Israel announces infrastructure for alternative protein development

The Israel Innovation Authority established infrastructure for the fermentation of microorganisms for nutrients instead of animal-based products.

 Trays of Mush Foods' mycelium-based alternative protein ready for grilling and rapid consumption (photo credit: MUSH FOODS)
Trays of Mush Foods' mycelium-based alternative protein ready for grilling and rapid consumption
(photo credit: MUSH FOODS)

Alternative proteins are foods produced from plants or animal cells, or by way of fermentation. These innovative products are designed to taste the same as or better than conventional animal products while costing the same or less.

Compared to conventionally produced proteins, alternative proteins require fewer inputs such as land and water and generate far fewer harmful effects such as greenhouse gas emissions and pollution.

Some of these products are available to consumers today, including numerous plant-based and fermentation-derived options. Others, such as cultivated meats, are in the process of being developed for widespread and low-cost consumption.

Maintaining Israel’s global leadership in the field of alternative proteins

As part of the Israel national operational plan led by the Israel Innovation Authority (IIA) to maintain and expand the strength of its developmental ecosystem in the field of alternative proteins, it has announced a new RFP (request for proposal – an open request for bids to complete a new project proposed by the company or other organization that issues it) for the establishment of infrastructures for precision fermentation of microorganisms to develop alternative proteins.  

RFPs are meant to open up competition and encourage a variety of alternative proposals that might be considered by a project’s planners.

 Dror Bin, CEO of the Israel Innovation Authority  (credit: ISRAEL INNOVATION AUTHORITY) Dror Bin, CEO of the Israel Innovation Authority (credit: ISRAEL INNOVATION AUTHORITY)
Alternative proteins offer a better way to feed the world. Around the world, meat consumption is the highest it has ever been, with global meat production projected to double by 2050. By making meat from plants and cultivating meat from cells, meat production can be modernized in ways that massively reduce the environmental impacts of our food system, feed more people with fewer resources, avoid contributing to the growing threat of antibiotic resistance and free up land and ocean ecosystems for biodiversity restoration and recovery.

Fermentation technology in general and precision fermentation (uses microbial hosts as “cell factories” for producing specific functional ingredients) are an important building block in this field, both as a means to manufacture proteins and other nutrients for the food industry, the main method for manufacturing dedicated and vital nutrients for cultured proteins and components to enrich plant-based meat and dairy alternatives.  

In 2021 alone, worldwide investment in fermentation technologies amounted to $1.69 billion, a 285% increase over 2020. By comparison, between 2013 and 2021, the total invested in this field amounted to $2.81 billion. Fermentation technology is an important building block in alternative proteins field both on its own for manufacturing proteins and other nutrients for the food industry and as the main method for manufacturing designated and vital nutrients in the field of cultured proteins and components to enrich plant-based meat and dairy alternatives.  
Fermentation infrastructures will allow upscaling in volume along with technical-economic viability experiments for the first time in Israel and the creation of larger batches to allow testing of products among potential customers. Creating R&D infrastructures of this type in Israel will allow many projects to continue the necessary research and development here, and in the future, to establish local manufacturing plants. It will also assist in obtaining regulatory food certifications for the nutrients manufactured using fermentation technologies, said IIA CEO Dror Bin. 
“Israel has marked the foodtech industry, which could yield 55,000 high-paying jobs to the economy by the year 2030, as an R&D priority. The IIA has supported the foodtech industry over the past decade with over NIS 230 million in grants, $140 million of which has been in the field of alternative proteins. Notably, about 90% of this support has been allocated since the beginning of 2020 – further testimony to the growth of this ecosystem in Israel. We hope that this infrastructure for precision fermentation of microorganisms for food purposes will help maintain the strength of the Israeli ecosystem and accelerate development of startups and companies working toward scale-up solutions in this field,” he said. 
The alternative protein sector has grown significantly in recent years and is expected to achieve high growth rates in the years to come. Environmental and climate impacts of increased demand for animal-based foods and industrial agriculture as part of the expected population growth, alongside a concern for food production security are accelerating the development of technologies and products in this field. 

In response to this need, there has been an increase in the field of alternative proteins and in the field of non-protein nutrients, using synthetic biology methods which make use of substitute microorganisms as manufacturing systems (food coloring, fats with animal-fat structure, enzymes for food manufacturing, flavorings and more).  

Alternative proteins can be divided into four main categories: plant- and protein-based meat and dairy alternatives (such as pea protein); cell-cultured meat and dairy alternatives (the IIA recently funded the largest consortium of its type to streamline the manufacturing process of cultured meat); animal- and plant-based proteins and components manufactured by microorganisms for which this infrastructure is designed; and protein and components derived from insects as an alternative food source (a month ago the IIA announced the funding of a black soldier fly consortium to promote such technology).   
The IIA was transferred from the Economics Ministry to the Innovation, Science and Technology Ministry by the previous government. There have been disagreements on the issue of regulation between the IIA and the Health Ministry’s Food Service. It is working to promote all these technologies to maintain and promote Israeli industry at the forefront of this global sector. From among the four categories of alternative proteins, fermentation technology has the highest market growth potential and the greatest ability for multiple companies to take advantage of shared R&D facilities, Bin noted. 

Fermentation manufacturing methods can be divided into three subcategories based on their technological intensity: 

Traditional fermentation – fermentation of animal- and plant-based protein to alter flavor, texture or nutritional value (as in beer, yogurt, wine, soy sauce and more). 

The Good Food Institute Israel (GFI)  has been involved in defining the needs for this governmental bid, working closely with the Israeli Innovation Authority.

“This call for proposals is extremely important and will help solve one of the biggest barriers in the field of foodtech in Israel – the lack of local scale-up infrastructure in place," explained GFI vice president of strategy and policy Alla Voldman.

"Israel ranks second in the world in investments in companies in the field of precision fermentation for alternative proteins, but in recent years many companies have been compelled to invest millions of dollars in establishing infrastructure, or carry out their development abroad. We hope that the government’s support on the matter will allow young Israeli fermentation companies to use their resources more effectively. Now the ball is in the hands of fermentation operators and companies to get involved in establishing the infrastructure, this is a tremendous opportunity for them to take part in the future of food from the very start.”

Microorganism fermentation to create biomass – taking advantage of the rapid growth rate of microorganisms to create large mass which itself is used as a nutrient or a protein. 

Precision fermentation – genetic substitution of microorganisms for the creation of animal-based protein to create alternatives that are similar to animal-based products (egg yolks, milk, etc.) and/or manufacturing specific nutrients for the food industry (food coloring, animal-based fats, enzymes, unique sugars and the like).