The man behind an artificial egg product launched recently in the United States wants to take hens out of food production.
Josh Tetrick, described as a social entrepreneur who has in the past worked for former United States president Bill Clinton and the president of Liberia, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, is pushing his new product, Beyond Eggs, as a replacement for real eggs in everything from biscuits to mayonnaise. And he seems to have the support of Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates, who has apparently identified Tetrick’s business as one of the three companies shaping the future of food. Paypal entrepreneur Peter Thiel is, reportedly, another supporter.
Beyond Eggs is manufactured from a mixture of a dozen different plants, which, when combined, says Tetrick, provides the same taste, nutrition and cooking properties as the real thing. It is better than real eggs, he says, because there are no hens involved in the process.
“About 1.8 trillion eggs are laid every single year around the world,” he said in a radio interview. “And whether you’re in Birmingham, Alabama, where I was raised, or in Beijing, China, 99 per cent of all these eggs come from exactly the same place - these disgusting, filthy, industrial warehouses packed with egg laying hens, crammed into cages so small they can’t flap their wings,” he said.
“All these hens are fed all of this feed that require all this land and water and oil and fertiliser, which is part of the reasons why it’s so environmentally inefficient,” said Tetrick, whose company, Hampton Creek Foods, clearly believes that real eggs are bad for us, despite all the recent scientific studies that have marked eggs out as a superfood because of their nutritional content. Visitors to his company’s web site will be greeted by the words, ‘Welcome to Hampton Creek, where doing good actually tastes good, and it all started with... best friends, they look out for you, sometimes even inspire you, so when our founder’s lifelong best friend told him that eggs contribute to higher cholesterol and come from chickens crowded in small spaces, he brought together a team to create something that is just, well, better.’
Tetrick said during the radio interview, “Avian flu outbreaks happen because of the confinement of the egg laying hens. And we just look at that and, honestly, we just shake our heads and think, ‘Is this really the 21st century? Do we really have to get our eggs from this antiquated system?’ It’s like horse and buggy day. So our goal is to take the animal entirely out of the equation, to take the egg laying hen in these cramped, filthy conditions out of the equation and replace her egg with plants, with plants that do exactly the same thing as her egg does, whether it’s binding a cookie or making a muffin rise, or hold oil or water together in mayonnaise and also, pretty soon, create plant based scrambled eggs.”
He says that Beyond Eggs is not only good for you, but it is also cheaper – 18 per cent cheaper than battery cage eggs, he said in the radio interview. “And the big reason why is we don’t have the animal involved in our process. And the animal, whether you look at it because you care about the animal or you look at it because you care about economic efficiency, the animal, in this case an egg laying hen, is getting stuffed as we’re speaking right now, with soy and corn. Right this second, hundreds of millions of egg laying hens are gobbling up soy and corn and 70 per cent of the cost of every single egg comes directly from the feed that we give the chickens. And we think that’s crazy and we just say, ‘Just grow it instead’,” said Tetrick, who is a vegetarian and has been so for the last 12 years.
He said that as well as causing suffering to an animal, keeping hens in battery cages was “absurd.” He said, “It doesn’t seem to align with where the world is. It seems like it’s so yesterday.” According to Tetrick, the eggs of tomorrow will be the result of the kind of scientific innovation used to develop mobile phone technologies.
“Part of what we realised in starting this endeavour is there’s so much innovation on our iPhones. You can actually tell someone’s blood count and heart rate through iPhone applications. But when it comes to innovation of food, man, it is a stark landscape,” he said.
“So what we’re trying to do in bringing a team is bringing people who don’t necessarily have a deep experience in food but are amazing scientists, together with people who do have a really deep experience in food,” he said. “So that’s our idea in creating this team, is we want to bring radically different perspective together to try to search the world’s plant species because only about eight per cent of them actually have been explored for their functionality in food. I mean, it is just a wide open area. Then we spend every single day searching and then plugging those plants into things like mayonnaise and cookies and even scrambled eggs.”
He said, “We’re not doing in vitro; we’re not doing DNA splicing; we’re not doing synthetic engineering. Maybe it would be better for popular science if we would but we’re not doing that. What we’re doing is sort of acknowledging that we have a world of plants out there and the vast majority of those plants are entirely unexplored. It’s almost an accident, in terms of the plants we decide to use in our food products. So we search aggressively, all of those plants, we characterise them, we understand their functionalities and then we work in a really creative way with our culinary team to bring them together,” he said.
Tetrick says that early attempts at finding an egg replacement were not too good, but claims that the team has now perfected an egg substitute for mayonnaise and cakes, although it is struggling with scrambled eggs. He says the company has done taste tests and claims that neither Tony Blair nor Bill Gates could taste the difference. Tetrick says that Bill Gates has become an adviser to the company, and has been one of its most vocal supporters in the Silicon Valley world where Hampton Creek is based.
He says his company is already in talks with major food manufacturers around the world, including several in the United Kingdom.