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Thursday, February 22, 2024

UC Davis Integrative Center for Alternative Meats and Proteins launches on Jan. 17

The center is a collaboration between multiple departments and institutions that will lead innovation and research in sustainably producing alternative proteins

 

By MADISON PETERS — campus@theaggie.org

 

On Jan. 17, UC Davis launched the Integrative Center for Alternative Meats and Proteins (iCAMP), a new program designated to accelerate the research and commercialization of cultivated meat as well as plant and fungal-based proteins.

According to iCAMP’s Executive Director, Kara Leong, the center is a project that grew out of the established Cultivated Meat Consortium on campus. It is also the first of its kind to be both federally and state-funded.

The center will not only be dedicated to researching alternative proteins but will also delve into the fields of consumer acceptance, product development, commercialization, entrepreneurship and even policy and law.

Leong spoke on the successes of the center thus far.

“Already one company, [Optimized Foods], has spun out of a graduate student doing research in one of the labs,” Leong said. “There are a lot of potential innovation startups that could spin out of this space.” 

iCAMP’s Education and Workforce Lead as well as Director of the Biotechnology Program on campus, Denneal Jamison-McClung, Ph.D., explained that all of the products being developed rely on bioprocess engineering and the fermentation of cells.

“[Cultivated meat] is when you take a biopsy or sample of animal cells from an animal and you grow more of those cells to recreate what a slice of meat from an animal the traditional way would be like: in terms of how it tastes, how it feels in your mouth [and] what it looks like,” Jamison-McClung said.

The creation of plant and fungal-based proteins is a process that has been researched and developed more than cell-based meat, according to Jamison-McClung. For cultivated meat to reach the consumer level, it will need adequate funding and scaling, which will be a much longer process.

The center is a collaboration between multiple campus departments, student organizations and businesses who are striving to fulfill their mission statement of “sustainably filling all global needs by 2050,” according to the iCAMP website

The Davis Alternative Protein Project is just one on-campus organization that works broadly with the Cultivated Meat Consortium and iCAMP. 

Nick Johnson, President of the Davis Alternative Protein Project, said that the group works with their partner, the Good Foods Institute, to raise awareness around alternative proteins and create a community of students who are interested in working in the field.

Johnson spoke on the significance of the alternative protein industry.

“The way that [the agricultural system] is currently operating is not sustainable to feed a growing population,” Johnson said. “The way that a lot of the alternative protein industry has grown is really to supplement conventional animal agriculture techniques with alternative sources that can provide nutrition in a sustainable way.”

Many other sectors on campus, such as UC Davis Dining Services, are working with iCAMP through the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science to create more plant-forward protein alternatives. 

According to the Director of Dining Services, Kraig Brady, many recipes that the dining commons employ have tested the extent to which plant-based foods will be accepted on a consumer level. One example of this is found in dining commons’ beef burgers, where 30% of the patty is composed of mushrooms in order to decrease the amount of meat consumption on campus.

Brady said that the dining commons can provide valuable information about consumer feedback on alternative proteins.

“iCAMP now has an opportunity as they move forward with developing alternative meat proteins to have a captive audience [that can] try some new products,” Brady said. “So the dining commons could be an outlet for some of these companies that are involved in iCAMP to put forth some of their products in front of our students and actually get some real feedback from the students [and] our culinary team.”

Leong said that in the future, there could be iCAMP cafes on campus aimed at testing student responses to alternative proteins.

Brady commented on this possibility by saying that it’s more likely that iCAMP menus will be featured in pre-existing dining service spaces.

  Vice President of the Davis Alternative Protein Project Jules Madigan commented on the hurdles of incorporating alternative meat into mainstream diets and said that she hopes consumers will look past their initial biases.

“Technology and science [are] usually [things] people don’t want in their food,” Madigan said. “But it’s something that is already in their food all the time. We’re using science and technology to solve some really pressing environmental and animal welfare and nutrition issues within our food system right now. I think what history has shown us is that adding more science to food ultimately makes it safer. And we can potentially make foods that people love to eat in a way that can ensure accessibility to them for the foreseeable future, given that traditional agriculture is really at risk within the current climate conditions of our environment.”

Leong furthered on the trajectory of iCAMP and its impact on the future of alternative foods.

“We’ve never seen so much student interest in a particular area,” Leong said. “It’s more than science; it’s food and it’s culture. Food is integral to our art, our being and our enjoyment and just who we are as humans. Seeing so much excitement and interest [has] so much promise.”

 

Written by: Madison Peters — campus@theaggie.org

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