The Good Food Institute: Deep Dive

This report was last updated in November 2022.


Contents


  1. Executive Summary

  2. What is the Good Food Institute?

  3. What does GFI do?

  4. How could GFI reduce greenhouse gases?

  5. GFI theory of change

  6. Examining the assumptions behind the GFI theory of change

  7. What is GFI’s cost-effectiveness?

  8. Is there room for more funding?

  9. Are there major co-benefits or adverse effects?

  10. Key uncertainties and open questions

  11. Bottom line / next steps

  12. Appendix A: APs’ room for more funding

  13. Appendix B: Co-benefits and adverse effects


Executive Summary


The Good Food Institute (GFI) promotes plant- and cell-based alternatives to conventional livestock products through its science, policy, and corporate engagement workstreams. Our take is that its focus on helping alternative proteins achieve taste and price parity with conventional meat could decrease future greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by reducing livestock production, which plays an outsized role in food emissions.[1] We classify GFI as one of our top nonprofits in combating climate change based on its accomplishments, organizational strengths, strategic approach, and cost-effectiveness. However, because alternative protein (AP) production is still in its early stages, we are highly uncertain about the degree to which APs can reduce livestock consumption and related emissions. We will continue monitoring APs and their climate impact as research into this area develops.


We provide a descriptive overview of GFI’s activities, analyze its theory of change, assess its room for more funding, and describe a quantitative cost-effectiveness analysis model that evaluates the marginal impact of donating to GFI. We believe GFI’s work will likely reduce GHGs with the caveat that its theory of change holds major assumptions and research into APs’ climate impact remains in its early stages. We researched GFI by reading publicly available documents; speaking with staff; and discussing GFI’s work with multiple experts with divergent views on APs, food and agriculture, and animal welfare.[2]


What is the Good Food Institute?


The Good Food Institute (GFI) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that seeks to make plant-based, cultivated, and fermented alternative proteins (APs) competitive with conventional proteins in terms of price and taste.[3] GFI aims to transform consumption patterns by turning APs into a default choice.


GFI is headquartered in the US and has independent affiliate offices in the Asia Pacific region, Brazil, Europe, India, and Israel.[4][5] GFI said it selects its locations based on where research and development (R&D) receives the most government funding, where there is a robust research ecosystem, and/or where opportunities exist for substantial corporate engagement.[6] GFI launched in 2016.[7]


What does GFI do?


GFI has three focus areas: science, policy, and industry. GFI spends most of its funding on its science workstream, which includes regranting. Its policy workstream receives the second-most funding.[8] A description of its focus areas follows:


  • Science – GFI identifies research gaps, regrants funding, advocates for open-access research, and convenes scientists to advance R&D. GFI delivers catalytic grants that enable early data collection, which helps scientists apply for subsequent grants and de-risks research areas. Additionally, GFI provides scientific consultation to various government funding agencies. It also helps develop a talent pipeline for AP R&D by establishing university courses and providing guidance on establishing startups.

  • Policy – GFI’s policy activities include advocating for increased R&D funding for APs, fighting for fair label laws, and establishing a clear path to market for cultivated meat. It works closely with policy organizations on legislative work, such as strategizing on what demands to make and when to make them.

  • Industry – GFI’s corporate engagement includes supporting AP startups and building relationships with large agro-food companies and investors to encourage them to invest in AP products. Also, it conducts market research to develop reports and white papers, which it shares with industry stakeholders to support the AP sector as a whole.


How could GFI reduce greenhouse gases?


GFI theory of change


We estimate that livestock production is responsible for at least 53 percent of food-related emissions and note its climate impact is expected to increase as the world’s population grows and low-income countries become wealthier and consume more meat.[9] We think reducing livestock production could be an important lever for driving down emissions and freeing up some land for carbon sequestration.[10] In our Food Sector Emissions report, we explain that APs could be a promising intervention for lowering meat consumption. Namely, our take is that making APs equal to or better than conventional meat could make them the default choice for more consumers and nudge them towards a more climate-friendly diet.


The GFI theory of change focuses on making APs more competitive with conventional meat by supporting AP R&D, securing public funding for R&D, and ensuring APs have a path to market (Figure 1). These inputs are intended to improve the price and taste of APs.[11] Our take is that this approach could help displace some demand for conventional meat and eventually lead to reduced livestock production, impacting emissions from land use, crop production, manure and pasture management, ruminants (e.g. cattle), and fuel use. Combined, these outputs reduce or avoid GHG emissions.



Figure 1: GFI theory of change for reducing or avoiding GHG emissions.

We examine the evidence for how well GFI executes its inputs in the sections below.


Supporting AP R&D


GFI has awarded 82 grants since 2019 across 17 countries, totalling over $13M in open-access research support.[12] According to GFI, of its grantees who both received initial support and follow-on government funding, an initial $1.8M in support catalyzed $16.9M in subsequent government support.[13] Additionally, GFI’s Alt Protein Project has established student groups in 36 universities and its university presence continues to grow, supporting a talent pipeline for APs.[14] GFI’s grants and commissioned research are intended to democratize knowledge on APs, which may otherwise be private intellectual property.


According to GFI, it engaged in policy efforts, including lobbying, in 2021 and 2022 to encourage the establishment of an interagency working group that would coordinate and support AP R&D throughout the federal US government.[15] The US House Appropriations Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Subcommittee has subsequently called for such a group.[16] If passed in FY2023, this could streamline research and help establish APs as a US research priority.


Securing public funding for AP R&D


GFI’s advocacy may have helped increase public funding for AP R&D. One of its largest advocacy wins, which it shares with many other organizations, was in June 2021 when Horizon Europe, an EU funding program for research and innovation, allocated $27M to AP research.[17] As of September 2022, its most recent advocacy successes include $5M allocated to AP research by the California government and a joint $1.2M Alternative Protein Research Grant in partnership with the Israeli Ministries of Innovation and Agriculture.[18] GFI’s advocacy may also lead to additional funding and support from the US federal government, depending on the FY2023 appropriations bill’s outcome.[19]


GFI has good working relationships with partners across the executive and legislative branches, which probably increases the likelihood of its success. We also note that GFI’s former Chief of Staff now works as the Chief of Staff of the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Research, Education, and Economics mission area.[20]


Ensuring a path to market for APs


Policymakers in various countries have introduced bills restricting AP producers from labeling their products with meat and dairy terms, protecting the interests of livestock producers and potentially reducing APs’ competitiveness. GFI said its work at the legislative, executive, and judicial levels has helped defeat some of these label laws in the EU and US.[21]


Our impression is that GFI has also helped clarify cultivated meat’s pathway to market. For example, GFI said it advocated for USDA and the US Food and Drug Administration to regulate cultivated meat jointly.[22] Our understanding is that establishing a regulatory framework can help boost consumer confidence, while giving USDA authority over labeling could override state standards.[23] Also, GFI’s strategic support was acknowledged by JBS–the largest protein company in the world–when JBS announced its $100M commitment for cultivated meat.[24] In addition to spurring innovation, this commitment could expand cultivated meat production because JBS can produce and distribute more goods at-scale than smaller competitors.


Examining the assumptions behind the GFI theory of change


Below, we discuss and evaluate assumptions related to the GFI theory of change, meaning GFI’s mission of helping APs reach taste and cost parity with conventional meat and our take on how its mission could reduce emissions. For each of the assumptions, we rank whether we have low, medium, or high certainty about the assumption.[25] Importantly, a number of the stages of the theory of change are not amenable to easy measurement or quantification or are expected to occur in the future but have not occurred as of yet. For each assumption, we assess whether the best available evidence, primary or secondary, suggests whether the assumption will plausibly hold or not.


1. Directly substituting some APs for their conventional meat counterpart would substantially reduce GHG emissions (high certainty)


We believe AP substitution may reduce emissions by lowering methane emissions from ruminants, decreasing nitrous oxide emissions from chicken and pig manure, and curbing emissions from land use change. Indeed, the highest-emitting plant-based meat has a carbon footprint at least half that of beef, while the average footprint for plant-based meats is lower than the average for both chicken and pork (Figure 2).[26]



Figure 2: Emissions for meat and alternatives.[27]

However, there is uncertainty on whether cultivated meat production will increase or decrease warming. Namely, cultivated meat production is energy-intensive and if it is powered by dirty energy sources, it would lead to long-lived CO2 emissions and could compare unfavorably against ruminants’ short-lived methane emissions over the long-term.[28] We are optimistic about cultivated meat’s ability to reduce emissions because of its potential for freeing up land, but it will be important to decarbonize cultivated meat production to reduce its carbon impact.


Because AP production is still in its early stages, it is impossible to predict with certainty what its future production and GHG emissions will look like. However, it seems highly likely that investing in AP R&D will shift AP improvements and GHG reductions forward in time relative to the counterfactual. We will continue to monitor developments in AP production and will update our thinking with new information.


2. APs can become competitive with conventional meat in terms of taste, price, convenience, and health (medium certainty)


We believe it is highly unlikely that all consumers will perceive APs as perfect one-to-one substitutes for conventional meat. Instead, we believe APs can become similar enough that they will replace some meat consumption. For example, we are optimistic that APs’ taste and convenience will improve because companies are incentivized to boost these areas. We also believe APs’ price will go down as companies increase production and reach economies of scale. We are less certain about APs’ ability to compete with conventional meat in terms of nutrition. Namely, we have found it challenging to consider nutritional differences between plant-based meats and their analogues because of their different ingredients. For example, we are unsure whether plant-based meats can replicate conventional meat’s micronutrients and nutrient bioavailability, but we note plant-based meats often have fewer calories and less saturated fat than conventional meat and do not contain the harmful compounds found in some meats (e.g., nitrite and nitrate preservatives, antibiotics).[29] In contrast, our impression is that cultivated meat could be made as nutritious or more than conventional meat because it replicates the same ingredients. We note some concerns about the perception of APs’ taste and health, which we describe in “Key uncertainties and open questions.”


3. Improvements in APs will eventually dent the consumption of the most highly-emitting livestock products (high certainty)


Based on current consumer preferences, we do not think APs will substantially reduce GHGs over the next five years. Instead, we think people currently purchase APs to supplement other sources of protein. For example, one study found that purchasers of plant-based meat often bought ground beef as well.[30] This finding was consistent with another study where participants often substituted plant-based meat for white meat and fish but not red meat.[31] This current inability to dent beef consumption has implications for climate change because of beef’s large carbon footprint (see Figure 2).


Our take is that APs still have wide scope for improvement and that more R&D support increases the likelihood that APs shift diets and livestock production later in the future. For example, refrigerated plant-based meat is almost twice as expensive as conventional fresh meat and this high cost is despite early evidence that people prefer conventional meat’s taste over APs’.[32] 


4. Demand for APs will lower livestock production (high certainty)


Global meat consumption will likely increase in the future and it is unclear to us how much APs will affect this trajectory.[33] Our take is that increased AP production will likely lower livestock production because (1) market friction can make it hard and expensive to export meat around the world and (2) it is unlikely that an individual’s decreased meat consumption would cause an equivalent increase in meat consumption elsewhere. However, we have some concern that APs will not reduce demand for livestock products but will instead make demand for conventional meat more responsive to changes in price. If this is the case, people would purchase more conventional meat when it is cheap and less when it is expensive, and reducing livestock production at equilibrium would require additional measures (e.g., education and advocacy to reduce demand, regulation and policies to increase cost). Thus far, we are only familiar with one model that estimates the impact of plant-based meat on cattle production. Lusk et al. (2022) estimates every ten percent reduction in cost for plant-based ground beef alternatives decreases US cattle production by 0.15 percent. In turn, this reduces emissions by about one percent when including land-use change.[34] The study’s authors note this outcome is not static and that APs could have a greater impact in the future as they improve and if consumer preferences evolve. Ultimately, we believe there still needs to be more research given how little real-world data there is on how consumers substitute APs for conventional meat within the US and abroad.


5. Price and taste are important factors behind food choice (high certainty)


According to Rethink Priorities, the origins of price, taste, and convenience as the three most important factors for AP adoption have been somewhat unclear.[35] It is possible that emphasis on these factors could have been based on a misinterpretation of minimal evidence.[36] Indeed, food choice is complex and depends on various interacting cues, such as perceptions of the food and sociocultural factors.


If price, taste, and convenience are not essential factors behind people’s food choices, AP research focusing on those factors may be less impactful than expected.[37] However, experts we have spoken to have said these factors, in addition to health, are probably among the most important motivators. One funder of animal welfare causes said that increased availability, improved products, and better marketing have most likely driven changes in demand for APs. Our take is that solely focusing on price, taste, and convenience flattens the complexity of food preferences, but these factors are likely still important for reducing meat consumption.


6. AP-related legislation will continue to pass under a more conservative US government[38] (medium certainty)


Our impression is that APs receive somewhat more political support from the left than the right. We are cautiously optimistic that AP-related federal legislation will continue to pass after the 2022 midterm elections–which shifted some power from Democrats to Republicans–because AP-related bills have previously been introduced with bipartisan support.[39] Additionally, GFI engages with state-level and executive branch policymaking, which offer other avenues for getting AP policies passed.


We note there are opportunities for shoring up more political support for APs. For example, a joint report between GFI and the Breakthrough Institute describes policy support for AP R&D as an opportunity to “foster economic development and job growth in the face of growing international competition,” which could appeal to conservative members of Congress.[40] However, meat consumption is connected to the culture wars in the US and we believe political support for APs could become more polarized in the future.[41]


7. GFI is able to fulfill its mission as it grows its operations (high certainty)


GFI has grown substantially over the past few years, growing from a total revenue of about $8M in 2018 to a planned budget of $35M in 2023.[42] Rapid growth tends to be a risk factor for organizations, especially if the organization does not have the operations and resources to support it. Our understanding is that warning signs for unsustainable growth include decreased focus on strategy and lower quality work. We do not have evidence that GFI cannot sustain its current growth and we believe its increased number of wins has been commensurate with its growth.


What is GFI’s cost-effectiveness?


As a rough plausibility check, we developed a model to estimate the cost-effectiveness of GFI’s historical work on increasing funding for AP R&D (in terms of dollars per metric ton of CO2-equivalent reduced or avoided). The cost-effectiveness analysis (CEA) model estimates the effect that GFI’s existence from 2016 to 2022 is expected to have on emissions from 2022 onward absent any additional work from GFI after 2022. We use this outcome as a proxy for the cost-effectiveness of a 2022 donation to GFI. This CEA includes highly subjective guess parameters and should not be taken literally. In particular, we estimate the impact of GFI’s activities on changing the probability that a high-innovation scenario would occur instead of a low-innovation scenario and estimate what cultivated meat production may look like from 2020 to 2040. Overall, we guess GFI could plausibly be within the range of cost-effectiveness we would consider for a top recommendation.[43] We have low confidence in the ability of our CEA to estimate GFI’s general cost-effectiveness, but view it as a slight positive input into our overall assessment of GFI.[44] See below for a high-level explanation and the model itself for additional notes and citations.


  • Costs: We use GFI’s budget from 2016 to 2022.

  • Avoided GHGs: Our analysis relies on results from an existing model that focuses on finding the difference in emissions between low- and high-innovation AP scenarios.[45] We adjust our own model’s estimate for livestock production upward under the high-innovation scenario because we believe the original model’s estimates for cultivated meat production may have been too optimistic.[46] Also, because the original model’s low-innovation scenario assumes a case where R&D is only driven by market forces, we adjust this scenario’s livestock production downward because APs already receive public funding and our best guess is that this will continue to be true.[47] Using these new projections, we use available data to estimate a conversion factor between emissions and livestock production. We then use this factor to estimate the difference in emissions between the two scenarios based on our projections of livestock production.

  • Effectiveness: We estimate GFI changed the probability of AP R&D moving from low- to high-innovation by a small percentage between 0.1 and 1.5 percent. We assume a small percentage given the many players working in APs. We also assume GFI’s growing emphasis on international R&D would be as effective as its historical work and therefore did not adjust for the marginal donation going to international instead of US-based efforts. Next, we multiply this percentage by the difference in cumulative emissions between the two scenarios to calculate GFI’s expected value. We divide the expected value by GFI’s budget from 2016 to 2022 to estimate cost-effectiveness.

  • Results: Our best guess for GFI’s cost-effectiveness is $2.98 per metric ton of CO2-eq in expectation (range: $0.68 to $48). We also input our calculations into a Guesstimate model and found similar results. We have low confidence in the ability of our CEA to estimate GFI’s marginal cost-effectiveness (see “Key uncertainties and open questions”).


Is there room for more funding?


GFI’s goal for 2023 is to raise $35M.[48] It would use $30M for its different offices, split 50/50 between its US office and its affiliate offices, and $5M for regranting. As of October 2022, GFI has raised $15.1M for its general fund and $1.5M for its research grant program.[49]


GFI said it has substantial room to grow in its three programmatic areas and various offices. It plans to spend additional funding on scaling up its research, including its university programs, and expanding its corporate engagement. It also plans to expand geographically. If GFI reaches its fundraising goals, it would expand to South Korea and Japan. If its budget is somewhere between its current budget and its fundraising goals, it would prioritize expanding to Japan. If GFI does not raise enough funds for 2023, it said it would most likely spend the marginal dollar on science and policy efforts in Germany and/or the Netherlands.[50]


Notably, GFI receives funding from groups not focused on climate, such as those interested in animal welfare and reducing catastrophic risks. For example, the Open Philanthropy Project’s Farm Animal Welfare program granted GFI $10M for general support in 2021.[51] Additionally, GFI was recommended by Animal Charity Evaluators as a top animal welfare organization from 2016 to 2020.[52] The Waking Up Foundation is an example of a GFI funder primarily interested in avoiding catastrophic risk.[53]


Our impression is that GFI has received increased attention in recent years and it could potentially increase its successful fundraising over the next one to three years, in which case we are unsure whether it can continue absorbing additional funding after that point.[54]


For more information on APs’ room for more funding in general, please see Appendix A.


Are there major co-benefits or adverse effects?


We describe GFI’s potential co-benefits and adverse effects below. More information can be found in Appendix B.


Co-benefits


  • Improved farm animal welfare

  • Lowered health risks associated with livestock production

  • Lowered antibiotic resistance

  • Reduced water usage and improved water quality

  • Reduced land impacts and potential biodiversity gains

  • More resilient supply chain and increased food security


Adverse effects


  • Socioeconomic implications of shifting away from traditional livestock production 

  • Agri-food industry consolidation

  • Continued power disparities compared to interventions that focus on transformative change

  • Potential micronutrient deficiencies

  • Potential biodiversity loss


Key uncertainties and open questions


  • Uncertainty or open question: GFI’s influence on advancing the speed of innovation in the AP space

  • Description: Our guess parameters for GFI’s influence on AP innovation contain high uncertainty. These parameters are important in the model because they influence our overall cost-effectiveness estimates.

  • Our stance / actions taken: We will look for more evidence of GFI’s influence on R&D, as well as R&D’s impact on AP production. We will update our guess parameters as-needed.

  • Uncertainty or open question: The rate of technological diffusion

  • Description: The rates at which AP technology advances and diffuses are open questions. Crucially, cultivated meat faces steep techno-economic challenges, such as high capital and operating costs and barriers in bioreactor design.[55]

  • Our stance / actions taken: The model we use as a baseline for our CEA predicts price parity between cultivated livestock products and their analogues by the early 2030s. We believe this may be optimistic and address this by adjusting conventional livestock production upward under the high-innovation scenario.[56]

  • Uncertainty or open question: The carbon sequestration rate of freed-up land (e.g., former pasture and croplands)

  • Description: There will be some delay before people can restore land previously used for livestock production and before the land begins storing carbon. It is unknown how much of the freed-up land is usable for carbon sequestration, how much carbon can be stored in total, and how long carbon can be stored.

  • Our stance / actions taken: The baseline model assumes that carbon stock in a restored pasture or cropland is immediately converted to forestry and also makes reforestation and avoided deforestation equivalent. In reality, avoiding deforestation is more important for climate change given the time value of carbon and because reforested forests are rarely as carbon dense as existing forests. The model probably overestimates how quickly land can be restored.

  • Uncertainty or open question: Impact of APs on global livestock prices

  • Description: Lower meat consumption in high-income countries could potentially reduce global prices such that meat consumption increases in low- and middle-income countries. We think this dynamic seems plausible for countries such as Brazil, which has a large meat industry, exports a considerable amount of meat to the US, and has a growing economy.

  • Our stance / actions taken: To the best of our knowledge, there has been little research assessing this possibility. We will monitor this area and update our thinking as-needed.

  • Uncertainty or open question: Perception of APs and its impact on demand

  • Description: We believe APs have often been portrayed as less healthy, less natural, and more processed than conventional meat. We also think it is highly likely that players in the livestock industry will heighten that perception to reduce APs’ competitiveness. Additional factors that will impact APs’ competitiveness include cultural beliefs and values, which strongly influence consumer preferences, and regulatory hurdles. We believe these challenges are substantial and could stand in the way of increased AP consumption.

  • Our stance / actions taken: People we have spoken to who work in APs are familiar with these issues and there are ongoing efforts to increase AP acceptance. Negative perceptions of APs have been less of a concern for us because we are more interested in reducing meat consumption than eliminating it entirely.

  • Uncertainty or open question: Accuracy of baseline livestock production model

  • Description: Because the baseline model we use for our CEA did not include details on its approach, there is a lack of transparency in its assumptions and emissions projections.

  • Our stance / actions taken: Although we are unclear on the exact methodology, we looked into the model’s sources and compared its forecasts to others and think its model is reasonable.[57]


Bottom line / next steps


We classify GFI as one of our top recommendations to reduce climate change, and believe donations to GFI are within the range of the most cost-effective giving opportunities we have identified.


We believe GFI’s advocacy has helped secure tens of millions in public funding for APs and create an ecosystem of support around APs, accelerating improvements that could shift consumers to more climate-friendly diets. Though we generally view GFI as promising, research into the impacts of APs on climate is still in its early stages and the impact of APs on global livestock prices is uncertain. Other key uncertainties include GFI’s influence on advancing the speed of innovation in the AP space, the rate of technological diffusion, and how quickly restored land can sequester carbon. We plan to continue to assess these uncertainties, and believe we will be able to substantially improve our understanding of the severity and importance of these uncertainties as GFI executes its strategies in 2023.


Appendix A: APs’ room for more funding


Venture capital (VC) funding for APs reached around $880M in 2022’s first quarter. Although this amount of funding is high, it is below VC investment trends from 2021, which earned a record of $6B.[58] Indeed, experts we spoke to said AP R&D still requires philanthropic support for the following reasons:


  • Inefficient spending – Private sector spending tends to go towards overhead and duplicative research protected as private intellectual property. In contrast to VC funding, philanthropy can fund open-access research without a profit motive.

  • Risk protection if private sector spending dips – According to experts we spoke to, VC interest in plant-based meats may wane as the field matures because VCs often prefer funding novel ideas over infrastructure. Additionally, investors may be alarmed by the plateau in US plant-based meat sales between 2020 and 2021.[59]


Appendix B: Co-benefits and adverse effects


Co-benefits


  • Improved farm animal welfare – Livestock raised in industrialized settings often suffer inhumane conditions. Therefore, shifting demand away from livestock to APs could reduce farm animal suffering.[60]

  • Lowered health risks associated with livestock production – Livestock production facilities increase some health risks for its workers and people who live nearby.[61] APs could potentially lower these health risks by disrupting livestock production. Similarly, fewer workers may be harmed if AP production is physically safer than livestock production.[62]

  • Lowered antibiotic resistance – Humans can come in contact with antibiotic-resistant bacteria during animal slaughter and from contact with contaminated materials.[63] Our impression is that reducing the amount of livestock treated with antibiotics could lower the risk of antibiotic resistance.

  • Reduced water usage and improved quality – Studies suggest that APs use less water and have less of an impact on water quality (e.g., eutrophication) than conventional meat.[64]

  • Reduced land impacts and potential biodiversity gains – Our impression is that preventing land use change (e.g., freed-up land that would otherwise be converted for pasture or feed production) could mitigate some biodiversity loss.

  • More resilient supply chain and increased food security – It is plausible that compared to conventional meat, APs are more resilient to global shocks because they have a shorter supply chain.[65]


Adverse effects


  • Socioeconomic implications of shifting away from traditional livestock production – A major shift away from traditional livestock production would likely impact people’s livelihoods. For example, scaling APs would shift the labor workforce “from one largely based on farmers, farmworkers, meat processors, and veterinarians, to one based on chemists, cell biologists, engineers, and factory and warehouse workers.”[66] Overall, we think ramped-up AP production probably decreases some types of jobs and increases others, but we are unsure about the net change in jobs and where these jobs will be located.

  • Agri-food industry consolidation – Our understanding is a small number of companies hold most of the power in the US agri-food industry. Compared to interventions focusing on transformative change, AP production may reinforce current food system dynamics.[67]

  • Continued power disparities compared to interventions that focus on transformative change – According to one report, “meat alternative industries could perpetuate economic and political power disparities between the Global North and South.”[68] For example, most cultivated meat companies are owned by companies in high-income countries.[69] However, we do not think low-income countries have necessarily been precluded from AP production. For example, APs can be produced in low-income countries and shipped elsewhere; we are under the impression that exporting conventional meat may be more challenging than exporting APs because freshness is more important for conventional meat.

  • Potential micronutrient deficiencies – Although some AP producers add iron, zinc, and vitamin B12 to their products, adding missing nutrients in isolation may underestimate the complexity and health benefits of eating whole foods.[70]

  • Potential biodiversity loss – Some ingredients used in plant-based meats, such as coconut or palm oil, are grown in tropical areas that face deforestation. If mature forests are destroyed to grow coconut or palm oil plantations, this could lead to biodiversity loss. Potential deforestation from AP production would need to be considered against deforestation loss that would have happened from conventional meat consumption.



Endnotes


[1] GIving Green’s evaluation framework focuses on how effective APs (and GFI’s work) could be in decreasing GHGs by reducing livestock production, which is not GFI’s stated mission. Its focus is on making APs price- and taste-competitive with conventional meat.


[2] Publicly available information on GFI includes its website, reviews by Animal Charity Evaluators, and media coverage.


[3] GFI has a 501(c)(4) entity but it is in its early stages and not yet operational. GFI said that it has not spent any money on it yet. As Giving Green is part of IDinsight, which is itself a charitable, tax-exempt organization, we are only offering an opinion on the charitable activities of GFI’s 501(c)(3) arm. This is a non-partisan analysis (study or research) and is provided for educational purposes.


[4] GFI lists global affiliates in Asia Pacific, Brazil, Europe, India, and Israel. "Global affiliates" n.d.


[5] Headquarters: “With more than 100 team members across our U.S. team and five affiliate offices, we’re building a world where alternative proteins are the default choice.” "About GFI" n.d. Affiliate offices: “GFI advances critical work not just in the United States, but also through our affiliates in the Asia Pacific, Brazil, Europe, India, and Israel.” "Global affiliates" n.d.


[6] Correspondence with GFI, 2022-11-01.


[7] “In 2016, the year GFI was founded, we launched two alt protein startups and accelerated alternative protein innovation in the public and private sectors.” "Year in Review 2016" 2016.


[8] Correspondence with GFI, 2022-08-25.


[9] Livestock emissions: We calculated livestock's greenhouse gas emissions by summing the percent contribution of livestock and fish farms, crops for animal feed, and land use for livestock to food sector emissions based on 2018 data. Our percentage is a lower bound for livestock emissions because it does not include supply chain emissions. "Food production is responsible for one-quarter of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions" 2019. Increased demand: “Overall demand for agricultural products is expected to grow at 1.1 percent per year from 2005/2007-2050, down from 2.2 percent per year in the past four decades.3 Population growth, increases in per capita consumption and changes in diets leading to the consumption of more livestock products are the main drivers of such expected changes.” "World Agriculture Towards 2030/2050" 2012.


[10] Sources of livestock emissions: Sources of livestock emissions include land conversion to accommodate animal grazing and crop production, methane emissions from ruminants (e.g., cattle), and manure management. Importantly, cattle production is a major driver of deforestation, which releases stored carbon into the atmosphere. Carbon sequestration: “Here we quantify the total carbon opportunity cost of animal agricultural production to be 152.5 (94.2–207.1) gigatons of carbon (GtC) in living plant biomass across all continents and biomes. We approximated the potential for CO2 removal in soil and litter as an additional 63GtC” Hayek et al 2020.


[11] Although GFI focuses on improving the taste and price of APs, we believe that funding R&D can also improve APs’ nutritional value, and efforts that support the private sector can improve convenience.


[12] "$13M+ in open-access research support, 82 grants awarded since 2019, 17 countries where GFI has funded research." Alternative protein research grants n.d.


[13] “Dr. Amy Rowat is one of several GFI grantees who secured follow-on government funding after initial grant support from GFI. Of those who received both, GFI’s $1.8 million in grant dollars led to $16.9 million in government support, a nine-fold multiplying effect.” "2022 Mid-Year Impact Report" 2020.


[14] We calculated GFI’s number of student groups by adding its 20 new campuses (as of September 2022) to its previously reported 16 universities. The number of universities was confirmed by GFI on November 1, 2022. Prior number of campuses: "Our global student group program, the Alt Protein Project, is active at 16 top universities around the world, and we continue to recruit new student group leaders at leading STEM schools.” "The Good Food Institute Strategic Plan v.7" 2021. Additional schools: “That’s why I’m thrilled to announce our 20 new student groups from around the globe—including our first groups from Asia, Africa, and Australia.” "GFI welcomes twenty new student groups into the Alt Protein Project" 2022. Increasing number of campuses: Correspondence with GFI, 2022-08-25.


[15] Correspondence with GFI, 2022-11-01.


[16] GFI’s advocacy for an interagency group: Correspondence with GFI, 2022-07-09. Development of interagency group: “Accordingly, the Committee directs OSTP to establish an interagency group under the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) to provide recommendations on coordination and support of alternative protein research and development throughout the Federal Government.” "House Report 117-395" 2022.


[17] GFI’s shared advocacy: "Horizon Europe announces €32 million for sustainable proteins" 2021. Funding amount: €32Mwas converted to USD using the conversion rate on 2022-08-18.


[18] California funding for APs: “Of the funds appropriated in this item, $5,000,000 shall be available on a one-time basis for the Berkeley, Los Angeles, and Davis campuses to support research and development of plant-based and cultivated meats.” "Gavin Newsom and California Legislators Allocate $5 Million for Cultivated Meat R&D" 2022. Alternative Protein Research Grant: “GFI Israel partnered with the Israeli Ministries of Innovation and Agriculture to launch a $1.2 million Alternative Protein Research Grant. The government is putting in almost $1 million, and GFI is putting in $250,000 (from two generous donors).” "GFI's Global Highlights" 2022.


[19] GFI has advocated for an increase in funding for APs in the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA). The proposed 2023 budget includes an additional $1M allocated to AP research on top of an existing $4.5M baseline. GFI has called for the US federal government to create an interagency group that coordinates and supports AP R&D. The creation of this group is included in the US House Appropriations Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Subcommittee’s House report for FY2023 appropriations.


[20] "Chief of Staff, Research, Education, and Economics (REE), Jun 2021 - Present... The Good Food Institute, Chief of Staff Jun 2019 - May 2021," LinkedIn profile of Sanah Baig n.d.


[21] European Union: “The Good Food Institute Europe, a nonprofit working to accelerate plant-based and cultivated proteins, called on national leaders on the Council of the EU to “clear up this mess” and reject restrictions on plant-based dairy products.” "European Parliament REJECTS veggie burger ban, but ‘ties the hands’ of plant-based dairy" 2020. US: “Representing Tofurky, The Good Food Institute, the ACLU of Arkansas, and the Animal Legal Defense Fund challenged Arkansas’s label censorship law, asserting that the statute violates the First Amendment.” "Anti-market, unconstitutional, and unnecessary: An overview of food label censorship" n.d.


[22] “USDA and FDA held a joint public meeting on to advance the conversation around clean meat regulation. GFI advocated firmly for a fair regulatory path to market under the existing regulatory structures. Our friends at JUST, Finless Foods, BlueNalu, UPSIDE Foods, and many others joined the conversation as well.” "Level playing field and bright lines: GFI advocates for fair clean meat regulation at USDA & FDA" 2018.


[23] Consumer confidence: “If people don’t believe that cell-based meat products are safe, regulated, and healthy, then they’ll stick with slaughtered meat… That’s how the cell-based meat industry ended up actively working to convince the US government to step in and exercise its regulatory authority — and that’s why they were encouraged by the government’s announcement.” "The lab-grown meat industry just got the regulatory oversight it’s been begging for" 2019. Override state standards: “The USDA’s labelling authority overrides that of the states — states are not allowed to impose labelling requirements incompatible with the standards that the USDA puts forward.” "The lab-grown meat industry just got the regulatory oversight it’s been begging for" 2019.


[24] JBS’ support for cultivated meat: “The deal signals the company’s entry into the cultivated protein market, which consists of producing food from animal cells and includes investment in building a new production plant in Spain to scale up production. Along with the acquisition, JBS is also announcing the setting up of Brazil’s first cultivated protein research & development (R&D) center. In all, JBS will channel US$ 100 million to the two projects.” "JBS is entering the cultivated protein market with the acquisition of Bio Tech Foods and the construction of a plant in Europe'' 2021. GFI’s support: “JBS' entry into the cultivated protein market had the strategic support of The Good Food Institute, an entity that promotes plant and cell-based alternatives to animal products.” "JBS is entering the cultivated protein market with the acquisition of Bio Tech Foods and the construction of a plant in Europe" 2021.


[25] We describe our certainty as low/medium/high to increase readability and avoid false precision. Since these terms can be interpreted differently, we use rough heuristics to define them as percentage likelihoods the assumption is, on average, correct. Low = 0-70%, medium = 70-90%, high = 90-100%.


[26] “Even the lowest-emitting beef from dedicated beef herds (34 kg carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2e) and lower-emitting beef from dairy cow herds (15 kg CO2e) came in far above the highest-emitting tofu (4 kg CO2e) and plant-based meat (7 kg). Chicken and pork production emit far less CO2 equivalent than beef. And while there is some overlap (the lowest-emitting chicken [3.2 kg CO2e] and pork [6 kg CO2e] rival the emissions of the highest-emitting plant-based meat), the average emissions of tofu and plant-based meats are still lower than the average emissions of both chicken and pork.” "Yes, plant-based meat is better for the planet" 2021.


[27] Figure: "Yes, plant-based meat is better for the planet" 2021. Data: Poore and Nemecek 2018 and Santo et al 2020.


[28] Energy intensity: “Culturing meat in a lab is an energy-intensive process compared with conventional livestock production. While animals can naturally digest and absorb nutrients from grass and other foods, cultivated meat requires the production and processing of crops like corn and soy into amino acids and sugars.” "Can Cultivated Meat Live up to Its Environmental Promise?" 2020. Comparison of short-lived methane to long-lived CO2: “Under continuous high global consumption, cultured meat results in less warming than cattle initially, but this gap narrows in the long term and in some cases cattle production causes far less warming, as CH4 emissions do not accumulate, unlike CO2.” Lynch and Pierrehumbert 2019. We note that GFI has responded to this study: “Clean meat’s advantages over conventional meat are many and will grow over time” 2019.


[29] “Plant-based meats generally have fewer calories and less saturated fat than animal-based meat. They have zero cholesterol and almost always contain fiber… Unlike processed meats (i.e., bacon or hot dogs), alternative proteins do not use nitrite and nitrate preservatives, which produce N-nitroso chemicals that can lead to bowel cancer… The production of alternative proteins does not require antibiotics.” "Plant-based meat nutrition: the facts" n.d.


[30] “Of consumers who bought a PBMA, 14.51% did not purchase ground meat. Most households (85.97%) that purchased a PBMA also purchased ground meat at some point in the two year span; however, as will soon be noted, PBMA buyers tended to spend less on ground meat than non-PBMA buyers.” Neuhofer and Lusk 2022.


[31] “Results show that PBMA [plant-based meat alternatives] is a complement for beef and pork while a substitute for chicken, turkey, and fish.” Zhao et al 2022.


[32] Cost of meat: “In March 2022, refrigerated plant-based meat costs $8.14 per pound, while conventional fresh meat costs about $4.14 per pound.” "Meat, chicken and seafood alternatives: Latest retail sales data shows slowdown" 2022. The study focused on chicken and burgers. Chicken: “On average plant-based chicken (PBC) was rated overall 2.7 points lower (on a scale of 1-9) than real chicken (2 points lower for product 386, 3 points lower for other three PBC products). The standard deviation of real chicken’s overall rating was 1.6, suggesting statistically significant underperformance of all but one PBC products (confirmed with t-test).” Burgers: “On average, plant-based burgers (PBBs) were rated 1.7 points lower (on a scale of 1-9) in terms of the overall “like” score than beef burger, with the exception of product 871, which was rated nearly the same as the beef burger. That said, none of the differences were statistically significant.” "Chicken and Burger Alternatives: Taste Test Results" 2019.


[33] "Global meat consumption, World, 1961 to 2050" n.d.


[34] “For every 10% reduction in price or increase in demand for PBM, we estimate U.S. cattle production falls approximately 0.15%... For every 10% reduction in the price of PBM alternatives, we estimate that the global reduction in emissions is equivalent to 0.34% of U.S. emissions from beef production and 1.14% when including reduced land-use change emissions.” Lusk et al 2022.


[35] Rethink Priorities report: Correspondence with Rethink Priorities, 2022-07-14. Price, taste, and convenience: GFI does not work on convenience explicitly because it believes that compared to philanthropy, the private market has a comparative advantage in improving APs’ convenience.


[36] Price, taste, and convenience may be the averaged results from a series of surveys. Averaged survey results do not accurately reflect an individual’s preferences. Additionally, the surveys only asked about a limited number of factors, and the survey results are stated preferences, not revealed preferences.


[37] According to GFI, its Corporate Engagement team reviews and conducts consumer research to understand what motivates food choices and it uses these insights to inform its strategy. Correspondence with GFI, 2022-11-01.


[38] We focus on the US because we are less familiar with the politics of APs in the other countries that GFI works in.


[39] “...on April 30, 2021, Representative Dan Wolgamott (DFL-St. Cloud) and Senator Carrie Ruud (R-Breezy Point) introduced legislation (SF 2483 and HF 2583) that, if enacted into law, will invest in research and development to advance the plant-based food industry in Minnesota.” "Sen. Ruud and Rep. Wolgamott Introduce First-Ever Bipartisan Legislation to Support Alternative Proteins" n.d.


[40] “An expansive and ambitious policy platform that can nurture a domestic alternative protein industry will foster economic development and job growth in the face of international competition while aligning with the longer-term aim of promoting climate-smart agricultural production.” "American National Competitiveness and the Future of Meat" 2022.


[41] “Increasingly, America’s meat-eating ways are being subsumed into our culture wars. It’s yet another sign of how polarized our country is and how hard this polarization makes tackling a catastrophic threat like climate change.” "Biden’s fake burger ban and the rising culture war over meat" 2021.


[42] 2018 budget: "Good Food Institute" 2018. 2023 budget: Correspondence with GFI, 2022-08-25.


[43] As a heuristic to guide our research prioritization, we consider something to plausibly be within the range of cost-effectiveness we would consider for a top recommendation if its estimated cost-effectiveness is within an order of magnitude of $1/tCO2e (i.e., less than $10/tCO2e).


[44] We describe our confidence as low/medium/high to increase readability and avoid false precision. Since these terms can be interpreted differently, we use rough heuristics to define them as percentage likelihoods our takeaway (i.e., [not] plausibly within the range of cost-effectiveness we would consider recommending) is correct. Low = 0-50%, medium = 50-75%, high = 75-100%.


[45] "Global Innovation Needs Assessments Protein Diversity" 2021.


[46] Our take on cultivated meat production: We assumed that cultivated meat production would remain low through 2051 based on a report by Rethink Priorities. "Despite some variation, the majority of probabilities were for low production volumes. The aggregated probabilities from our panel include a 54% probability that less than 100,000 metric tons of cultured meat (where >51% of the “meat” is produced directly from animal cells) will be produced and sold at any price in a 12-month period before the end of 2051." https://rethinkpriorities.org/publications/forecasts-estimate-limited-cultured-meat-production-through-2050. Upward adjustment: We adjusted estimates for conventional livestock production upward by assuming that overall meat production would remain the same but cultivated meat production would remain low. Therefore, we adjusted cultivated meat production downward and assumed that the difference in meat production would be conventional meat production. For more information, please see Good Food Institute (GFI) CEA, 2022-09-14, sheet “Adjusted high-innovation scenario.”


[47] We adjusted livestock production under the low-innovation scenario downward by assuming it would be the average between the low-innovation scenario and the adjusted high-innovation scenario. For more information, please see Good Food Institute (GFI) CEA, 2022-09-14, sheet “Livestock production.”


[48] GFI keeps a year’s worth of funding in reserves and fundraises for the following year.

[49] Correspondence with GFI, 2022-11-01.


[50] Paraphrased from Giving Green conversation with Bruce Friedrich, 2022-09-25.


[51] “Open Philanthropy recommended a grant of $10,000,000 over two years to the Good Food Institute (GFI) for general support, including its work promoting plant-based alternatives to animal products.” "The Good Food Institute — General Support (2021)" 2021.


[52] Animal Charity Evaluators’ reviews from 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, and 2021.


[53] “For humanity to flourish, we must work to improve life in the present, while also addressing many sources of longterm, catastrophic risk. To that end, Waking Up donates a minimum of 10% of its profits to the most effective charities… Causes We Support: … The Good Food Institute.” "Causes we support" n.d.


[54] “Lessons from the alternative protein public-sector playbook,” 2022-09-24.


[55] “Low growth rate, metabolic inefficiency, catabolite inhibition, and shear-induced cell damage will all limit practical bioreactor volume and attainable cell density. Equipment and facilities with adequate microbial contamination safeguards have high capital costs. The projected costs of suitably pure amino acids and protein growth factors are also high.” Humbird 2021.


[56] Rethink Priorities estimated that there will be limited cultivated meat production through 2051. Its forecasters’ aggregated probabilities included a 54 percent probability that annual cultivated meat production would be under 100,000 tons by the end of 2051. Source: "Forecasts estimate limited cultured meat production through 2050" 2022.. For information on how we adjusted livestock production, please see [published] Good Food Institute (GFI) CEA, 2022-09-14, sheet “Adjusted high-innovation scenario.”


[57] For example, the baseline model based its ‘low-innovation scenario’ on projections from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, which we think are a reasonable estimate of future livestock production.


[58] “And while the space raised a record $6.0 billion of VC funding in 2021, the $883.8 million raised in Q1 2022 is well below this trend, with the capital-intensive nature of these businesses potentially making it even harder to raise capital in the current environment.” "PitchBook Analyst Note: Alt-Protein Industry Advances Despite Costs and Red Tape" 2022.


[59] US plant-based meat and seafood sales increased by 46% between 2019 and 2020, jumping from $957M to $1.4B. However, sales were roughly the same in 2021 as it was in 2020 (“Dollar sales of plant-based meat were flat in 2021 over 2020, which was a record year of growth”). Potential explanations for the plateau include pandemic impacts and inflation, which increased the cost of conventional meat and skewed comparisons between how much US consumers spent on conventional meat and APs. "A deeper dive into plant-based meat sales in 2021" 2022.


[60] Animals are still included in cultivated meat production. For example, cultivated meat production calls for animal cells, which are biopsied from living or dead animals. Additionally, fetal bovine serum may be used to grow cell and tissue culture media.


[61] Health outcomes from living near livestock production facilities: “We reviewed the literature published since 2000 and identified four health outcomes consistently and positively associated with living near IFAP: respiratory outcomes, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), Q fever, and stress/mood.” Casey et al 2015. Downstream pollution: “...the recent growth of concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) presents a greater risk to water quality because of both the increased volume of waste and to contaminants that may be present (e.g., antibiotics and other veterinary drugs) that may have both environmental and public health importance. Based on available data, generally accepted livestock waste management practices do not adequately or effectively protect water resources from contamination with excessive nutrients, microbial pathogens, and pharmaceuticals present in the waste.” Burkholder et al 2007.


[62] “For workers, too, plant-based processing factories like Rebellyous are much better places to be employed than slaughterhouses. Making “meat” out of pea protein or soy is far less dangerous and grueling than the worst slaughterhouse jobs, which require workers to break down carcasses in cold and dark factories, working shoulder-to-shoulder, a profession with some of the highest injury and mortality rates.” "Out of the Jungle" 2022.


[63] “The spread of ABR [antibiotic resistance] is possible along the food chain through direct or indirect contact. Direct contact occurs following immediate exposure of humans with animals and biological substances (such as blood, urine, feces, milk, saliva, and semen), and enhances the rapid and easy dissemination of resistant bacteria from host-to-host. Occupationally exposed workers such as veterinarians, farmers, abattoir workers and food handlers, as well as those directly in contact with them, are at high risk of being colonized or infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria” Founou, Founou, and Essack 2016.


[64] Water usage and improved quality: “For reducing the use of and potential impacts on water, meat analogs may represent a viable alternative to processed meat products.” Fresán et al 2019. Water usage: “Based on our review of the available literature…, per 100 grams protein, the median blue water footprint of plant-based substitutes was 21 and 42% smaller than those of pulses and soy; 76, 77, and 89% smaller than those of farmed poultry meat, bovine meat, and pig meat; and two orders of magnitude smaller than those of aquatic animals raised in ponds, e.g., farmed shrimp and tilapia… By contrast, the median blue water footprint of cell-based meat was larger than those of all other foods considered in our review except for those of farmed pig meat and pond-raised aquatic animals.” Santo et al 2020. Water quality: “Limited data exists on how much plant-based substitutes exacerbate eutrophication, but existing research suggests they provide significant benefits over conventional meats… One study that modeled the hypothetical eutrophication potential of cell-based meat, based on inputs of soy hydrosylate and glucose and glutamine (both derived from corn), found it comparable to, or slightly lower than that of, conventional poultry production” Santo et al 2020.


[65] ““Nearly one in three people across the world are plagued by food insecurity. Coupled with the impact of the continued geopolitical crises on the supply chain and food prices, there is immense pressure on the global food system,” says Ben Morach, a BCG managing director and partner. “Pivoting away from animal-based proteins will lead to shorter, more resilient, and potentially more local supply chains. Widespread adoption of alternative proteins can remove the risk of supply chain disruptions and play a critical role tackling climate change, with consumers playing a key part in propelling this transition.”” "The Transition to Alternative Proteins Continues, Accelerated by Consumers Motivated by Healthier Diets and Having a Positive Impact on Climate" 2022.


[66] “A rapid transformation of the agricultural marketplace from farmed to cell-based meat production—and, to a lesser extent, plant-based substitute production—could entail a significant overhaul in the labor workforce involved in protein production, from one largely based on farmers, farmworkers, meat processors, and veterinarians, to one based on chemists, cell biologists, engineers, and factory and warehouse workers.” Santo et al 2020.


[67] “Addressing concentration of power is all the more urgent in the ‘protein’ sector, where horizontal integration and huge capital influxes are rapidly reshaping the terrain and influencing public discourse.” "The Politics of Protein" 2022.


[68] “Others have pointed out that since the vast majority of cell-based meat companies—as well as several plant-based substitute companies—are owned by agribusinesses or biotech startups headquartered in industrialized countries, meat alternative industries could perpetuate economic and political power disparities between the Global North and South” Santo et al 2020.


[69] “The range of geographic dispersal is generally limited to Western centers of commerce such as the UK, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Canada, and Israel. The only non-Western located project is in Japan, which has been heavily integrated into Western capitalism for some time. China, India, Africa, and South America are absent.” Mouat, Prince, and Roche 2018.


[70] “As whole foods contain hundreds-to-thousands of compounds that act synergistically to impact human health, adding synthetic nutrients to food sources often does not confer similar benefits compared to when these nutrients are ingested as phytochemically and biochemically-rich whole foods—whether it be plant or animal foods” Santo et al 2020.