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Israeli start up Forsea raises $2.5m for lab-grown seafood

© Shutterstock / yuda chenPost Thumbnail

Forsea has raised $2.5 million in a seed funding round led by Target Global, which will be used to expand its production of lab-cultivated eel meat. 

  • Forsea will use its latest investment to further its research and development of lab-grown seafood products. 
  • Around 90% of global fish stocks are categorised as being fully exploited, overexploited or depleted, but seafood demand continues to rise. 
  • Although Forsea’s successful funding round is a promising step, there will still be several challenges to overcome if lab-cultured meat is to reach commercial scale.

The start up’s seed round was led by German venture capital firm Target Global. Its investment will be used towards Forsea’s research and development on the lab cultivation of eel meat and other fish species. 

Forsea plans to improve and expand on its existing technology, increase production yields and lower process costs. Its pilot plant is expected to launch in 2023, enabling the firm to commercially launch its first products and to create preliminary designs for a large-scale production system. 

According to Shmuel Chafets, executive chairman and founder of Target Global: “Forsea is poised to make a dramatic impact on the seafood ecosystem. Its pillar platform solves a bottleneck in the cultivated meat industry by creating affordable, ethical, cultivated seafood products that can replace vulnerable fish species.” 

“Our investors express their trust in our game-changing technology for producing seafood with a minimal footprint on the environment. The patented organoid technology allows us to contribute to a safe and more resilient food system consumers demand”, said Forsea chief executive and co-founder Roee Nir. 

Overfishing threatens global ecosystems 

Over the past 50 years, global production of fish and other seafood products has quadrupled. This trend has been driven by population growth, increased international demand for seafood and the rapid development of fishing technologies such as vast factory vessels, GPS systems or nets that can be plunged to greater depths than was previously possible. 

The expansion of commercial fishery is devastating marine ecosystems around the world. The Young People’s Trust for the Environment estimates that almost 90% of the world’s fish populations can be categorised as fully exploited, overexploited or depleted. 

Further research suggests that around 40% of fish stocks in the North-East Atlantic and up to 87% of those in the Mediterranean and Black Seas are subject to unsustainable fishing practices.  

Overfishing causes profound changes in the structure and function of marine ecosystems. Fishing can damage marine habitats and disturb the population balance between different species, to give just a couple of examples. These changes compromise the oceans’ ability to deliver crucial ecosystem services, such as carbon sequestration and nitrogen cycling. They can also impact societies more directly by disrupting local food supplies or industries such as tourism. 

The increasing impacts of climate change are, in turn, adding further pressure to fish stocks. In the past thirty years, marine heatwaves have increased by more than 50%. This trend is expected to continue, and is likely to result in significant losses of marine species and habitats. Estimates indicate that the impacts of climate change could see available seafood stocks declining by up to 40% before 2050 in certain tropical areas. 

Seafood is “essential in the fight against hunger and poverty” 

With the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) describing seafood products as being “essential in the fight against hunger and poverty”, there is a dire need to resolve the threat to global fish stocks. According to the FAO’s 2020 report, around 10% of the global population relies on fisheries for their livelihood. Fish consumption also provides over 3.3 billion people with at least 20% of their average protein intake. 

Seafood contains substantial amounts of protein, as well as fatty acids and micronutrients including vitamin D, vitamin B12, selenium, iodine, iron, zinc and phosphorous. With growing concerns around food security, such nutritious options will be needed in order to prevent a global crisis of malnutrition. 

Forsea’s lab-cultivated solution 

Lab-cultivated meat production involves extracting a small number of cells from real animals, before placing them in bioreactors that provide them with the ideal conditions to continuously grow and reproduce. In doing so, it avoids the overconsumption of common resources such as declining fish stocks. 

Forsea has developed an ‘organoid’ process for producing its seafood products, which bypasses the scaffolding stage that is typically involved in cell culturing. According to the company, this shortcut has made its process cheaper and simpler that conventional methods. 

As cultivated meats are grown from real animal cells, they maintain the taste, nutrition and texture of the conventional products they replace. This means that Forsea’s products would provide the same nutritional benefits as conventional seafood products, while also overcoming the taste barrier that has typically prevented people from changing their consumption behaviours. 

The start-up’s solution could, therefore, offer a valuable solution to the environmentally unfriendly practice of overfishing. It has initially focused on producing eel meat, aiming to capture a share of the growing European and Asian markets for sushi and kabayaki.  

Can lab-grown seafood reach commercial scale? 

If successful, Forsea will reduce the demand for endangered eel species while accommodating the tastes of its customers. The transition to lab-grown meats, however, will require a substantial shift in consumer thinking, as well as significant levels of investment. 

Even though consumer demand for protein alternatives is increasing, lab-cultured meats are struggling to get to market. This is primarily due to high costs in comparison with conventional meat, the need for technological development and the current lack of regulation.

Although plant-based products that do not require cell culturing are becoming more popular, their difference in taste and high cost in comparison to their animal-derived counterparts remains a limit to wider consumer adoption. Concerns around food security and climate change, however, have recently prompted record-breaking levels of investment in the space. With this surge in support, it is now expected that plant-based meat and dairy alternatives could reach price parity with animal products between 2023 and 2031. 

There is a clear need for more sustainable alternatives to animal products. As consumers and investors grow more aware of the challenges faced in today’s world, the demand for new solutions will continue to rise. Whether lab-cultured meats will be able to reach commercial scale, however, remains a key question.

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