A patty of "cutured beef" created in the labs of California startup Beyond Meat. Cargill, a major beef producer, has invested in an Israeli startup that grows beef from cattle cells.

A patty of "cutured beef" created in the labs of California startup Beyond Meat. Cargill, a major beef producer, has invested in an Israeli startup that grows beef from cattle cells. (Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

Cargill Inc., one of the world's largest beef producers, has invested in another company raising meat in a lab.

The Minnetonka, Minn.-based agribusiness joined others in nearly $12 million funding round for Israeli startup Aleph Farms, which was the first in the world to grow a beef steak from cattle cells this past December.

Cargill's precise investment wasn't disclosed. The firm is positioning itself through investments to capitalize on innovations in meat alternatives and rising consumer interest in them. VisVires New Protein of Singapore led the funding round for Aleph.

This is Cargill's second investment in a so-called "cultured meat" company. In 2017, it joined the likes of Bill Gates, Richard Branson and Tyson Foods in backing Memphis Meats, which claims to have produced the world's first chicken strips from animal cells.

Advocates say cultured meat, also called cell-based or lab-raised meat, is better for the environment and is more humane. The product comes from animals but doesn't require the same resources to raise and slaughter as traditional meat.

Additionally, Cargill holds a minority stake in Minneapolis-based Puris, one of the nation's leading providers of pea protein, which are used in a variety of meat and dairy alternative products, from yogurt to coffee creamer. Earlier this month, one of Puris' largest customers, Beyond Meat, had the best market debut of 2019 with shares more than doubling in value in its first two weeks of trading. On Monday, Beyond Meat's biggest rival, Impossible Foods, raised another $300 million funding.

Cultured meat still represents a small sliver of Cargill's protein business, the company said Tuesday, but it recognizes the potential benefit of having a stake in the most innovative technologies.

"Consumer demand for protein continues to be very strong. That means there's an opportunity for plant and cultured protein growth to complement our traditional animal protein portfolio," Sonya Roberts, managing director of growth ventures and strategic pricing for Cargill Protein North America, said in a statement. "This partnership connects new frontiers in cell-based technology with insights in the global food system and supply chains to meet future customer and consumer needs."

Over the same two years, Cargill has spent $1.5 billion of investment in the traditional meat space.

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