Synthetic biology start-up company Perfect Day, formerly Muufri, is close to introducing a new kind of dairy to the food industry, sans cows. You read right; Perfect Day has created a genetically modified (GMO) strain of yeast called “Buttercup,” which turns plant-based sugars and fats into real milk proteins. Founders of Perfect Day have been working to provide a humane and ultra-sustainable dairy alternative since 2014 and anticipate having their products in stores towards the end of 2017.
Perfect Day co-founder Perumal Gandhi said, “We’re trying to make a ‘Goldilocks product’ that is better than anything out there: something that has the best of dairy products, but also the best of the alternatives.” While the company has started with cow milk, they plan to engineer goat milk, buffalo milk, and more. “We were hungry for a solution that empowered you to help make the world a kinder, greener place without giving up the delicious dairy foods you love.”
The company’s website totes claim that their crafting process is “cleaner, greener, and kinder” than the factory farming methods used to produce milk and dairy products. Preliminary studies suggest that their engineering process will use 98% less water, 91% less land, 65% less energy, and produce 84% less greenhouse gas emissions than industrial dairy production.
The company is citing superior nutrition, greater versatility, and better taste and texture as reasons consumers might choose their products instead of vegan dairy alternatives. However, it appears that their primary target market includes lacto-vegetarians who have not found the flavor and texture of vegan alternatives suitable and those who are lactose intolerant. They expect pricing to be comparable to organic dairy products.
“There will certainly be a “yuck factor” to the first food products created with industrial biotech and tissue-engineering platforms, but a steel fermentation vessel is a heck of a lot more sterile than a dirty cow or dairy farm,” said Maxx Charski of the Motley Fool. “You don’t drink milk because it comes from cows; you drink milk because you want milk. In other words, the milk is the product, not the cow. So why should the production system come into play in your purchasing decision? If you truly care about the impacts of your food, then you’ll consider the benefits of each on a case-by-case basis, not because one is labeled organic.” Obviously, the products will not be organic as USDA organic certification prohibits the use of genetically modified organisms in any aspect of production.
Perfect Day founders have vowed to practice transparency and to create products people will want to eat. They invite customers to submit product suggestions on their website and to stop by their Berkeley, California brewery for samples. Despite promises of transparency, the company fails to address concerning research against genetically modified (GMO) foods, GMO labeling, or global efforts to ban GMO foods.
The Perfect Day website states, “Our products are 100% free of genetically-modified organisms. However, we relied on genetic engineering to create a type of yeast that produces milk proteins. This is how vegetarian rennet, ethical vanilla, insulin, and many other everyday products are made. We then carefully filter and purify our milk proteins to ensure they’re 100% free of any yeast before adding them to our food products — this is why we can be sure they’re totally non-GMO.”
There are a lot of unanswered questions here, but the consumer will be the final judge.
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