3 Aug 2023
Shannon Falconer Unveils BioCraft's Cultured Chicken Line in an Exclusive Interview with Petzcareindia Founder and Editor, Sunil Dcosta - Pioneering Ethical and Sustainable Pet Nutrition.
1. Can you tell us about the inception of BioCraft Pet Nutrition and what inspired you to venture into the cultured meat industry for pet food?
Shannon Falconer: I grew up with three dogs and three cats and developed a strong connection with animals at a young age. As a result, I stopped eating meat in my early teen years for animal welfare reasons and began volunteering with animal rescue organizations. I’m also a scientist and have a Ph.D. in chemical biology. It was during my postdoctoral studies at Stanford University that I decided to leave my academic career to apply my scientific training to take animals out of the supply chain. Unlike humans, who are omnivores and do not require meat from a nutritional perspective, cats are obligate carnivores, who require essential nutrients found in meat. This is why I chose to make cultured meat specifically for pet food: the only truly environmentally sustainable and humane option for feeding our pets the diets they require is cultured meat.
2. How does the process of developing cultured meat differ from traditional pet food manufacturing methods, and what unique challenges did your team face during this development?
Shannon Falconer: All meat–whether it comes from an animal or a bioreactor–is simply a collection of cells that produce specific nutrients. In the case of traditional meat production, an animal is fed foods that contain essential vitamins, minerals, and amino acids. The animal then grows and is eventually slaughtered for its meat.
In the case of cultured meat, we start with a collection of animal cells that we grow inside a bioreactor. The cells inside the bioreactor are fed the same essential vitamins, minerals, and amino acids as are fed to a growing animal. Those cells in the bioreactor grow and are eventually harvested as meat. Aside from not slaughtering an animal, the process of producing traditional versus cultured meat is very similar!
In terms of challenges, BioCraft has faced many, which have ranged from scientific hurdles to securing capital. In this way, we’re a typical start-up.
3. Cultured meat for pets is a relatively new concept. How has the market responded to your products so far, and what potential benefits do you see for pets and their owners?
Shannon Falconer: We have seen tremendous inbound interest from both individual consumers and large multinational pet food manufacturers. People are slowly but increasingly becoming aware of just how significant the environmental pawprint of pet food is. In addition to cultured meat being environmentally sustainable, this ingredient also stands to benefit cats and dogs. For instance, our cultured meat is grown in an environment that is free of fecal-borne pathogenic bacteria, such as Listeria, E. coli, and Salmonella, which are common contaminants in pet food.
4. The development of a chicken cell line for both cat and dog food is a significant achievement. Could you explain the research and development process involved in making this possible?
Shannon Falconer: The derivation and characterization of our chicken cell line was the work of our in-house veterinarian and Ph.D. scientist, Rupal Tewari. Unlike some companies, which are using immortalized cell lines to grow their cultured meat, BioCraft’s cultured meat is grown using pluripotent stem cells, which are the only cells found in anybody that naturally grow indefinitely. By deriving cells from chicken eggs and growing them under nutrient-rich conditions, Dr. Tewari was able to specifically isolate pluripotent stem cells, which we’re now using to grow our cultured meat.
5. Sustainability is a growing concern for consumers. How does BioCraft Pet Nutrition contribute to reducing the environmental impact of pet food production?
Shannon Falconer: It contributes greatly, not just in terms of pet food but all food production. For example, in the U.S., more than a quarter of the environmental impact of the entire animal agriculture industry is directly attributed to the foods that people feed their cats and dogs.
6. What kind of regulatory hurdles have you faced in bringing cultured meat pet food to the market, and how are you working to ensure compliance and safety?
Shannon Falconer: There are advantages and disadvantages to being a first-mover, and as BioCraft is currently the pioneer in creating cultured meat for pet food, we are also responsible for pioneering its regulatory route. However, we are working with regulatory experts and are in close communication with regulatory officials to ensure that our cultured meat ingredient meets–if not exceeds–health and safety standards.
7. As pet owners become increasingly conscious of their pets' health, what nutritional advantages does BioCraft Pet Nutrition's cultured meat provide over conventional pet food products?
Shannon Falconer: In addition to cultured meat being a safer option for our pets (see response to question 3), it can also offer more personalized nutritional profiles for pets with specific dietary needs. Because we grow our cultured meat in a tunable way, we have the opportunity to customize the nutrient composition of our meat to provide cats and dogs at different life stages with a nutritional profile that is most appropriate for their specific needs.
8. The concept of cultured meat for pets might be new to some pet owners. How do you plan to educate and engage the target audience in creating awareness about this innovative approach to pet nutrition?
Shannon Falconer: As an ingredient supplier of cultured meat, our priority is to educate pet food manufacturers about the health, safety, and environmental benefits of our ingredients. And as evidenced by the interest that we’re seeing from these manufacturers, we know that we’re on the right track with our messaging.
9. Pet owners often consider the taste preferences and allergies of their pets. How does BioCraft Pet Nutrition ensure that its cultured meat products cater to the varied needs of different pets?
Shannon Falconer: This is the beauty of cultured meat! Because the process is tunable, we believe there are many opportunities to meet a variety of dietary and health requirements and to deliver specific nutritional benefits, optimized for different life stages, or to be hypoallergenic.
10. Can you share any insights into future product development at BioCraft Pet Nutrition? Are there plans to expand beyond chicken-based products?
Shannon Falconer: The first meat we developed was from mouse cells since the mouse is the ancestral diet of cats. It is an evolutionarily-appropriate diet and has the advantage of being naturally hypoallergenic for cats. Plus, our taste-tester cats loved it. However, we understand that some pet parents prefer more conventional protein sources, which is why we developed a chicken cell line and will have a range of meats as we grow our capacity.
11. As the CEO of BioCraft Pet Nutrition, what has been the most rewarding aspect of your journey so far, and what do you envision for the future of the company and the cultured pet food industry as a whole?
Shannon Falconer: I started this company with a single objective: to reduce the use of animals in the food supply chain. Although it may seem as though the mission of BioCraft will only affect meat for the pet food supply chain, in reality, we are targeting the entire animal agriculture industry. The vast majority of pet food is made from parts of the animal that humans don’t want to eat combined with “deadstock”–which are animals that die during transit or from disease, and don’t ever make it to slaughter (and therefore can’t be sold for human consumption). This otherwise unsellable meat is then sold to pet food, and in the absence of this extremely lucrative waste stream, the animal agriculture industry as we know it simply couldn’t exist.
The potential that BioCraft might one day contribute to the demise of this catastrophic industry is what keeps me going through the dark days of start-up life. And realizing this potential is the only future vision I have for this company.