As guests streamed into Pioneer Works in Red Hook, Brooklyn, the renovated brick and timber building matched a recurring theme at the 2017 New Harvest Conference: progress that respects history. Beginning at the registration desk, guests were reminded of this inspiring theme— instead of a throw-away badge, the hosts opted for a reusable ribbon. While getting coffee, they were greeted with an exhibition of researchers, startups, and biohackers eager to share their latest progress. Conversation flourished as experts, entrepreneurs, journalists, students, and a mishmash of professionals and enthusiasts exchanged ideas and made new friends.
The audience also heard presentations from New Harvest’s Research Director and a principal investigator to a fellow, Dr. Marianne Ellis. What was striking about each presentation was how deftly the speakers could connect to guests entirely unfamiliar with cultured meat. Additionally, the sli.do used for questions allowed guests to submit anonymous questions in case you felt shy. Some questions requested more technical details, some about where additional funding should be spent, and others focused more on the excitement — had researchers tried tasting the meat they had grown? What meat were attendees most excited for? (The clear winner: bacon!)
After a break, the conference continued with a panel of farmers and cultured meat producers, discussing challenges like achieving the flavor of traditional meat, and how to reconcile how cultured meat appears poised to disrupt traditional meat. The tissue engineers expressed optimism about their ability to achieve the flavor, while the farmers felt optimism towards smaller farm operations persisting beyond the advent of cultured meat. The panel prompted questions from the audience about GMO use, intellectual property rights, and the relationship between people and animals in the future.
After lunch, the final afternoon moved away from cultured meat and toward a mix of developments in cellular agriculture. Algae farmer Rebecca White explained the benefits and potential of algae like spirulina as a food product, and the audience explored its potential for use in cultured meat, which was identified as a potential medium on the previous day. The topic drew some extra attention for some of the exhibitors who were focused on algae food products and cultivation. Lauri Reuter shared his experience culturing fruit cells from different plants, prospecting on the potential of culture techniques to access flavors that are expensive or otherwise inaccessible for commercial use.
Finally, Kevin Chen presented the use of fermentation to produce medicinal cannabinoids, explaining how the production capability of fermentation can vastly outproduce current growing methods. He had no samples to offer, but you couldn’t blame the audience for asking! The conference closed with an impromptu open-mic for anyone attending to introduce themselves and any cellular agriculture-related initiatives they were involved with. The speakers ranged from startups announcing recruitment and new products, to a representative of an agriculture coop, to a writer focused on bringing conversations about cultured meat to more people.
New Harvest 2017 was an invigorating experience. It brought together luminaries in the field and like-minds from all over the world, and in combination with the initiative to make changes, it’s nearly impossible to walk away without optimism toward the challenges ahead.
Jason Weiss is an engineer focused on how to do things better. During New Harvest 2017 he served as a volunteer, with a hand in setup, presentations, and break-down. He came to New Harvest through researching a speech on meat alternatives.