Plant-Based Meat

A 64-year old among the youth of Silicon Valley

The 64-year old founder of Impossible Foods Inc.

The founder of plant-based meat company Impossible Foods Inc., Prof. Pat Brown, is a 64-year old who stands out among that many young founders of billion-dollar start-ups in Silicon Valley, California, US.

What he lacks in youth, he makes it up for an ambition. Instead of just changing the world, Prof. Brown intends to save it. Recently a deal announced between Impossible Foods and Burger King is a step toward achieving his goal of reducing the carbon emissions generated by the meat industry.

An article by Emiko Terazono and Tim Bradshaw in Financial Times on 6th, April, 2019 traced the achievements of Prof. Brown.

Prof. Brown is known in the scientific community for his research in genetics and microbiology, including defining the mechanism by which the HIV virus infects cells. After taking a sabbatical from the role as a professor at Stanford University in 2010, he wanted to find a global issue he could make a real difference. He concluded that finding the causes of cancer or Alzheimer’s were secondary to the environmental damage caused by eating meat and dairy.

“Nothing comes remotely close to the catastrophic environmental impact of the livestock industry,” he said. From greenhouse gases emission to the negative effects on land and water, he is convinced that humans are racing to ecological disaster unless meat and dairy consumption is cut or eliminated. He realized that instead of preaching a shift in eating habits, or lobbying to change regulations, offering consumers tasty alternatives proteins was how to trigger change.

A marathon-running vegan, he has not eaten meat for five decades or dairy for 15 years. “If you can figure out what makes meat delicious — you save the planet from our environmental catastrophe,” said Prof Brown.

With the backing of Silicon Valley investor Khosla Ventures, he launched Impossible Foods Inc. in 2011, putting together a team that included molecular biochemists, chemists and data scientists to produce plant-based meat from a molecular level.

Mr. Samir Kaul, a founding partner at Khosla Ventures with a background in genomics who looked up to Prof. Brown in his days as a scientist, said it was an easy decision to back him.

“He has a history of taking on a big challenge and, frankly, winning.”

Impossible Foods discovered that heme, an iron-containing protein molecule present in plants and animals, was the ingredient giving meat its aroma, taste and texture. Produced through genetic engineering and yeast fermentation, it is also behind the juices that make the Impossible Foods’s burger bleed.

In 2016, it introduced a burger made of wheat and potato  protein, coconut oil, and heme. It looked, tasted, smelt and sizzled like a real meat burger.

Even before Impossible Foods launched a product, Prof. Brown turned down an offer with hundreds of millions of dollars for the company from Google in 2015.”For Prof. Brown possibly, his reason to do this is not to get rich. For Pat, it’s to make the world a better place, “ said Mr Kaul.

This year the group has introduced a new burger after swapping wheat for soyabeans and using less salt. After signing its distribution deal with Burger King, it is fundraising to increase the capacity of its production facility in Oakland, California, US.

Along with rival Beyond Meat, which is preparing to float its shares in the US, Impossible Foods has sought to lure meat-eating consumers who want to reduce intake of meat or looking for tasty options, casting the net wide than vegans.

Prof. Brown’s pronouncement that he is not bothered about exits have been perceived as arrogance by some venture capitalists. But he has raised more than US$475 million since 20111 and drawn plenty of backers, including Bill Gates and others. Bruce Friedrich, who launched the Good Food Institute, a US not-for-profit that promotes alternative proteins and advice start-ups, calls Prof. Brown “a prophet” and praises his “infectious optimism”.

It has not all been plain sailing. Impossible Foods reduce its salt content of its burger after campaigners criticised it for having too much. It had to wait several years before the US FDA last year acknowledged that heme was “generally recognized as safe”. It defended the testing of its products on rats after criticisms from animal rights group Peta.

Impossible Foods produces soy leghemoglobin by genetically modifying yeast and using fermentation. The ingredient is key because it carries heme, an iron-rich molecule found in real meat. The heme in the Impossible Burger is atom-for-atom identical to the heme found in meat, fish, plants and other foods.

If the Impossible burger is successful, Prof. Brown hopes to eliminate animal meat in the food chain by 2035, helping the earth restores its vegetation cover.

“Half of the earth’s land has been significantly and destructively disrupted by animal agriculture, “ he said. “So the replacement of that industry with a tiny fraction of the land and environmental impact and resulting recovery of the ecosystems will be visible from outer space, ” he said.