New Harvest was founded in 2004 by Jason Matheny, who now sits on our Board of Directors. Jason became interested in cultured meat after researching infectious diseases in India for a Master’s degree in public health. After touring a poultry farm outside Delhi, he recognized the need for a new way to meet a global demand for meat.
When Jason returned to the States, he read about a NASA-funded project that “grew” goldfish meat to explore food possibilities for astronauts on long-range space missions. He contacted all 60 of the cited authors and teamed up with three to consider the viability of producing cultured meat on a large scale. He founded New Harvest June 23, 2004.
In late 2004, New Harvest was invited to present on cultured meat at the PROFETAS (PROtein Foods, Environment, Technology, and Society) conference in Wageningen, in the Netherlands. Following this, Jason met with the Dutch Agriculture Minister to advise on funding cultured meat research.
On May 1, 2005, the Dutch cultured meat project began. It was a €2 million project that was to be subdivided into 3 different areas: 1) stem cell biology, conducted at Utrecht University; 2) tissue engineering, conducted at Eindhoven Technical University; and 3) culture media, conducted at the University of Amsterdam.
In 2005, Pieter Edelman, Doug MacFarland, Vladimir Mironov, and Jason Matheny published “In vitro cultured meat production” in the journal Tissue Engineering. It generated considerable public and scientific interest in cultured meat and in New Harvest. This was the first modern-day scientific publication on an idea that has been around for nearly a century.
In 2006, New Harvest began to provide funding from its donors to the Dutch cultured meat effort.
In 2007, New Harvest began collaborating with the Europe-based In Vitro Meat Consortium. Stig William Omholt of Norway played a key role in the development of the Consortium, whose mission was “to promote scientific excellence and to coordinate and fund research contributing to the establishment of competitive alternatives to conventional meat production.” On April 9, 2008, the Consortium put on the First International In-Vitro Meat Symposium, which took place at the Norwegian Food Research Institute in Norway. Unfortunately, the Consortium dissipated shortly after due to a lack of funding dedicated to cultured meat.
In August 2011, the European Science Foundation put on an exploratory workshop called “In vitro meat: Possibilities and realities for an alternative future meat source” in Gothenburg, Sweden, convened by Julie Gold and Stellan Welin. The main objectives of the workshop were to assess the state-of-the-art of the field and to identify major bottlenecks, and competences needed in order to overcome them. It was at this conference when the scientific community decided to use the term “cultured meat” as opposed to “in vitro meat.”
In September of 2012, New Harvest put on the seminar “Tissue Engineered Nutrition” at the TERMIS (Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine International Society) World Congress in Vienna, Austria.
Meanwhile, in 2009, our current CEO, Isha, was studying cell and molecular biology at the University of Alberta. In her last year, she took a graduate level class on meat science, a departure from most of her coursework. In this class, Isha came to realize that re-thinking animal agriculture would be a very impactful way to ignite change. Her Professor, Dr. Mirko Betti, had read about cultured meat in a book called Futurizzazione by Carlo Pelanda in the early 2000s and attended the TERMIS meeting in Vienna. He shared the idea of growing meat in cell cultures rather than in livestock with Isha and the rest of the class.
Because Isha came from a biology background rather than an agriculture background, she was well prepared to investigate cultured meat from a biology perspective. Isha wrote her term paper on cultured meat, drawing from advances in medical research and applying them to making food. Isha sent the paper to Jason, who connected her to a community of scientists who encouraged her to publish her work. The paper, “Possibilities for an in-Vitro meat production system” was published in Innovative Food Science and Emerging Technologies in 2010.
In 2012, Jason was searching for an Executive Director to take the reins at New Harvest full-time. Isha was hired and began her role at New Harvest on January 14, 2013. This era of New Harvest saw the organization start and incubate companies, fund groundbreaking research, and attract more talent and resources to this important emerging field. The team grew to include Erin Kim (a volunteer since 2014) in 2016; and Kate Krueger in 2017. Today, New Harvest's main focus is on its core activity of funding open academic research through its Fellowship Program.