Valio has teamed up with VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland to undertake research on food industry raw materials that could be produced using cellular agriculture.
The research project will focus on developing a technique for producing proteins with the help of biotechnology.
In cellular agriculture, food is produced in bioreactors with microbes.
Finnish firm Valio is familiar with the fermentation process, as it is used in the production of fermented milk products and cheese.
Half of the world’s fertile land is currently used for agriculture. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) predicts that there is only 60 years of fertile topsoil left if we do not make current farming practices more sustainable and efficient.
The UN has also projected that the world population is expected to reach 9.8 billion by 2050, based on 2015 population prospects.
Globally, the demand for food will double, and it must be produced with half the current emissions, Valio noted.
Harri Kallioinen, senior vice president, research and development at Valio, said, "We also need new food production methods alongside sustainable, traditional agriculture. A key question is how to produce more food for the globally growing population without needing more arable land.
"Alongside traditional food production, cellular agriculture is one of the possible solutions to feeding the growing population. We are currently studying what kinds of food industry raw materials could be produced with microbes."
Valio And VTT Collaboration
The new joint project by Valio and VTT will use a technique that directs producer organisms, e.g. a fungus, to produce the desired protein.
To survive in the fermentation tank, the fungus uses sugar and other nutrients, and secretes protein into the growth medium.
"Cellular agriculture makes it possible to produce a variety of raw materials and end products from purified proteins or fats to multidimensional cell structures," research manager Emilia Nordlund from VTT noted.
Kallioinen added, "Animal-based products like milk or meat are complex. They are made up of many different compounds and structures that are very difficult to fully replicate in their entirety. Cellular agriculture is best suited for the production of individual raw material components.
"That’s why we see that both have a place in future food production. To meet the increasing food needs of the growing population, all possible food production methods are needed and they must become more sustainable. There are also certain cellular agriculture challenges that we have to solve."
Cellular agriculture has a long history and products made using the technique have been around for a long time, Valio noted.
“Examples include Quorn, which has been sold in stores for decades and produced from fungus biomass, microalgae sold as nutritional supplements, and enzymes widely used in food products – like lactase used in making lactose-free milk products and rennet used to precipitate milk protein into cheese. Pekilo, an animal feed developed in Finland back in the 1970s, was also cellular agricultural product,” added Valio technology manager Niina Valkonen.