What movement building means to us

By building a community of cell ag researchers across the world, we’ve built a movement that has momentum of its own.

Published December 8, 2021 | Updated December 14, 2021 | Isha Datar

This year, New Harvest was honored to be recommended as a standout charity by Animal Charity Evaluators (ACE), an effective altruist (EA) organization that ranks the effectiveness of various nonprofits whose work is aimed at helping animals. 

In the review, ACE identified our biggest weakness to be New Harvest’s community building work, citing its difficulty in yielding immediately measurable results. 👇

Screenshot from ACE Review

If playing the long game is our biggest weakness, that’s a win in my book! New Harvest has spent the last seventeen years growing the field person by person. By building a community, we’ve built a movement that has momentum of its own. 

Why does this matter? Because this long term approach is what guides our actions here at New Harvest. With a budget of ~$2 million in 2021 (which we hope to grow to $5 million), we want to target interventions that will stand the test of time.

Science and Scientists 

For the most part, New Harvest doesn’t fund principal investigators. Instead, we fund graduate students at the beginning of their careers—providing support that allows them to change the trajectory of their entire career and become the world’s foremost experts in cellular agriculture.

For every researcher we fund, many more join the field. Natalie Rubio mentored 21 undergraduate students by the end of her New Harvest fellowship.

For every researcher we do fund, many more join the field. Each of our researchers creates opportunities for other scientists to become excited about (and, often, pivot into) cultured meat by taking on undergraduate students, collaborating with other labs, and publishing peer-reviewed papers. 

By funding researchers—and early career researchers, specifically—we are building a pipeline of cell ag talent and expertise. A movement of emerging scholars changing the research landscape at their universities and establishing cellular agriculture as an emerging discipline.

Catalytic Funding

When we started funding Natalie Rubio, our first researcher in the Kaplan Lab at Tufts University, in 2016, our thesis was simple: If New Harvest takes the leap and funds cultured meat research, then we can generate the data and expertise to win big time government grants.

Our thesis was validated in a big way this October when the Kaplan Lab, seeded with funding from New Harvest donors, turned into the first ever National Institute for Cellular Agriculture, funded with $10M from the USDA.

New Harvest donors saw their contributions have 10X the impact with a single government grant.

Since 2016, the Kaplan Lab has been our biggest investment in a single laboratory. With just under $1M, we supported six New Harvest grantees growing cell-cultured caterpillar steaks, fat, and nutritionally engineered beef. Along with their incredible Principal Investigator, Dr. David Kaplan, those grantees multiplied that initial funding ten fold.

I can’t overstate the significance of the USDA grant, which marks the first time a government agency which typically funds livestock research gave cultured meat the time of day (to the tune of $10M!). 

This is a dream for New Harvest’s donors, who saw their contributions have 10X the impact with a single government grant. 

Our grants to the Kaplan Lab were among the first we ever made and took five years to “pay off.” We have every reason to believe that this success will be the first of many.

Open Data and Information Sharing

Because the cellular agriculture sector is so highly privatized (>$1B in private investment across ~100 companies, compared to ~$20M across public institutions), policymakers have little public, independent information to guide their thinking about cell-cultured meat.

New Harvest grantees have published 26 papers, the findings of which are used and iterated upon by fellow researchers and companies alike.

Our 2020 safety initiative pulled key insights about the safety of cell cultured meat out of private companies into the public sphere. While maintaining our no-NDA policy, New Harvest was able to publish a peer-reviewed paper containing a broadly applicable process diagram based on data from 50 private companies. In addition, we outlined potential hazards and research gaps associated with safety. The resulting paper has served as a crucial resource for food safety researchers to design research agendas and apply for government funding.

To date, New Harvest and New Harvest grantees have published 26 papers, the findings of which are used and iterated upon by fellow researchers and companies alike.

Information sharing is crucial to accelerate breakthroughs. As a publicly funded nonprofit New Harvest works to publish data that everyone can use out in the open.

Alumni Network Effect

Two of New Harvest’s biggest success stories are Perfect Day and The Every Company, cellular agriculture companies who have raised a cumulative $983 million dollars,1 have products on the market right now, and whose founders began as New Harvest community members.

New Harvest alumni have raised $1.19B for private R&D and created 613 industry jobs.

We are often confused for being an accelerator like IndieBio. We are not. What we are is a jumping-off point for people with bold ideas for how to grow meat, milk, and eggs from cells instead of animals. We’ve built a community of researchers, volunteers, and interns who go on to carve their own niche in cell ag and hire talent of their own. 

By our estimate, New Harvest alumni have gone on to raise $1.19B for private R&D and create 613 industry jobs.

Going forward, New Harvest seeks to take things to the next level by empowering leaders with cross-disciplinary expertise (e.g. cell ag and food policy, economics, food safety, etc.) who will guide cellular agriculture towards the best version of itself.

What about the public?

I’ll close by saying that rallying popular opinion has never been a focus for New Harvest.

While we absolutely take part in public facing communications (like our recent TED talk), our approach to public engagement is always about deepening the conversation. Mass PR campaigns for not-yet-existent products is not our ball game, and something we can’t see prioritizing with our finite budget.

At the end of the day we believe that leveraging our unique position as a nonprofit to build trust and credibility in the concept of cellular agriculture will make the biggest impact in moving the needle.

1 As of December 9, 2021 The EVERY company has raised $233M and Perfect Day Foods has raised $733M.

About the Authors
Isha Datar is Executive Director at New Harvest