Precision fermentation is a remarkable technology that allows for the creation of real animal products without the animals! Making food this way could spare countless cows and other animals a life of pain and suffering at factory farms. Mercy For Animals teamed up with a Fordham University academic and food science company Formo to discover what people really think about precision-fermentation dairy.
Precision fermentation recreates animal products, like key dairy proteins casein and whey, without using animals. This means Formo can produce indulgent dairy cheese with no cows harmed in the making.
Here’s how it works:
It’s a lot like brewing beer, where microorganisms known as yeast consume nutrients and create alcohol. Instead of alcohol, the variety of microorganisms that make animal-free dairy create milk proteins because food scientists have encoded them with milk-protein DNA!
Formo harvests these animal-free milk proteins and combines them with plant-based fats, carbohydrates, and salt. This mixture is the base of Formo’s artisan cheese! It is concentrated into a curd by enzymes or heat, much like animal-based cheese. Finally, Formo’s cheese is either packaged or processed to ripen and create unique flavors.
For this project, Dr. Courtney Dillard, Mercy For Animals’ social change researcher, teamed up with Oscar Zollman Thomas from Formo and Dr. Garrett Broad from Fordham University. Mercy For Animals believes that collaborating with both academics and inventive companies is one of the best ways to help new innovative products succeed. Dr. Dillard stated:
This collaborative project was incredibly valuable for Mercy For Animals, as it allowed us to pursue a rigorous research process alongside an academic partner, as well as ensure the application of our findings through our corporate partner, who will use them to more effectively promote their process and products.
The research aimed to gauge how consumers around the world would react to a new, animal-free way of creating dairy. The team conducted 10 focus groups in October 2021, with sessions in the United States, Germany, Singapore, and the United Kingdom. In each session, three to five participants were introduced to the idea of precision fermentation and asked a series of questions. The focus group results were then analyzed and published in a report.
Focus group participants were both intrigued and in disbelief that dairy products could be created without cows. Many showed interest in trying products made through this process. When asked to reflect on why such products might be attractive and what benefits they could have, participants quickly pointed out the positive environmental impact. Many were also quick to understand that creating dairy through precision fermentation would help lower greenhouse gas emissions, and they were enthusiastic about the prospect of enjoying dairy without harming the planet.
The animal welfare angle also resonated across focus groups, despite only one self-identified vegan participant. Nearly all participants acknowledged the harsh realities of animal agriculture, agreeing that a new way of making dairy could spare cows a lifetime of poor welfare at dairy farms. One participant in Singapore said:
Why do we deserve to make them subject to this kind of treatment, especially if it’s for our benefits and especially if, like, you know, these big corporations are reaping the benefits from their misery?
This research can be used in a variety of ways and have far-reaching impacts. It is a useful resource for companies introducing products of precision fermentation, academics researching people’s relationships with food, NGOs working to create social change, policymakers trying to implement sustainable changes, and even consumers looking to make food choices more in line with their ethics. It is also a sign that including animal welfare in the conversation about framing and promoting animal-free dairy products would be extremely beneficial.
Building a robust selection of delicious animal-free products will help us succeed in our mission to construct a more compassionate food system. For more exciting updates and breaking news, follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube!