison to human meat consumption, Falconer noted. But pet food is made from leftovers from the global meat supply chain, including tons of meat that couldn’t be sold for human consumption and meat from fallen animals that die in transit, choke on farms, or suffer from disease.

“All of the meat is diverted into pet food,” Falconer said. “And it enables animal husbandry to stay afloat without major changes.

Today, the pet food market is growing, driven by the increased adoption of dogs and cats by millennials and a greater awareness of the health benefits of pet nutrition. According to Grand View Research, the pet food market is expected to grow to around $ 90.4 billion by 2025.

If Weil Animals has the effect Falconer is looking for, a significant portion of it will soon shift to clean meat and other sustainable products. The company’s next challenge is to scale to a larger commercial kitchen while developing new, clean pet meat foods.

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