Brewing beer for 9,000 years, humans learn to brew milk without using cows or other mammals
BERKELEY, California––Using fermentation to produce food and beverages apparently originated in China circa 9,000 years ago. Keeping dairy cattle appears to have begun in Anatolia, the eastern part of Turkey, circa 7,000 years ago.
The commercial dairy industry evolved in India, beginning in Vedic times, 2,500 to 3,500 years ago, along with the paradoxical Buddhist and Hindu notion that cows should not be slaughtered.
How to produce enough dairy products to supply the demand from fast-growing human civilizations, without breeding a perpetual surplus of bull calves and without feeding cows long past their productive prime, has perplexed farmers, philosophers, and animal advocates ever since. No practical, ethically satisfactory solutions have emerged that would allow humans to continue using dairy products.
Perfect Day is “almost here”
Using fermentation to produce dairy products without need for cows would await a Perfect Day.
Now Berkeley-based Perfect Day company founders Ryan Pandya and Perumal Gandhi, both vegans of Indian descent, say that day is almost here, with $24.7 million in newly raised investment capital behind their effort to put their brewed milk products into grocery stores before 2018 is over.
The immediate market for real milk products made without animals includes about 32 million Americans who buy plant-based alternatives to cows’ milk, 50 million vegans and vegetarians in China, and more than 500 million vegans and vegetarians in India.
Economic & ecological advantages
But the ready-made market, Pandya and Gandhi believe, is potentially only the beginning. Conservation biologist Mark Steer of the University of West England projected in 2015 that the animal-free brewed milk produced by Perfect Day would use only 35% of the energy used by the conventional dairy industry, and would produce only 16% of the greenhouse gases, while using just 9% as much land to obtain the ingredients, and only 2% as much water.
All of that translates into immense economic advantages over cow-based milk production, as well as ecological and ethical benefits.
Spectrum of products
This in turn suggests that the Perfect Day products should relatively soon be able to undersell dairy products derived from animals across the spectrum, from liquid milk in a box to the solids used to make cheese.
“We anticipate that 2018 will be a big year for us in terms of forging partnerships that will enable us to bring our dairy ingredients to the market,” says the Perfect Day web site. “We’ve been fielding a ton of interest from some of the most well known food and dairy companies in the world––and are excited to share updates in the coming months!”
What’s the trick?
How does Perfect Day do it?
“With natural resources and human ingenuity,” responds the Perfect Day web site. “Instead of having cows do all the work, we’ve developed a process similar to craft brewing. Using yeast and age-old fermentation techniques, we make the very same dairy proteins that cows make.”
Essential to understanding the concept is realizing that a cow––or any animal––is in effect a biological reactor, whose life consists in large part of finding and eating the right combination of ingredients to enable the range of microbes specific to the digestive tract of the species to convert the food to energy, protein, and fat, excreting the unused byproducts.
The process is chemistry, and can be replicated by identifying and using the right combination of input products and processes. Brewing milk is not nearly as simple as brewing beer, but neither is it much of a stretch for current biotechnology.
“We’ve developed a type of yeast that can produce dairy proteins (casein and whey),” explains Perfect Day. “Using biotechnology, we give this yeast a ‘blueprint’ that allows it to ferment sugar and create real dairy proteins. This is the very same blueprint, in the form of DNA, which cows use every day.
“Our proteins are made in a process akin to craft brewing,” the Perfect Day web site continues, “using fermentation similar to how vegetarian rennet, vanilla, insulin, and many other everyday products are made. Our process is much cleaner and more resource-efficient than animal farming, and it’s the cornerstone of our new approach to dairy.”
As all of the yeast is filtered out during the manufacturing process, “Perfect Day’s dairy proteins are technically non-GMO [non-genetically modified organism] products in that they do not contain any GMOs, and would not need labeling according to the federal GMO labeling bill that President Obama signed in 2016,” observed Elaine Watson of Food Navigator USA in December 2017. “That said,” Watson added, “as GMOs are used in the production process, the proteins would probably not meet the standards laid out by the Non-GMO Project for its seal.”
This is likely to be of little concern to most of the potential market, as consumption of GMO products, albeit mostly unawares, has now been routine for most Americans and much of the rest of the world for more than 20 years.
Began as “Moo Free”
Perfect Day dawned with an assist from Isha Datar, executive director of New Harvest, a New York City-based nonprofit think tank founded in 2004 by former Oxford University scholar Jason Gaverick Matheny. Introducing Pandya and Gandhi to each other, Datar helped them to incorporate their company, then called Muufri (pronounced Moo Free), on April 15, 2014.
Seeking a more easily marketable brand name, Pandya and Gandhi renamed Muufri in August 2016.
“The name Perfect Day was inspired by a Lou Reed song,” recounts the Perfect Day web site. “Two scientists discovered that calm, happy cows produce the most milk. And cows are happier when they listen to music! One of the songs that made cows produce the most milk was the song ‘Perfect Day’ by Lou Reed. As a company on a mission to make cows, people, and the planet happier, it seemed like a perfect fit.”
Wrote Marta Zaraskanov for the November/December 2016 edition of Mother Jones, “When it debuts, Perfect Day’s milk is projected to cost twice as much as milk from a cow. But the price of sequencing DNA ‘is now falling faster than the cost of computing,’ says Ron Shigeta, the chief science officer at IndieBio, a startup accelerator for synthetic biology. Shigeta estimates that eight years ago, it took about $1,200 to create a new strain of yeast; these days it’s down to $200 to $300.
“To make its animal-free milk,” Zaraskanov explained, “Perfect Day uses 3D-printed DNA sequences for the six most common cow’s milk proteins and inserts them into yeast cells. Fed with corn sugar, the yeast begins emitting those proteins, which are separated out and used as ingredients in the milk. Perfect Day’s beverage contains 98% of the proteins found in cow’s milk, including casein, which is key to cheese production. But it lacks immunoglobulins, which can offer protection against E. coli and Helicobacter pylori bacteria, the cause of stomach infections and ulcers. Perfect Day also has to add fats (like sunflower oil), carbohydrates, minerals, and vitamins to its drink.”
But that was already half the lifespan of the company ago. In the interim, Perfect Day won the endorsement of Hong Kong venture capitalist Solina Chau, one of the world’s wealthiest women, who has earned her money largely through opening doors for western investors seeking opportunities in China.
Chau “unleashed the seed money they needed to hire staff and expand research and development,” recounted Michael Pellman Rowland in a recent edition of the financial magazine Forbes, describing how Perfect Day has gone on to attract investment from major players including Temasek, Horizons Ventures, Continental Grain, Jeremy Coller, Iconiq Capital, Lion Ventures, and Verus International.
Temasek, described by Rowland as a $275 billion dollar sovereign wealth fund in Singapore, appears to be the key link Perfect Day needs to “accelerate commercialization with a wide variety of partners across the food and dairy sectors,” Rowland wrote. “The [Perfect Day] company says the money from the recent round [of investment solicitation] will be used to accelerate scale-up efforts, grow the existing team of 30 employees, and zero in on commercialization potential.”
That will not be just a matter of putting Muufri milk on supermarket shelves, as Pandya and Gandhi imagined doing when they formed their company.
Instead of trying to become a major retail food and dairy brand, the Perfect Day web site describes, Pandya and Gandhi realized during their capitalization phase that “we would be most effective partnering with [existing] food and dairy companies to bring a whole variety of new animal-free dairy products to market, not just one single product.”
Thereby, Perfect Day products may never be in supermarkets under the company’s own name, but may be in dozens of products in every supermarket under many other brand names already familiar to consumers, much sooner than building a new brand would require.