National Growth Plan
The Dutch government established the National Growth Fund to allocate € 20 billion (between 2021 and 2025) in targeted investments that generate structural and sustainable economic growth for the country. Our consortium started working together in 2021 to combine our diverse expertise and develop a comprehensive proposal for the fund. Today we operate as a legal entity known as the Cellular Agriculture Netherlands Foundation. Below you will find a summary of our National Growth Plan for cellular agriculture.
What is cellular agriculture?
Cellular agriculture (CA) is a radically innovative technology, where animal products are made from cells instead of whole animals. With CA meat (popularly known as cultured meat), the meat grows from animal stem cells, which come from animals through painless biopsies. In the Netherlands, CA cells nowadays even grow in an animal-free medium, thanks to a recent innovation (this is not yet the case in all countries). In CA milk, components from milk are produced by microorganisms through a process known as precision fermentation. In both cases, the cells produce the same animal proteins, fats, and the like that are obtained through conventional production. This means that products can be made with the same taste, structure, nutritional values, and preparation as traditional animal products.
Compared to traditional processes for making animal products, CA has many advantages: less impact on climate and biodiversity, less land and water use, smaller risks of zoonotic disease outbreaks, less waste, and a controlled and transparent production process. The addition of CA offers the Netherlands economic opportunities in both earning capacity and sustainability gains. With an excellent position and reputation in the fields of innovative agriculture, biotechnology and collaborative culture, the Netherlands has the potential to become the leading cellular agriculture ecosystem globally. This is in line with the government strategy for “strengthening research and innovation ecosystems.”
CA is a technology that is still maturing. When governments co-invest in building a full ecosystem around a technology, it accelerates its development. The barriers that currently exist for CA are the same for many companies, but they are difficult to solve in a silo. Public investments will help to create critical enabling conditions for the whole industry like:
- Training qualified personnel for the value chain
- Public knowledge sharing of technological developments.
- Building facilities for scale-up that require large capital investments and specific engineering knowledge that is currently limited for precision fermentation and not available for CA meat.
- Expanding social integration of the technology and creating a level playing field for market introductions.
- Improving business conditions for the establishment and development of new start-ups in the field. †
The Cellular Agriculture Netherlands Foundation aims to create these enabling conditions by building a fully-fledged CA ecosystem. Our proposal to the National Growth Fund calls for a significant public financial investment in order to produce significant gains for society including:
- generating billions per year in earning capacity for the Netherlands by 2050
- preventing 11.7-12.2 Megaton CO2-eq. and 98.1-131.3 Kilotons of ammonia per year by 2050
- mobilizing additional capital for the expansion of the industry
The action plan (in 5 work streams):
1: Education program
For the transition to a fully-fledged CA sector, the labor market must be expanded. It is therefore important that (1) sufficient labor becomes available and (2) this labor potential matches the required skills within the CA sector. At the moment, however, there is no education specific to CA.
This plan does not focus on educating those people, but on creating the conditions for educational institutions to make this part of their curriculum, building on what is already there but with distinctly new topics and approaches. There is serious interest in this from, among others, TU Delft and Wageningen University and other institutions that have been involved in this program from the start.
Creating the conditions for training talent must start as soon as possible, so that enough people with the right training become available as this sector grows. This takes shape in (retraining) programs and courses at all levels of education (from senior secondary vocational education to post-doctoral).
With sufficient influx of specially trained talent, staff shortages (such as those currently experienced by CA startups) will not impede exponential growth that the industry is expected to experience. Labor productivity per employee is expected to be much higher in the CA sector than in regular protein production and more comparable to the biotech sector. In addition, access to well-trained personnel makes the Netherlands more attractive as a location for other CA companies and investors.
2: Research program
We want to make public research a structural part of the CA transition by developing programs that pay attention to all relevant dimensions of this transition (biology, technology, environment, economic and consumer aspects, social dynamics).
In order to enable commercial growth and cost-efficient production, scaling up is given special attention within the research. The possibilities for small-scale, decentralized agricultural production as well as for more centralized production on a larger scale are being investigated.
Knowledge institutions generate public knowledge and technology that enable CA companies to overcome technological and societal barriers more quickly. In addition, public research serves as a source for new patents, and the associated innovation and exploitation opportunities. Since knowledge development is currently crucial for the further development of CA, the presence of leading academic research will benefit the business climate in the Netherlands for CA companies, thereby attracting more activity.
3: Generally accessible scaling facilities
In order to stimulate the CA sector as a whole, it is urgent to invest in generally accessible scaling facilities. These will allow growing companies to innovate faster and more efficiently when they do not have to build risky and expensive installations themselves. Additionally, they can take full advantage of the available upscaling knowledge, operators and permits.
This also increases the success of existing Dutch CA companies. Processes can be scaled up further with less risk and therefore introduced to the market more quickly. In addition, the upscaling facilities will be able to contribute strongly to attracting foreign CA companies, or for upscaling activities, or for settling in the Netherlands, which will also lead to an increase in earning capacity.
4: Socially supported transition
A broadly supported and just social transition is crucial for the CA sector to flourish. Important components of this include identifying opportunities for conventional farmers to benefit from CA and a level playing field for market introductions.
In connection with a just social transition, engaging farmers and testing small-scale production is an important theme. As such, a pilot farm will be built centrally in the Netherlands. It will be a multifunctional agricultural location where the technological and economic feasibility of small-scale production can be investigated with farmers, innovators, and researchers.
This experimental farm will function as a center for social research. For example, it will contain an experience center as a platform for learning, participating, innovating, and collaborating with all conceivable stakeholders. They will be actively involved in the development of these technologies and the associated value chains and consumption issues. If the results allow this, a number of farmers can be supported in the implementation of small-scale CA production (on so-called pilot farms) in various places in the Netherlands. Small-scale manufacturing could also drive global scale-up (via IP licensing).
With regard to a level playing field: The CA sector can only mature if it is developed as an integral part of the agricultural sector and society. Targeted subsidies and regulations should reduce barriers and enable Dutch CA companies to enter the market faster and more efficiently.
5: Innovation Hub
The transition to CA means that the business models of the meat and dairy industry are also subject to change. An innovation team and a start-up program, and possibly an investment fund, will be set up to establish and scale up innovative CA companies and technologies. All this is done in collaboration with existing bodies as much as possible.
In addition, a detailed look will be given to business models to export the acquired (technological) knowledge from the CA sector. Such an innovation hub will be an attractive offer for foreign companies to establish themselves in the Netherlands.
Removing barriers that slow down young companies in their growth (access to start-up capital, access to a broad technical and business network, the right expertise in the choice of business models, workplace within a facilitating, open innovation hub, etc.) leads to a shorter path to the market and faster commercialization
At the end of the National Growth Plan, a fully-fledged CA ecosystem will have been built in the Netherlands, in which:
- There is sufficient growth of personnel with the skills to fully meet the needs within the fast-growing sector.
- Dutch universities play a key role in generating the public knowledge and technology needed by the sector to overcome challenges as quickly and efficiently as possible, as a breeding ground for patents and new start-ups.
- The Netherlands houses two internationally renowned publicly available scale-up facilities for CA meat and CA dairy production that can run 15 and 30 runs per year respectively, enabling CA companies to scale quickly and efficiently from lab to industrial scale.
- Stakeholders from all walks of life experience CA as an integral part of the Dutch agricultural sector. People have access to independent knowledge and the latest insights about possible impacts and are actively involved in the transition.
- An entire Dutch value chain has been set up in which start-ups, investors and industrial parties can find each other, and in which innovation is stimulated and facilitated in order to take maximum advantage of all new opportunities.
Together, these developments will lead to an attractive business climate for CA companies throughout the value chain. Dutch CA companies will remain in the Netherlands and new and existing foreign CA start-ups will choose the Netherlands as their corporate home, and investors are coming up with venture capital to finance these companies and guide them through their scale-up.