Josh Tetrick is a man in a rush.
As CEO of vegan startup Hampton Creek – and a true pioneer of the plant-based food tech movement – Tetrick wants to do everything as quickly as possible.
“If I’m lucky,” the 37-year-old who has been diagnosed with heart condition hypertrophic cardiomyopathy tells PBN, “I’ll live till I’m 70.
“Until then, I need to use every second to do good.
“I’m trying to build a company that can have a full impact because that’s the only thing I f**king care about.”
This ability to look at the bigger picture has come in handy; the last few years have seen his company come under attack from a number of opponents.
According to some sources, Tetrick has been the subject of death threats.
His company has faced legal action from corporate giant Unilever (who didn’t want Hampton Creek’s egg-free mayo labeled as ‘mayonnaise’), as well as a slew of negative, and often inaccurate, press reports.
Now Tetrick is facing another battle: his company recently incurred the wrath of some of the animal rights community when it revealed it had tested a new ingredient on animals.
While Tetrick says the testing was necessary to move forward with creating innovative plant-based products, opponents have branded the choice as unnecessary and exploitative.
Animal rights charity PETA was one of the company’s most vocal critics, launching a campaign urging Hampton Creek (along with fellow food tech company Impossible Foods) to stop all testing – and commit to never testing in the future.
A PETA spokesperson told PBN: “Consumers who seek out vegan foods because they don’t want to add the suffering of animals should know that Impossible Food and Hampton Creek chose to test on animals – even though they weren’t required to do so, and are outraged.
“We felt it important for these companies to hear from their customers and they have, by the tens of thousands.”
So what’s Tetrick’s side of the story? And is Hampton Creek currently testing on animals?
“No, we are not testing on animals at the moment,” he tells PBN.
So why did the company test in the first place?
Tetrick says: “There’s something called Generally Regarded As Safe [GRAS]. It’s a way the Food and Drug Administration [FDA] gives its official stamp of approval regarding the safety of products we eat in the US.
“There are only about seven plant proteins that are regarded as safe in the US food system. We found a really compelling kind of bean called mung bean that’s been in the system for about 4,000 + years, and it’s incredible.”
The company wanted to use a protein isolate from the beans.
Tetrick says: “We were required by the FDA to get a ‘no questions order’ and to get this there’s a process we had to go through that was looking at the digestibility of the mung bean, so what we did was we fed rats the mung bean isolate, and then [new product] scrambled eggs, and we looked at poop.
“In a perfect world we’d certainly have an FDA that would give the ‘no questions’ letter without even looking at digestibility – but we live in an imperfect world.”
After food tech startup Impossible Foods revealed it had tested on animals, company founder, and longterm vegan, Pat Brown claimed the decision had been ‘agonizing’ – forcing him to sacrifice short term integrity for long term gain.
Is this dilemma becoming a trend in food tech?
Tetrick claims not. “I don’t see that as a trend at all,” he says.
According to the entrepreneur, the vast majority of vegan mock meats will contain ingredients, that at one time, were tested on animals.
“It’s unfortunate, but even take something like xantham gum, which is used in the majority of the products you’re enjoying every single day – that particular ingredient had to go through the GRAS process.
“Do you believe choosing those products is good for the world? How do you balance the negative association with supporting them?
“We all have to make that choice, right?”
PETA claims the dilemma is much more clear cut, with a spokesperson telling PBN: “FDA approval is not required in order to market food products, so there is no uphill battle with the FDA.
“Impossible Foods and Hampton Creek voluntarily sought FDA approval and voluntarily commissioned the tests on rats.
“They didn’t have to harm animals, they should not have done it, and they should commit to never testing on animals again.”
But this is not entirely true, according to Bruce Friedrich, Executive Director of the Good Food Institute, who writes: “Unfortunately, FDA essentially requires that companies conduct animal tests if they want to introduce novel ingredients into the food supply.
“Although these tests have been painted as discretionary in some quarters, in fact, FDA appears to require animal tests of any company that wishes to receive explicit acknowledgment from FDA that its new ingredient is safe (called a ‘no questions’ letter).”
For Tetrick, it comes down to impact; he is emphatic about what he sees as the bigger picture – effecting the biggest possible change within the smallest time frame.
“I’m very realistic about how far we are from really building the food system,” he tells PBN.
“We need to build and we have a long, long way to go. We gotta get at it, and we gotta be f**king aggressive.
“We have to get back to work. We can’t let ourselves get caught up by the frivolous things [inaccurate media reporting]. We focus on doing good work – ethical work – real work.
“That’s what makes the difference.”
You can watch a PBN special report on this topic over on YouTubehere