- A vegan pet food startup called Wild Earth recently scored $450,000 from tech mogul Peter Thiel along with backing from Mars Veterinary, the world's biggest pet food maker.
- Its first products — vegan dog treats made with koji, a type of fungus similar to mushrooms — went on sale Monday.
- Wild Earth's CEO told Business Insider he plans to eventually get into the lab-grown meat business.
- That would involve taking stem cells from mice and brewing them up in bioreactors to make pet chow.
Entrepreneur and scientist Ryan Bethencourt won't feed his foster dogs ingredients that he wouldn't eat himself. So the long-time vegan, who previously founded the Silicon Valley biotech startup hub IndieBio, created a startup called Wild Earth that's making animal-free pet food using koji.
The same organism that gives miso soup and sake their pungent kick, koji is the main ingredient in Wild Earth's first products: vegan dog treats that went on sale Monday.
Wild Earth — which has been backed by tech mogul Peter Thiel and global pet food manufacturer Mars Veterinary— is not limiting itself to koji. Bethencourt told Business Insider he aims to eventually produce dog food made with meat from mouse cells. That would involve taking stem cells from mice and brewing them up in bioreactors to make pet chow.
"People who don't have cats think this is crazy, but cat parents think it's super cool," Bethencourt told Business Insider in August.
The race to lab-grown sausages, burgers ... and dog food?
A handful of startups around the world are racing to make lab-grown meat a reality for humans in order to protect the planet. To do it, they are taking stem cells from pigs, cows, and chickens (without killing them), multiplying the cells in labs, and stuffing them into prototype recipes for everything from sausages to burgers and meatballs.
Bethencourt claims Wild Earth has plans to do the same thing for pets. Instead of pork, beef, or chicken, the food would be mouse-based.
Other startups in the lab-grown meat space aren't thrilled about Bethencourt's stated aims. Marketing cultured meat as dog food could destroy its appeal for human consumers, executives from two leading startups in the food tech space told Business Insider in August.
"Would this jeopardize clean meat or make people associate it with lower quality food? Possibly," Didier Toubia, the co-founder and CEO of an Israeli clean meat startup called Aleph Farms, told Business Insider.
"People won't want to eat food that's for pets," Toubia said.
Bethencourt disagrees, noting that he thinks clean meat for humans will arrive first. He believes that part of the transition to eating more sustainable food includes making sure pets are eating more sustainably too. That includes lab-grown meat.
"In the same way there's plant-based protein for humans and cultured meat for humans we want to make sure that's also the case for our pets," Bethencourt said. "We will do koji; that's one of our primary protein sources, but we want to have other proteins available for our customers too."