Bluu Seafood, a German company that cultivates “lab-grown” fish, is showing the first finished products while preparing to start the regulatory approval process for key markets in Asia, Europe and North America.
In the year Founded in 2020 (originally as Bluu Biosciences), Bluu Seafood is one of several companies working to address global seafood production issues, including overfishing, heavy metal and plastic contamination, and cruelty. To do this, the Berlin company starts with a “one-time” biopsy of the fish (the fish does not have to be killed for this), and then uses stem cell technology to create complete cell lines (fish species) in a laboratory setting.
Today Blue has unveiled its first two products – fish sticks (or “fish fingers” as they are known in some markets) and fish balls, made from processed fish cells and “enriched” with plant proteins, a process that improves how they cook and how they feel in the mouth.
Countless companies are working on the same problem as Blue, with San Francisco-based Wildtype recently securing $100 million in funding to develop “sushi-grade” farmed salmon, while South Korea’s Selmet has raised some funding for lab-grown shrimp. Blue, meanwhile, received $7 million in seed funding last year alone.
So it’s clear that there is a real push to create sustainable “artificial” seafood. From Blue’s point of view, this is sustainable in cells known as “immortal” cells, so once he creates the first biomass using cells from real fish, everything from then on is self-sufficient, no real fish or GMOs. (genetically modified organisms) are used anywhere in the process.
“That’s the amazing thing about ‘immortal’ cells – ‘normal’ cells can last for 20 times and then stop, and immortal cells can double in size,” Bluet co-founder Simon Fabich told TechCrunch.
Blue key variations are also found in types Fish currently working. While the likes of Wildtype are focused on Pacific salmon, Blue is working on Atlantic salmon, rainbow trout and carp, for example. On top of that, instead of trying to create complex dishes like sashimi at first, Blue is trying to keep it simple with products like fish sticks and fish balls – although such fish dishes have been on the menu for a long time.
“We are working in parallel on complex products such as fish fillets and sashimi, prototypes of which are already available,” says Fabich. But those are undoubtedly very difficult to measure, and it will take a long time to achieve price parity with conventional production.
But above all, Bluu is based in Europe, which not only has a gargantuan seafood market, but also has a strong biotechnology base, including research institutes and medical centers, which include other necessary ingredients for the realization of laboratory-grown seafood.
Fabich added: “Europe has a great pool of highly skilled people in the biotechnology sector. “Also, many leading tools and components critical to the realization of large-scale production are based in Europe. Our approach is collaborative, which means that we do not intend to re-engineer all the technologies needed to go into mass production, but work with technology partners.”
It’s worth highlighting the many meat companies that have done so, including fellow European startup Meatable, which recently unveiled its first synthetic sausage. As planet Earth struggles to keep up with people’s insatiable appetite for protein derived from living organisms, we’ll see many more lab-engineered food products hit the market in the coming years, even though seafood may still hold some advantages as it’s structurally easier to recreate.
“From a production point of view, the structure of fish meat is easier to achieve than the more complex structure of mammalian meat – think salmon fillet with steak,” Fabich explains.
The basic processes for creating cultured meat and fish are the same, as long as you grow the cells in a nutrient solution in a fermentation vessel.
“As mammals have been studied for a long time, there are many more experts on mammalian cells than fish cells, which are very different in their needs,” Fabich said. “For example, fish cells differ in nutrient and oxygen levels. They also do not need an ambient temperature of 37 degrees to grow. The process of identifying and optimizing cell lines to function well in an industrial production context requires a special set of skills and knowledge.”
The reality of control
But developing a market-ready product, which Blue says he’s done now, is a far cry from getting the product to market. Singapore is the only region in the world that has yet approved the sale of lab-grown meat, which is why the tiny island nation will be Blue’s first port of call, and it plans to be approved by Singapore next year. The next step involves seeking approval in the US, European Union (EU) and the UK, although each comes with its own unique set of regulatory hurdles.
“Unfortunately [approval process] It varies very little because there is little experience with manufactured proteins,” Fabich said. “Our biggest challenge is that in most markets the processes have not yet been defined, so no one can tell us the best basis on which studies and documents to approve.”
The long and short of it all is that Bloom and her farmed food competitors need to produce a lot of data and documentation to show that lab feed is ready for prime time. In both Singapore and the US, Fabich is probably more confident of getting approval simply because the conversation is open and the requirements are clear.
“The regulatory authorities in Singapore and the US have adopted a cooperative approach to applications for manufactured products,” Fabich explained. “Both the SFA and the FDA encourage open discussion and the requirements for a complete dossier are very open. The procedures are rigorous and require extensive testing, analysis and documentation – however, as an applicant in these markets, we know exactly what to expect and therefore can provide all the necessary information.”
The European Union is a different animal, so to speak, with 27 countries fed by a regulatory and legal framework. That’s why Blue last year founded Cellular Agriculture Europe, an industry alliance from Europe and Israel designed to help like-minded companies raise their voices on policy issues related to processed meat, fish and dairy products. . Yes, you could probably call it a lobby group.
“The association is a registered EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) stakeholder and works closely with EU authorities,” continued Fabich. “The main hurdle is deciding what research, studies, etc. to get approval. It’s not food safety – our product is safe, we know what goes in, what comes out and what’s in between.”
How all of this translates into timetables is not yet entirely clear, and varies between jurisdictions. Fabich said the general expectation is that the U.S. could grant approval for the first seafood production within the next nine months, although that would likely be followed by a longer market testing period. So maybe we’re looking at 2025 before we can expect to see lab-grown fish balls on supermarket shelves.