Competition heats up for cow-free milk

Victorian dairy workers have called off a planned strike after securing a pay deal.

Victorian dairy workers have called off a planned strike after securing a pay deal. Photo: Getty

International start-ups are racing to bring animal-free dairy products that are indistinguishable from the real thing to the mass-market, with many claiming to have made breakthroughs.

Cows’ milk consists of 80 per cent casein, a protein which gives the white colour, and it is created by secretion into milk from the cow’s mammary cells.

The protein gives dairy many of its treasured properties, and a lack of it is one of the reasons vegan cheese substitutes rarely melt like the real thing.

New Culture, a start-up in America, claims it has “cracked the code” and can now make casein without animal milk or non-vegan products, creating “dairy identical” food.

The process

The process used by New Culture involves fermentation, where micro-organisms digest sugars and transform them.

“We train microbes to produce casein, put those microbes into large fermentation tanks (think brewing beer), feed them sugars, and then gather the animal-free casein they’ve produced,” New Culture said on their website.

“Once we have our casein protein in-hand, it’s cheese-making time.”

Their cheese is now being offered at a pizzeria in San Francisco, with plans to expand into other markets in the near future.

The process isn’t revolutionary, but bringing it to market on a mass scale is the challenge.

The competitors

In early 2022, Dutch food manufacturer Fooditive unveiled its own vegan casein in a milk alternative made from fermented peas.

In a June media release, Moayad Abushokhedim, Fooditive CEO and Founder, said the successful trials show the company is on the cusp of scaling up production.

“On this journey, we are not just navigating regulatory processes, but also re-inforcing our belief in collaborative growth and shared success,” he said.

“Fooditive is not just hopeful, but enthusiastic to embark on this journey with a like-minded partner, to unlock new possibilities, and to redefine the vegan casein market together.”

Foodative is currently trying to find a partner to help bring its animal-free casein to market. Photo: Foodative

The company has yet to secure approval of the ingredient in the European Union, a key hurdle before any products using its propriety method hit the shelves.

Other companies are creating non-animal based casein from yeast, including California-based Perfect Day, and several ice cream brands have started using their product.

British start-up Better Dairy uses a similar yeast process, and claim their product is just as good as the real thing.

An Israeli start-up, Remilk, is using a fermentation process to create what it claims to be a base that is identical to dairy milk and is free of lactose, cholesterol, antibiotics and growth hormones.

In April, it received approval to develop and produce its animal-free dairy protein from the Israeli Department of Health.

Why are people turning to alternatives?

Like any animal-based product, there are concerns about the dairy industry’s treatment of cows.

RSCPA Australia has raised concerns over some practices in the dairy industry. Photo: Getty

According to RSPCA Australia, key animal welfare issues in dairy production relate to bobby calves, cow-calf separation and painful procedures or conditions.

“Male calves are generally considered a low-value waste product by the industry and are usually slaughtered at five days of age,” according to the RSCPA.

“The removal of horns from calves without pain relief or anaesthetic, lameness and mastitis in cows, and the live export of dairy cattle for breeding purposes, all pose animal welfare concerns.”

Another dairy-related concern is environmental impact and emissions created by the industry.

Around 3 per cent of Australia’s total carbon emissions comes from the dairy industry, 19 per cent of the total agriculture emissions.

While non-animal based casein producers claim to be more environmentally friendly, it is unclear how large emissions would be if their products are mass-produced.

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