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Cellular Agriculture with Shannon Cosentino Roush

George Grombacher April 6, 2023

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Cellular Agriculture with Shannon Cosentino-Roush

LifeBlood: We talked about the present state and future of cellular agriculture, the problems facing the ocean, plant-based seafood and cellular alternatives, and the barriers to scalability, with Shannon Cosentino-Roush, Chief Strategy Officer of Finless Foods.   

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Our Guests

George Grombacher

Shannon Cosentino-Roush

Episode Transcript

george grombacher 0:02
One for this George G. And the time is right welcome today’s guest Ron Paul for Shannon Constantino Roche. Shannon, are you ready to do this?

Shannon Cosentino-Roush 0:09
I am. Thank you so much for having me today.

george grombacher 0:11
I’m excited to have you on let’s go Shannon is the chief strategy officer with finless foods or organization working to build a future for seafood where the ocean thrives. Shannon, good, excited to have you on tell us a little bit your personal life smart about your work? Why you do what you do?

Shannon Cosentino-Roush 0:29
Yeah, I love that you’re asked to start with the personal because that’s kind of at the core of what’s led me to do what I do. So I grew up in the Bay Area, which as you may know, or think of I grew up kind of surrounded by nature, really excited by everything in terms of camping, backpacking, hiking, but really more so even the ocean. So it was a really big part of my life. And I think it grounded me in this sense of purpose at a young age that I wanted to move into the world of being an environmental lawyer, and policymaker, kind of more specifically, in terms of the ocean, which I always think is fun, because how many people can say they knew that at 14. But I’ve been grounded in it. And it really has been my source of truth. since then. The fun facts about my personal life, I moved away for 15 years in the Bay Area, and kind of my work took me around the world. So I lived in DC, I went to law school in Vermont. I lived in Italy, I lived in Africa, but I moved back. So now I’m back in the Bay Area. I’ve been here for a few years now. I live with my partner and my two cats. And as much as possible, I try and still go back to my roots and get outside as much as I can. Many coastal hikes are an on my weekends, my weekend agendas. I think one thing I learned throughout my my you know, wandering career path is that I truly am a systems change thinker, and a builder and I really like to think about solutions that don’t exist yet. And so that really brought me to finless foods. We’re an alternative seafood company. I’ll get into that more what that means. But I’m excited to think about on a daily basis, what is how can we solve for these unprecedented challenges facing our planet in our ocean today? So I love that you asked about the personal because it truly is what formed me and brought me to the career path I’m on now.

george grombacher 2:20
I love it. So do you take the cats for walks on these coastal trails? Shannon?

Shannon Cosentino-Roush 2:27
Okay, can I tell you this has been a personal passion of mine. And I really tried it when you see all those cats on motorcycles cats, like hiking cat, my cats are just not about it. And I think it’s the first lesson of a parent, like you have to meet your, your animal, our kid wherever they are not where you hope them to be. My cats do not want to be hikers. So it’s

george grombacher 2:48
good enough. Good enough, you need to honor that. And I appreciate that you are. So you knew at age 14 that this was what you were interested in doing. So in the time that has passed, our it doesn’t seem like we’re doing better with the ocean, or am I wrong?

Shannon Cosentino-Roush 3:08
Yeah, that’s a really tough one. All I can say is the ocean needs our attention. I think there’s more attention, maybe the general consciousness now than there was. I think that the consciousness has maybe shifted focus a bit in that when I first kind of really started learning about ocean issues. It was maybe more about fisheries or marine mammals. And now the conversation is climate change. But I still think I live in a bubble in my my my friend group, my colleague group where I physically live. And I do think that in terms of like planetary consciousness, the ocean is still lower on that list, even though it’s like the heartbeat of the planet. So I think there’s never enough airspace given to this topic, to be honest. Yeah.

george grombacher 3:54
What are some so overfishing garbage in the ocean? You mentioned climate change? Are those some of the top issues? What are? What are the issues that finless foods that you and finless foods are really working to address?

Shannon Cosentino-Roush 4:09
Yeah, I think biodiversity, which right fisheries and you know, pollution and other kind of systemic challenges are key parts of that. But again, if you have a healthy ecosystem, a biodiversity ecosystem, it’ll be more resilient to changes like climate change. Climate change is core essential, I think, you know, in the planet, the ocean especially, that’s definitely top of the list. Like you mentioned in a lot of ways microplastics like garbage, but I would even get more specific to plastic and micro plastic. Especially because micro plastic is kind of what you think of it as micro you don’t really see it, but it’s quite pervasive and it’s going to the UN is causing a lot of challenges, especially since it’s so small, how do you address it right. So I think that was those are all key challenges that are affecting the ocean and The challenge is that the ocean is the comments. And a lot of these very specific things like climate change, and microplastics are so pervasive. Where do you start?

george grombacher 5:14
Right, so finless different? Yeah,

Shannon Cosentino-Roush 5:17
totally. And so the reason I mentioned that in that framing is I think it really is core to the why statement of finless. Or like, frankly, even this new evolution of innovation and startups trying to attack, planetary and ocean challenges. The finance specifically is working on alternative seafood. I say it in a broad category, because we’re working on both plant based seafood and cell cultured seafood cell culture, it is a whole new fields, often called cellular agriculture that we’ll get into. But the theory of change here is how do we produce additional sources of seafood to diversify the ever increasing demand, and do so in a way that reduces pressure on the ocean, let alone doesn’t add more pressure to the ocean, and also is seafood that doesn’t contain microplastics, or environmental contaminants, like mercury can still be as healthy for you, etc, and provide consumer choice. But also, seafood in like I mentioned, cellular AG is a huge field with meat, poultry, seafood that also can be part of a climate resilient food system. So the this sort of big, big, hairy, audacious goal that we’re going after is producing food also in a way that uses Yes, less resources. So it can be super resource efficient in terms of land, land, for example, cattle, but also water and other nutrient inputs. And so we’re trying to do this and the seafood space. If we’re successful, it can address many of the challenges. You mentioned climate, sort of our both our adaptation and mitigation to climate change, but also the biodiversity impact of fisheries on our ocean.

george grombacher 7:04
It’s all fascinating. So cell cellular cultured. Does that mean we’re growing fish in a petri dish?

Shannon Cosentino-Roush 7:12
Yeah, I mean, we don’t like to say that. But yes, in theory that it’s because we do get often like labs seafood. And it’s something that we try and reframe to say conceptually, it’s exciting that people are trying to understand what it goes, like, what’s the production process that goes into this. But we’re trying to reframe folks to think about this more into another production method. So we use microbrews, to create beer. And we use like we do fermentation practices for for like you like yogurts, and cheeses. And this is a new production method that uses like fire reactors, etc. Rather than imagining someone in like a hazmat suit in a lab, right? Working on themselves, it seems mysterious, but you’re right, and that the concept of cellular agriculture is to take a sample of cells from a conventional animal or an in the seafood case, a wild to capture animal, grow the cells out in the way that they’re growing in our bodies, like feed them the core nutrients, salts, sugars, amino acids, so that you essentially keep the cells happy. They multiply and proliferate, grow to be more cells. And you can harvest these cells and structure them around, think of like a scaffold like you would for construction. And the cells grow around the scaffold, to replicate what would be consumed as what you see as conventional seafood. So it’s much more comparable to eating real seafood. For example, if you have a seafood allergy anyway, sell cultured tuna, it would still apply, versus a plant based alternative is truly just 100% plants. So vegan friendly, if you have a seafood allergy, no worries. But the idea we have is that there’s a world in which folks want to eat plant based seafood could and should. There’s also a world in which we don’t think that plant based seafood is the end all be all and that really to diversify our food production systems. We need other ways to to create and produce the animal proteins that people eat today. And a key breakthrough like quite groundbreaking way to do that would be cell cultured beef, cell culture, poultry, and in finless case, cell cultured seafood.

george grombacher 9:29
It’s fascinating. You I think that I understand you borrow some of the cells from from a wild caught fish, just don’t use crude terms. So apologize. We, you work to expand them. And then you build a scaffold. And my brain wants to think about like, like, like building the frame of a building or you know, the paper mache of a fish and then it starts to kind of take its form. Mm hmm,

Shannon Cosentino-Roush 9:57
exactly. I mean, it can get more complicated in terms of scaffolding, like if you think about the solar panel, and you’ve gone through like v one through V 10 of iterations of how far we push the technology. And I think we can see that that scaffolding pace will get more or less complex as we evolve in this in this industry. But you’re right, the truest form is that the cells will grow around a 3d structure to give it shape and form to be the thing you are expecting to eat, whether it’s steak, whether it’s a piece of sashimi, whether it’s a nugget.

george grombacher 10:30
So now, perhaps this is about to step on another term that you’re working to reframe. How similar to this is, when I think about cloning something, is it similar to that is it dissimilar

Shannon Cosentino-Roush 10:47
to this similar, and also I full disclosure, I’m not a scientist, but I think folks imagine we’re cloning an entire animal. And really, we’re taking cells that we through, what we feed them can trigger them to grow into a muscle or a fat cell. And then those cells replicate, to become pieces of like the muscle tissue we’re used to eating and the structure like the connective tissue, but are not becoming the whole animal. And so I wanted, like, obviously, I’m not gonna go into the full scientific terms of what happens with cloning, and what happens here. And also, I would pass that to our CTO or Chief Technology Officer. But I say that dissimilar in that I think there’s this idea, this idea that we’re taking cells, and they’re growing into an entire fish, and, and so it’s going to be one animal that we took cells and becomes the next animal. And really, it’s that we’re taking cells that are going to grow into additional fat cells, or muscle cells, and we’re only gonna grow the piece of the meat that you would be eating. So for example, we’ll grow a piece of sashimi, or someone in the beef space may grow a steak, but they’re not growing the whole animal, which is also part of the value proposition that all of the energy grows to all the energy it takes to grow an entire animal of which we one piece of it, we’re really only going to grow the piece that we’re going to end up eating. So there’s less food waste, and also less like, energy conversion.

george grombacher 12:20
Yeah, that makes no sense. We do not require the skeleton of the animals, we don’t need to figure out how to grow fish bones, or scales for that matter. And anything like Yeah, super cool.

Shannon Cosentino-Roush 12:31
We’re in the world of chicken, right? We prefer the breast but our folks eating the other pieces, and can we just optimize to grow the piece that we’ve become accustomed to wanting to eat versus the entire animal?

george grombacher 12:41
I certainly see the the ethical benefits, are there. Are there ethical challenges that you are working with considering thinking about?

Shannon Cosentino-Roush 12:54
Yeah, it’s interesting. You’re asking really great questions. By the way, I don’t know I kept these but we don’t get them often. I mean, I think one thing that we get asked a lot about in this realm is like, are these products vegan? Or like what a vegan eat these products? At the end of the day, really, I can’t speak to the exact way the cells are taken from an animal because it depends company to company. So for example, are you taking like a biopsy from an animal that is a live animal that the animal doesn’t need to die for said cells? Is it a piece of Is it a is it coming from a piece of fish that was already harvested, like the animal would have been harvested, regardless, that the fish would have been harvested? And those cells are coming from that animal? So at the end of the day, like to the purest sense of, is an animal going to need to die or not for this, it really depends. And I just there’s so many methods being used these, even though, regardless of that, actually is what I’m trying to say, you’re talking about maybe one animal, which could have those cells infinitely reproduce, versus infinitely harvesting animals. And so I think that is the piece where going through this what a vegan eat it, it really depends on the vegan because if you’re vegan because of the animal rights system, or because of the infinite slaughter of animals for meat, then this is different. You could have one piece of one cell biopsy that could indefinitely reproduce and caught and create infinite meat. If you’ve truly are vegan, because you don’t want to have one cellular component in your body of an animal, maybe this would not be for you. But in general, I think there’s a lot of like, ethical arguments that this this production method would improve a lot of the animal rights challenges we have in our current mass production system. Yeah,

george grombacher 14:47
that certainly makes sense to me. That I’m 100% sure that no matter what you do, you will have people that are super happy and people that are super mad at you. So it just is what it is.

Shannon Cosentino-Roush 14:56
Yeah, the nature of the nature of compromise right. Some argue that the best of compromises is that folks are unhappy on both sides. It’s an excellent point means you made it made it somewhere in the middle.

george grombacher 15:08
Yes, that’s correct. That’s right. All right. So opportunities and challenges, I’m sure that you need to overcome. The idea of I just like to eat fish versus this is kind of weird, because I’m sure people are gonna say that. I don’t think it’s weird. I think it’s very cool. So I’m sure that you’re working on that. I’m more so curious for today, how long it takes you like How scalable is this? How hard is it to make it commercially viable?

Shannon Cosentino-Roush 15:35
Yeah, so fascinating. Because in terms of challenges, I think, you know, there’s always the consumer adoption question, Will folks eat it? But I think on the day to day, we think more about scale, to be honest. Can we produce enough for the folks that want to eat it? So in terms of like you’re mentioning, how long does it take? I think scale is the thing this industry is thinking about the most right now. And it’s not per se? How long would it take you to grow from from sell to finished product, because actually, that can be exponentially quicker than what it takes to grow an animal in the wild, or what it takes to grow, for example, farm like farm raised fish, but it’s really more how long is it gonna take for our industry to scale production. And for us, that’s really building out physical manufacturing spaces, manufacturing capabilities. So I think that really goes down to the funding and investment in this industry, not just by like private capital, that even by the government in terms of like, right now we’re going to Farmville. And so I think what you’ll see is there was already an approval of a product, a chicken, a chicken product earlier, well, I guess, late late last year, earlier this year. And so we’re seeing that the timeline to reality in terms of its deemed safety by the FDA, we’re hitting that reality, I think it’s in the next one to short term amount of years, what you’ll see is that the production timeline of scaling up is the medium term timeline. And so I think that’s really more the the timeline question is really more about that, that? How long is it? How many years till we get to production scale? Where any person could go to a retail store and find these products? That’s definitely the medium to medium longer term, then how long is it gonna take to grow out a single piece of sashimi and get FDA approval for it?

george grombacher 17:26
Got it. That makes a ton of sense. Fascinating. There’s just so much running through my head thinking that, you know, what, if I just pick fast food restaurant says, Oh, my gosh, we are running out of good sources for my hamburgers, or my chicken sandwiches and my fish fillet. Maybe we should explore this kind of a thing. And they have what I would perceive to be almost limitless resources. So who knows what the future holds? Shannon?

Shannon Cosentino-Roush 17:50
Yeah, it’s fascinating. And you just hit on something, I think, you know, is really key. There’s definitely a sustainability play here. That’s where many of these companies in this industry is being founded. That said, there’s also really like business place here. And I think some things we really see a lot is the interest in the space is equally coming from the realizations around food security, and food system resilience. So if we saw on COVID, and how quickly we can have supply chain disruptions, and the pushback that we don’t have enough fresh food or fresh, like, fresh produce food and the fact that this industry could be produced locally if you had a production facility versus transporting the seafood from around the world. So I definitely think the the distributors and the food industry are looking at this industry from the perspective you just mentioned. And that’s where they’re investing and keeping a keen eye toward advancements.

george grombacher 18:45
Love to think that people do things because they are sick of seeing terrible videos about animals being in terrible conditions. And I’m sure that that’s some of it. But then there’s also the other thing too, Shannon, so whatever,

Shannon Cosentino-Roush 18:57
I’ll take all of it. Right. Right. Whatever interests to the solutions we need,

george grombacher 19:03
right? Not let perfect be the enemy of good here. Yeah. Awesome. What’s that? Thank you so much for coming on. Where can people learn more about you? And where can we learn more about finless foods?

Shannon Cosentino-Roush 19:15
Yeah, definitely. Please do check us out, check out our website. You can just Google and we pop right up there. Follow us on social we post a lot about what we’re doing and where we’re going on LinkedIn. Especially because we’re out and like I’m heading to South by South by Southwest this week. So there’s always things to be seen and about where we are and where you can find us. I’d also say just if you’re interested in this industry, check out like just Google Seiler agriculture, self cultured meat, learn more about it. And in terms of the plant based space, just a little plug, I would say try plant based products like you may you may not have had them yet, but be open minded. Try some trust, try plant based eating. Think about where your meat is coming from and And, and tried to make the most conscious choices and realize the impact of our food system on the planet.

george grombacher 20:06
But if you enjoyed as much as I did for sending your appreciation and share today’s show with a friend who also appreciates good ideas, find finless foods, just type it into your favorite search engine and check out everything that they’re working on, follow them on LinkedIn for the updates and more information about them and then check out cellular agriculture and be open minded to try some plant based foods as well. Thanks Kanchana. And until next time, remember,

Shannon Cosentino-Roush 20:39
do your part so much for having me Have a great rest of your day.

george grombacher 20:41
Well, thank you you as well. And remember, next time, do your part by doing your best

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