For people like me who view cell-based and plant-based animal product alternatives as the most viable potentially game-changing interventions for reducing animal use for food, The Modern Agriculture Foundation offers a compelling, if higher risk, opportunity for making a difference with one's donor money on the margin.
The Modern Agriculture Foundation has done a lot to advance cell-based and plant-based animal product development in its short history, despite having minimal funding. And they're well positioned to accomplish much more in Israel, Tel Aviv in particular, an area of the world with a huge amount of potential in terms of further private, academic, and government action.
My partner and I plan to direct the bulk of our near term donations to the MAF with the hope that it will help the MAF to hire, reboot, and develop a sustainable operating model. I hope some others will do the same. That said, like-minded individuals wouldn't be wrong to direct their donor dollars to more established organizations that are doing great work including New Harvest, the Plant Based Food Association, and the Good Food Institute.
Modern Agriculture Foundation - Donor FAQ
Why promote alternative proteins in Israel and how will the Modern Agriculture Foundation do this?
Israel is a startup nation and a clean and plant-based meat hub with a high concentration of great minds and entrepreneurs in an area comparable in size and population to the San Francisco Bay Area. In this hotbed of innovation, science, and technology, the Modern Agriculture Foundation (MAF) aspires to make clean and plant-based meat as popular as possible, making alternative proteins an object of Israeli national pride.
MAF will do this by pushing hard on the development and broadening of the community that supports and works on clean and plant-based meats. Though we, MAF's activists, have promoted and created alternative protein ventures such as SuperMeat and Aleph Farms, our goal is to make infrastructural changes that will lead to further developments even without our direct involvement. For instance, we hope to create the conditions for a university to organize its own alternative protein conference, and for the government to issue grants for alternative protein research.
MAF’s Goals for 2019
1. Promoting research endeavors that are not currently found in Israel such as clean fish and plant-based ventures. Unlike clean meat, on which only $40-50 million are spent worldwide, plant-based meat spending totals more than a billion dollars (See PDF for footnote). We hope to attract some of that investment to Israeli ventures.
We will focus on very innovative areas that are different than those already being explored. Israel has a company that develops 3D printers for plant-based meat, but no company is trying to develop plant-based meat that will cater to meat eaters. In other words, we aspire to help form a company that would be as innovative as Beyond Meat or Impossible Foods.
Furthermore, there is almost no one worldwide who is researching GMO plants (or CRISPR/Cas9) in order to make them grow with a taste or texture like meat, or with a similar nutritional profile. This technology promises a significant advantage in lowering production costs, as it requires only a one-time modification to the crop genome. As such, this will be a top priority. Although there is substantial media and public negativity towards GMOs, this negativity is not scientifically based, and we believe that Israel, with great research minds and facilities devoted to plants, is an excellent place for such a venture. Initial talks with researchers in the field indicates there is interest in such work.
2. Ensure clean meat lectures and courses are in the curricula at colleges and universities. We are already in the process of doing this at IDC Herzliya, one of the most well-resourced colleges in Israel. We know from conversations we’ve had that more colleges and universities are willing to modify their curricula similarly.
3. Grow and engage a community supporting our cause, including generating positive mainstream media attention about clean meat and cellular agriculture.
We will do this by:
- Organizing the second clean and plant-based meat conference in Israel, enhancing international cooperation as well as facilitating the entry of more people into the field. The last conference we held facilitated the first connection between Future Meat Technologies (a clean meat startup) and Tyson Foods, which later invested in them. Furthermore, the conference strengthened the connection of GFI to Israel. We anticipate that the second conference will have an even greater impact.
- Creating small intra-Israel gatherings on clean and plant-based meat, each one on a different subject, to enhance the connections among the people working in these two areas. For instance, one gathering could be about the interface between plant-based and clean meat, while another could be an introduction to the fields for students, another about the best tools missing for the development of the fields, another a hackathon, etc.
- Promoting clean meat as an object of Israeli national pride, by reaching out to interested politicians, celebrities, and other prominent figures, and seeking governmental funding and cooperation. Four out of 120 Israeli parliament members are vegan and we have good connections with all of them, including the head of a small political party. They are interested in promoting alternative proteins. We have similar connections to some celebrities, a few of which we recruited to help promote this field during the SuperMeat crowdfunding campaign.
We think that realistically we can get, by the end of 2019, plant and clean fish ventures started, enlarge the Israeli clean and plant meat communities by attracting more academics and public figures, and be well on the path toward establishing protein alternatives as an object of national bride.
MAF made a big splash previously and then went quiet. What will be different this time?
MAF has always relied on devoted volunteers. In its beginning days, MAF had only one full-time staff member, who didn’t receive any payment for his work. The situation changed in 2016, when we raised funds and hired Dr. Yaron Bogin to a full-time job for a year. He received about $36,000 (USD) as annual gross salary, which is far below the CEO salary of a typical Israeli organization.
Even with limited funds and only one paid employee, MAF sparked clean meat work in Israel and was strongly connected to the creation of all four of the existing clean meat startups. Our strength has been to use our network of dedicated volunteers to make an impact despite limited funds. Yet this also highlights our key weakness, which is that we’ve not been able to establish a sustainable financial model. The primary reason for this is that we’d determined other projects to be more urgent, including a chicken meat study with Tel Aviv University, promoting SuperMeat in its beginning stages, etc. We realize we made a mistake by not taking the time to build a financial donation model, and now should focus on our financial stability. Going forward, we will make the following changes:
- We will put our best efforts into developing our donor base inside Israel, with emphases on better branding of MAF and establishing long-term relationships with international players. We will hire a new CEO who knows that this is a crucial part of their work, and the board will work to have another board member and volunteers with fundraising experience. We’ve already begun this search.
- We’ll offer a higher salary, which we expect will help us to attract a high quality CEO.
Why does Israel need two organizations promoting clean and plant-based animal product alternatives (GFI and MAF)?
In 2017 and 2018, we tried to join with GFI, but GFI ultimately decided against it based on legal counsel.
We have great respect for GFI's work, and have no doubt they will be very successful in Israel. We have personally known the new Executive Director for a few years, and less than a year ago we even tried to convince her to apply for the role of GFI ED in Israel, as we think she is right for the job. We will work closely together with her to promote clean meat in Israel.
MAF has a number of advantages as an organization that we believe will enable us to achieve success and do things that GFI will not be able to:
- We have been granted a Proper Management Certificate and a tax exemption from the Israeli government. The government likes to work and fund organizations that have a Proper Management Certificate; this certificate opens a lot of doors. GFI Israel would only be eligible to apply for this certificate after two years of being a registered organization in Israel (which it is still not) and their ability to obtain the certificate is not guaranteed, especially because they are from outside Israel.
- MAF is well positioned to promote national pride, work with the government and obtain funding, and work with local politicians. We have great connections, which will contribute to our success. GFI’s name opens a lot of doors in Israel, because they are seen as "wealthy Americans", but it also closes some. For example, as a US-based organization GFI cannot easily utilize Israeli national pride, would find it a lot harder to work with the Israeli government and get funded, would have much less leverage among local politicians that want to help local organizations, etc. We will of course help GFI with our connections wherever possible.
- We are a group of activists, mostly from vegan/animal rights backgrounds, and some from environmental protection. We are rooted in and well-networked in these communities in Israel. Our network is a great advantage, and we will reach out to others in these communities to grow our network.
- MAF’s board and dedicated volunteers are a diverse and talented group of people - a Stanford Ph.D. student researching computational biology (Shaked Regev), a journalist (Ronen Bar), a clean meat scientist (Tom Ben-Arye), a high-tech HR advisor, a programmer, etc.
Where do I ask more questions?
Please feel free to reach out to Ronen Bar, Chairperson of the Board, at email@example.com with any further questions. He and MAF would be happy to respond with detailed answers or to talk on Skype.
How can I donate?
Donations to The Modern Agriculture Foundation are tax-deductible in the U.S. (501c3) and in the U.K. These donations are facilitated by Israel Gives. See MAF’s Israel Gives donation page. Donors of larger amounts are encouraged to contact MAF to determine the most efficient way to make their donation.