Bluu Seafood, a German company that develops ‘lab-grown’ fish, showcases its first finished products as it prepares to begin the regulatory approval process for key markets in Asia, Europe and the Americas North.
Founded in 2020 (originally as Bluu Biosciences), Bluu Seafood is one of many companies working to address global seafood production issues including overfishing, metal contamination heavy and plastic, and cruelty. To do this, the Berlin-based company starts with a single “unique” fish biopsy (the fish does not need to be killed for this), then uses stem cell technology to develop complete cell lines (species of fish) in a laboratory environment.
Today Bluu unveiled its first two products – fish sticks (or “fish sticks” as they are called in some markets) and fish balls, which are made from cultured fish cells and ” enriched” with vegetable proteins, a process designed to optimize their cooking and their sensation in the mouth.
Countless companies are working on the same problem as Bluu. San Francisco-based Wildtype recently secured $100 million in funding to develop “sushi-grade” farmed salmon, while South Korea’s CellMeat raised funds for lab-grown shrimp. Bluu, for its part, secured $7 million in seed funding last year.
It is therefore clear that there is a real push towards the creation of sustainable “synthetic” seafood products. From Bluu’s point of view, this durability lies in what are called “immortalized” cells, so that once he has created his initial biomass using cells from a real fish, everything is now self-sufficient, with no real fish or GMOs. (genetically modified organisms) used anywhere in the process.
“That’s the amazing thing about ‘immortalized’ cells – whereas ‘normal’ cells double, say, 20 times and then stop, immortalized cells keep doubling – theoretically forever,” said the co. -Bluu founder Simon Fabich at TechCrunch.
Bluu’s key differentiators also lie in the types of fish he is currently working on. While Wildtype focuses on Pacific salmon, for example, Bluu works on Atlantic salmon, rainbow trout and carp. On top of that, Bluu initially strives for simplicity with products such as fish sticks and fish balls, rather than trying to recreate more complex edibles such as sashimi – although such dishes of fish feature on its longer-term menu.
“We are working in parallel on more complex products such as fish fillet and sashimi, prototypes of which already exist,” Fabich said. “But these are undoubtedly more difficult to scale, and it will take longer to reach price parity with the conventional product.”
But beyond all that, Bluu is based in Europe, which not only has a gargantuan seafood market, but also a strong biotechnology base, including research institutes and medical centers, among other ingredients needed to making lab-grown seafood a reality.
“Europe has a huge pool of highly qualified people in the biotechnology sector,” added Fabich. “In addition, many of the major equipment and ingredient companies that are crucial to achieving large-scale production are based in Europe. Our approach is collaborative, which means that we do not intend to reinvent all the technologies necessary to arrive at large-scale production, but rather to work with technological partners.
Of note are the many cultured meat companies, including European startup Meatable, which recently unveiled its first synthetic sausages. As planet Earth strives to satisfy people’s insatiable appetites for protein derived from living things, we are going to see many more lab-made food products hitting the market in the years to come, although the fruits of sea in particular can have some small advantages in that they are easier to recreate structurally.
“From a product perspective, the structure of fish meat is easier to achieve than the more complex structure of mammalian meat — think salmon fillet versus steak,” Fabich explained.
The underlying processes for creating cultured meat and fish are much the same, in that you are growing cells in nutrient solution in a fermentation tank, but separate scientific know-how is required.
“Because mammals have been studied for much longer, there are many more experts on mammalian cells than on fish cells, which have very different requirements,” Fabich said. “For example, fish cells are different in nutrient and oxygen levels. Also, they don’t need an ambient temperature of 37 degrees to grow. The process of isolation and optimization of cell lines to perform well in an industrial production context requires a unique set of experiences and know-how.
But developing a market-ready product, which Bluu now says he has done, is a far cry from bringing a product to market. Singapore is the only region in the world that has so far approved the sale of lab-grown meat, which is why the small island nation will be Bluu’s first port of call, with plans to gain approval in Singapore. from next year. The next step will be to seek approval in the United States, the European Union (EU) and the United Kingdom, although each has its own regulatory hurdles to work around.
“Unfortunately, he [approval process] varies a lot because there is simply little experience with cultured proteins,” Fabich said. “Our biggest challenge is that in most markets the processes are not yet defined, and therefore nobody can tell us which studies and documents we really need to provide as the best basis for approval.”
In short, Bluu and its cultured food competitors will need to produce a vast array of data and documentation to show that the lab fodder is ready for prime time. In Singapore and the United States, Fabich is perhaps more confident of getting approval simply because the dialogue is open and the requirements are quite clear.
“Regulators in Singapore and the United States have taken a collaborative approach to handling requests for cultivated products,” Fabich explained. “The SFA and the FDA encourage open discussion and are very open about the requirements for a complete dossier. The processes are rigorous and require extensive experience, analysis and documentation. However, as a candidate in these markets, we know exactly what is expected and therefore can provide all the required data.
The EU is a different animal, so to speak, given that there are 27 countries feeding into the regulatory and legal framework. And that’s why Bluu last year co-founded Cellular Agriculture Europe, which is essentially an industry coalition from across Europe and Israel, designed to help like-minded businesses have their voices heard on policy issues. linked to meat, fish and even cultured dairy products. . Yes, you can probably call it a pressure group.
“The association is an EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) registered stakeholder and works closely with EU authorities,” Fabich continued. “The main obstacle is to define what research, studies, etc., are necessary to obtain approval. It’s not food safe – our product is safe, we know what goes in, what goes out and what goes in between.
How all of this translates into delays is not entirely clear yet and will vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Fabich said the U.S. is widely expected to give approval for its first cultured seafood within the next nine months, though that’s likely to be followed by a lengthy period of trials on the market. So we’re looking at maybe 2025 before we can expect to see lab-grown fishballs on supermarket shelves.