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ECONOMY | 24-01-2023 12:57

Argentine meat-packing heir wants to embed crops with animal DNA

Newly listed Moolec Science SA is inserting pork and beef genes into soybeans and peas to create hybrid proteins that are both plant- and animal-based.

A seed producer co-founded by an heir to an Argentine meat dynasty is betting it can make alternative meat more palatable by infusing crops with animal genes.

Newly listed Moolec Science SA is inserting pork and beef genes into soybeans and peas to create hybrid proteins that are both plant- and animal-based, Chief Executive Officer Gaston Paladini said in an interview at Bloomberg’s offices in New York.

“We believe in plant-based, for sure, but we need to put the food system into the next level — and that means embracing science,” he said.

That science could create ingredients for established meat giants under pressure from consumers who want protein that’s more humanely sourced and environmentally sustainable. So far, the quest to produce an alternative tasty enough to satisfy all but the most devoted vegetarians has proven elusive.

Billions have been poured into creating meat without animals, with protein-rich plants and vegetables providing the nutritional base. But excitement has fizzled as people turn away from the products, which are more expensive and still fail to mimic the texture of a real burger.

Moolec can help with that, said CEO Paladini. Its soy and peas would boost the taste and texture of alternative proteins by enhancing them with molecular material from animals.

Paladini, an Argentine who co-founded Moolec in 2020, said the company could clear hurdles that plant-based food manufacturers Beyond Meat Inc and Impossible Foods Inc are running into — in part by becoming providers to meat-packers. That would avoid the huge expense of bringing finished products to market while helping Big Meat to cut back on resource-intensive processing.

“I don’t see them as competitors,” said Paladini, who hopes to entice the likes of Tyson Foods Inc and JBC SA. “I see them as the market.”

Paladini knows the world of traditional meat-packing better than most since he was born into Argentina’s Paladini SA dynasty, where he still sits on the board. Moolec is a unit of Bioceres Group, which is also the parent of Bioceres Crop Solutions Corp., an Argentine company that’s trying to win global acceptance for the first gene-modified wheat.

The commercial launch for animal-infused soy and peas is expected sometime in 2027 or 2028. Moolec, a self-described food hacker, is also working to insert a beef protein used by cheesemakers for clotting into safflowers.

Moolec shares began trading in New York on Jan. 3.

by Jonathan Gilbert, Bloomberg

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