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Prince’s cell-grown meat investment gets US approval

Cell-grown meat Prince Khaled Supplied
KBW Ventures founder Prince Khaled bin Alwaleed invests in cell-grown meat firm Upside Foods
  • Saudi prince backs cell-cultivated meat company
  • Upside Foods can sell products in the States
  • Cell-based chicken and beef sometimes known as ‘no-kill’ meat

Saudi Arabia’s “vegan prince” is set to get a prime cut of the profits from his investment in a startup producing meat made from cultivated animal cells.

The US government this month approved the sale of Upside Foods products to American consumers.

“Sometimes when you talk to an entrepreneur, you know,” Prince Khaled bin Alwaleed bin Talal Al Saud told AGBI of his first meeting in New York with the startup’s founder Uma Valeti in 2017.

From vegan ice cream to plant-based pet food, the Saudi prince, who is founder of KBW Ventures in Dubai, has a history of backing startups that aim to disrupt the status quo.

Cell-cultivated meat involves the manufacturing of chicken or beef without the need to slaughter live animals.

It is often referred to as lab-grown, or “no-kill” meat by the mainstream media.

Upside Foods, which started out as Memphis Meats, raised $17 million in its first round of fundraising in 2017.

Backers included Bill Gates, Richard Branson, Jack Welch, Kimbal Musk – the South African chef, entrepreneur and brother of Elon – and food conglomerate Cargill, one of the largest companies in the US.

“We knew that it was founded with purpose and we knew that the science would advance quickly with the right resources,” Prince Khalid said.

Cell-grown meatUpside Foods
Cell-grown chicken does not involve animal slaughter

Rebranded as Upside Foods last year, the Californian company had a major breakthrough this month when its cell-grown beef and chicken meat was approved for sale by both the US Food and Drug Administration and the US Department of Agriculture.

Prince Khaled admitted the 2017 investment, and his additional funding in 2020, were considered by some to be high risk and based on “moonshot” science – an approach of choosing a seemingly insurmountable problem and proposing a radical solution using disruptive technology.

But he was confident it would gain the approvals needed.

“We knew it could be done, we knew it would be done, and we had a general idea of when,” Prince Khaled said. “This success has come incredibly quickly.”

When asked to estimate how much his Upside Foods investments had increased in value, the prince would only comment that the company was “doing well”.

Upside Foods has raised nearly $600 million in funding from 41 investors since it was founded in 2015. estimates the global cell-grown meat sector will grow at an annual rate of 24.1 percent to be worth $2 billion by 2035.

Cell-grown meatUpside Foods
The global cell-cultivated meat sector is tipped to grow to be worth almost $2 billion by 2035

US President Joe Biden signed an executive order on advancing biotechnology and biomanufacturing in September last year.

The move was seen by many as the catalyst for this month’s approvals, but the cell-grown industry has powerful opposition.

The US Cattlemen’s Association (USCA), which represents 25,000 American producers, said it opposed the section in Biden’s order calling for the advancement of foods produced using cell-cultured technology. 

The USCA has for years objected to the use of the word “meat” for this type of product, even submitting a petition to the US Department of Agriculture.

However, Upside Foods said the new approvals included a review of its labelling, which authorities deemed to be truthful and not misleading.

While the prince could not comment directly on Upside Foods’ plans in the Gulf, the cell-grown sector has been embraced by the region.

Israeli startup Aleph Farms, which made headlines as the first company to unveil a cell-grown steak in 2018, announced in 2021 it had raised $105 million in a fundraising round led by a subsidiary of Abu Dhabi sovereign fund ADQ. 

The company launched its first product brand, Aleph Cuts, in April this year and has stated it aims to launch a manufacturing facility in the UAE.

The issue of cell-grown meat was addressed as part of a two-day conference held in October by the Dubai Future Foundation.

“We’re going to have 10 billion people on the planet by 2050 and if we continue as we are now, we’re going to need 70 percent more arable land,” Dr. Jamie Metzl, technology and healthcare futurist, told Dubai delegates. “We do not have that amount.

“Wouldn’t it be better instead of growing the animal, to grow the meat?

“The first cell-cultured burger cost about $330,000 to produce – you can now get one for about $10.”

Naim Maadad, founder of Gates Hospitality and a board member of UAE Restaurant Group, said cell-based meat would be accepted by consumers in the Emirates, but he believes it needs to be properly regulated.

“We need to have regulators to step in and define the parameters before the actual product becomes a commercially marketed product fueled by wrong initiatives and practices,” Maadad said.

Prince Khaled said Upside Foods’ potential in terms of technology is “limitless” and he has not ruled out further investment in the company.

“I will support Uma and his team in any way I can, and if that means an additional investment, then that’s how I’ll support my portfolio company,” he said.