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21 Mar 2024

Jeff Bezos pledges $60 million to alternative-meat research

Jeff Bezos pledges $60 million to alternative-meat research

Analysts have been suggesting for months that the “plant-based bubble” may have burst. But a new infusion of capital may quell that speculation.

Jeff Bezos’ philanthropic organization will donate $60 million to improve and scale meat alternatives, in order to help slow the rate of climate change, deforestation, and biodiversity loss.

The donation will finance the establishment of a number of university research centers over the next five years, which will be known as Bezos Centers for Sustainable Protein.

The initiative was announced yesterday at the Aspen Ideas Climate event in Miami Beach by Lauren Sánchez, vice chair of the Bezos Earth Fund and Bezos’ fiancée. The Amazon founder launched the nonprofit in 2020 to help combat climate change and preserve natural resources.

press release noted that the funding would apply to innovation on all kinds of alternative proteins, including plant-based, cultivated (“lab-grown”), and fermented meats. Particularly, the goal will be to target the “major barriers” that the infant industry faces: lowering costs, increasing quality, and boosting nutritional benefits.

These issues have plagued the budding sector lately. Only two cultivated-meat companies have gained FDA approval to sell in the U.S., and the products are still a long way from entering the mainstream market affordably.

For those items already on shelves, plant-based beef costs twice as much as traditional beef, and four times that of chicken. Cultivated meat costs about $17 per pound to produce, which could spike to $40 at the grocery store. Price concerns have dried up investment, which dropped 78% last year.

Many plant-based companies have also arguably focused too heavily on “junk food” offerings like burgers, many of which are packed with sodium and equal in saturated fat to animal versions. U.S. sales of alternative meat dipped by 20% last summer compared to 2022.

The Bezos Earth Fund was established with a $10 billion commitment, to be dispersed as grants in different areas, from electrifying school buses to preventing forest fires in the Amazon. This will be the second commitment based around food security.

As well as improving alternative meats, the nonprofit pledged to make traditional animal farming more sustainable, by innovating to reduce methane emissions, manage pastures better to save forests, and make major crops more climate resilient. Agriculture is a considerable cause of climate change due to carbon emissions, and drives massive deforestation and habitat loss.

But there’s a growing political backlash that might be trickier to tackle, with bills banning or criminalizing alternative meat emerging in several U.S. statehouses. Sánchez made the announcement in Florida, where Bezos now lives; it would be the first state to criminalize cultivated meat production if Ron DeSantis signs a newly passed bill into law.

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