An oft-cited study from UCLA estimated that the impact on the environment from raising meat for pet food is substantial. Yet pets often eat meat that humans don’t want, making pet food part of the argument for sustainable consumption by humans. But that can’t be the only solution. Nor can we ask our carnivorous cats to go vegan. Shannon Falconer, CEO and co-founder of pet food maker Because Animals, has an additional solution: cultured meats. First up, mouse treats for cats. It’s like paleo for pets.
Kate MacArthur: What is Because Animals?
Shannon Falconer: Because Animals is a pet food company that is making cultured meat for pets. Cultured meat is meat. It is not a meat alternative. It is meat that is grown in an alternative way.
MacArthur: Is it made in vats, like beer?
Falconer: We grow it inside of a bioreactor the same way one would grow probiotics or nutritional yeast or beer. We’re using quite an old process to produce a new product.
MacArthur: For people who have heard of Beyond Meat or Impossible Foods, how does this compare?
Falconer: They’re using plant components to mimic or recapitulate what meat tastes like in the sensory experience. We are actually making meat using animal cells. We take a biopsy from an animal, and then we grow those cells in a bioreactor.
MacArthur: How do you explain this to people who think of cultured meats as not natural?
Falconer: We’re trying to demystify it and be as transparent as possible because it does stand to be an incredibly safe and nutritious ingredient, far more than what is currently on offer. Once people begin to understand what it is, a lot of that anxiety will go away.
Falconer: We chose mouse because mouse is the ancestral diet of the cat. In the wild, cats eat mice, they eat small birds and insects. Things like chicken, beef, seafood, those ingredients are typically in commercial pet food. But they are also the main allergens for our cats and dogs. We saw this as an opportunity to actually grow the protein source that’s most evolutionarily appropriate for our pets. So that’s why we’re focused on mouse for cats, and next is rabbit for dogs.
MacArthur: Was the inspiration for this product environmental or was it more about making food that’s better for pets?
Falconer: It’s both. We focus specifically on pets because humans are the main consumers of animal-based products and therefore the main species that drives the environmental impact of meat-based foods. Cats, of course, are carnivores in the wild, whereas humans are omnivores.
MacArthur: Then how does this make pet food better for the environment?
Falconer: The argument has been made that pet food is a sustainable industry because it’s using those leftovers from the human food supply chain. Think about the fact that humans don’t want to eat 50% of an animal. Without pet food as an outlet, animal agriculture as we know it today simply could not exist.
MacArthur: What else is on the horizon for pet food or food for domesticated animals?
Falconer: Being cognizant of the reality that people have been feeding their pets these other meats for decades now, we are looking at eventually also making a cultured salmon and a cultured duck. So, protein sources that are a little more familiar to people, too.
MacArthur: If the environment continues to get worse, how would that change what cats and dogs need in their diet?
Falconer: One of the benefits to growing cultured meat is it is tunable. In theory, we can make products that are almost personalized because they can have nutritional profiles that are more calorie-dense, less calorie-dense and have specific nutrients that are in excess or that are minimal, depending on what the dietary needs are, or if there are medical conditions for a given pet.
MacArthur: Is that something consumers want?
Falconer: That is not something that we're focused on right now. But the point is that our technology could be leveraged in a way that does allow for this personalization.
MacArthur: In your mind, how will the pet food industry look in 2040 or 2050?
Falconer: I would love to see all pet food be made with cultured meat as opposed to slaughtered meat.